A legacy of industry and vigilance: Jose Concepcion Jr.

A legacy of industry and vigilance: Jose Concepcion Jr., 92

PHOTO: Jose Concepcion Jr. STORY: A legacy of industry and vigilance: Jose Concepcion Jr., 92

Jose Concepcion Jr.

MANILA, Philippines — Jose Concepcion Jr., who loomed large in the Philippine business community as head of food and beverage giant RFM Corp., in the public sector as trade secretary, and perhaps more indelibly in the country’s political history as the founder of poll watchdog National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), died on Wednesday. He was 92.

Before gradually withdrawing from public life, “Joecon” had been a name associated with election vigilance, especially after Namfrel played a central role in guarding the 1986 presidential snap elections, whose highly disputed results stoked weeks of unrest and eventually led to the end of the Marcos dictatorship through the Edsa People Power Revolution.


In tribute, Namfrel described its founding national chair as “a visionary leader who truly loved his country, and believed in the power of ordinary citizens to effect lasting change in their own communities.”


“His legacy lives on in the hearts of every Namfrel Bantay ng Bayan volunteer who strives to continue what he and his fellow Namfrel pioneers started,’” the group said in a statement.

READ: ‘Joecon,’ PH industrialist and Namfrel co-founder, dies at 92

In a phone interview with the Inquirer, Namfrel secretary general Eric Alvia took note of how Concepcion still chose to get involved in such risky civic advocacy despite being a rich and successful businessman.

“He saw that for change to happen, it would require a collective effort coming from the Filipinos. He always had hope and optimism for Filipinos to improve ourselves, and improve our country,” he added.

In the 1986 snap polls that Marcos called, the Namfrel quick count showed the opposition candidate Cory Aquino leading over the incumbent. Amid allegations of fraud and violence, the Commission on Elections proclaimed Marcos the winner, extending his hold on power.

Concepcion in an exchange with Cardinal Jaime Sin and Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon

MAN ON A MISSION | Concepcion in an exchange with Cardinal Jaime Sin and Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon. Photo taken in 1999 at the Archbishop’s Palace (Villa San Miguel) in Mandaluyong City where a Mass was held for the Filipino Humanitarian Mission for East Timor. (File photo from the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Biz groups in mourning

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the country’s largest business organization, said: “It is hard to find suitable words to pay tribute to this truly remarkable man, a visionary known for his fiery brand of leadership and passion, and a giant among his fellows who demonstrated the rule of inspiring others.”


In a statement, PCCI president Enunina Mangio said Concepcion was a (PCCI) charter member who served in various capacities but was most well-known for his chairmanship of the group’s Asean Committee, as well as the Philippine chairmanship of the Asean Business Advisory Council (Asean-BAC) and East Asia Business Council (EABC) when these were founded in 2002.

“Under his leadership, he gave shape to several advocacies—stronger engagement of the business sector in international trade negotiations, business that is inclusive and responsive to the needs of its community and stakeholders, and a community that is vigilant for democratic processes,” Mangio recalled.

The export-oriented Foreign Buyers Association of the Philippines (Fobap) called Concepcion a “multitasker,” and a “man-for-all seasons.”

“Fobap’s fond memories of the man was his engagement in the garment and textile industry by honoring and giving awards to the top 10 garments exporters every year in the ’90s, as a means of encouragement and due recognition to the industry,” Fobap president Robert Young told the Inquirer. “We need more Joecons today to revive and emulate his (vision of) industrialization.”

The Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship (Go Negosyo) hailed Concepcion as “the epitome of the patriot-industrialist.”

“He believed in the Philippines’ ability to achieve economic development that was inclusive and pro-Filipino,” said the advocacy group founded by his son, Jose Concepcion III.

Jose Concepcion Jr.

‘THE FILIPINO CAN’ | The patriot and industrialist, shown here at an event with his son Jose III and then President Rodrigo Duterte, championed the local business sector and the democratic process in equal measure. (MALACAÑANG PHOTO)

Building RFM

During his long tenure as president and chief operating officer of publicly listed RFM, whose brands include Selecta, Sunkist, Royal, and Fiesta, the late industrialist spearheaded its diversification into animal feed milling, poultry, and livestock. He also secured a license from American company Swift to produce processed meats in the Philippines.

“These propelled RFM to establish itself as one of the leading food and beverage conglomerates in the Philippines. Staying true to its vision of putting food on every Filipino table, RFM offered products that were mass-based, high-quality, and low-cost,” it added.

Go Negosyo further recalled that, as a delegate to the constitutional convention of 1971 representing the first district of Rizal, Concepcion championed principles that would level the playing field for business, allowing Filipino manufacturers more room to thrive in the face of foreign competition.

A product of the De La Salle University and Araneta Institute of Agriculture, Concepcion did not let his position of privilege shield or blind him from the harsh realities of Philippine society.

Concepcion with the East TimorRefugees

OVERSEAS ENGAGEMENT | Concepcion with the East Timor Refugees at the Atambuan Refugee Center in West Timor.

Martial law, Cory years

Under the Marcos dictatorship, he was arrested during martial law. While in detention, he organized a system among his fellow detainees so they could take turns doing chores and keeping order in their cell block.

His release from jail did not deter him from pursuing what he believed he must do for the country.

In a 1999 article he wrote for the Inquirer where he recalled his experiences leading to and during the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, he said: “(Namfrel) began with the premise that in the multitude of issues, protests and demands that followed Ninoy (Aquino’s) assassination, it was evident that strong differences existed among the people and their leaders. And that in a democratic society, the fundamental and peaceful process of resolving differences is by elections.”

Serving as trade secretary under Cory Aquino (Ninoy’s widow), he was best remembered for leading the campaign calling on Filipinos to support local industries and buy local products. “Yes, the Filipino can,” his motto proclaimed.

Concepcion left government service in 1991 but continued with his civic work.

Well into his retirement years, he was elected barangay captain of the posh Forbes Park in Makati City. In 2000, he was among one of the most vocal private-sector leaders who called for the resignation of then-President Joseph Estrada amid the corruption scandals hounding his administration.

Flag at half-staff

Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual said Concepcion’s “visionary leadership and dedication have left an indelible mark on the Philippine economic landscape. The whole DTI [Department of Trade and Industry] organization extends sincere condolences to Joecon’s family and friends, acknowledging his enduring impact on Philippine society.”

“His legacy will forever inspire future generations toward fostering a thriving and pro-Filipino nation,” he added.

Philippine flags at various offices of the DTI will be flown at half-staff in Concepcion’s honor, according to the agency.

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Concepcion is survived by his wife, Maria Victoria Araneta, their eight children, 31 grandchildren and his twin brother, Raul.

TAGS: Jose Concepcion Jr., obituary, RFM Corp.

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