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Few have the privilege of learning at the feet of great men. I realize I am one of those lucky few, having had as a father, Jose “Joecon” Concepcion Jr. and as an uncle, Raul T. “Ronnie” Concepcion.
Around this time every December, I always look back at the legacy of my father and his twin brother, Uncle Ronnie, the 29th being their birth anniversary. This year, especially, as it is their 90th birthday.
Having been at the helm of Go Negosyo for 16 years now, where mentorship is one of three pillars, I often view my relationship with Joecon and Uncle Ronnie, and the relationship between and among two other great men in my family, my grandfathers Jose Concepcion Sr. and Salvador Araneta, as one of mentorship.
You could say Joecon and Ronnie were the original wonder twins. They were the same, but different. Joecon thought Ronnie was all business, while Ronnie thought Joecon can be too emotional. Ronnie was a pragmatist, Joecon was an idealist.
Their lives were intertwined. Joecon studied agriculture at the Gregorio Araneta University Foundation, run by the Araneta family of his future wife, Marivic. He would go on to build Republic Flour Mills (which would later become RFM Corp.) with his father-in-law, who would eventually turn out to be the mentor of my more business-minded Uncle Ronnie.
Uncle would put this tutelage to good use when he assumed leadership of Concepcion Industries when my grandfather, Jose Sr., passed. Under his leadership, the company became one of the country’s most integrated manufacturing conglomerates and employed thousands of Filipinos in the process.
But the common thread that ran through all these men was their deep love for country. Driven by a vision of industrialization for the Philippines, my grandfather eschewed a comfortable retirement and started Concepcion Industries when he was already in his sixties. His vision would be kept alive by Uncle Ronnie, who proved that a Filipino company that makes appliances can compete with international brands.
This sense of country would manifest in the most unexpected of ways. One of the more vivid memories people have of Joecon is how he would, when caught in a traffic gridlock, get out of the car, take out his whistle (yes, he carried one) and direct traffic. He did this on ordinary days, and he did this even on the wedding day of my sister, Michelle.
He loved organizing people, rallying them to causes as high-minded as free and fair elections, or as mundane as which of his fellow political prisoners would clean the toilets at the detention facility during the Martial Law days. He organized NAMFREL, which to this day is the standard for constructive activism in civil society.
In 1971, he became a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. But this would only make him the second patriarch in our extended clan to serve in something as historic as a Constitutional Convention. My maternal grandfather Salvador Araneta was himself a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, and was also part of the 1933 ConCon.
Don Salvador Araneta was quite a figure. Not only was he a great Filipino industrialist and the pioneer who dared ask how come the Philippines didn’t have its own flour milling company, he was also a nationalist and served as cabinet secretary under two presidents.
Joecon also served as DTI secretary under President Cory Aquino. And he was known for a couple of slogans, one of them being, “Yes, the Filipino Can.” It was a challenge to the Filipino to make positive change in their community. He walked the talk; despite his already loaded schedule, he still served, twice, as the barangay captain of Forbes Park. It inspired me to later take on unpaid government work as Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship despite having been twice offered a government position.
My father made it a point to teach me how hard life can be for ordinary Filipinos. The house in Pasay was a disaster relief center when typhoons or a fire struck neighboring communities. When I was seven, he led me out to the street outside our home to show me the aftermath of a planned attack on Malacañang – nearly three dozen dead bodies belonging to members of the Lapiang Malaya so I could perhaps start asking difficult questions about the social realities outside our comfortable home.
My uncle Ronnie, meantime, would spend time on the ground trying to gain a real-world understanding of the causes he espoused, namely consumer rights and oil price hikes, eventually leading him to found Consumer Oil Price Watch.
Though all these men – Joecon, Ronnie, Jose Sr. and Salvador Araneta – were themselves astute businessmen – capitalists, even – they never thought of business as a zero-sum game. It was never about decimating the enemy. It was about building, adapting, advocating, changing, and in Joecon’s very memorable words, about lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness.
Yes, they were businessmen, but they were businessmen who refused to mind only their own business. The welfare of the nation was their business, as it should be for every Filipino.
To my father, Joecon, who decided to light that candle of hope during the darkest days, the great mentor who led me to the same path of lighting that candle of hope for our MSMEs, especially during this pandemic, a happy 90th birthday to you and to Uncle Ronnie.