A hero passes away: Ting Paterno; 89
“If I had my life to live all over again, I probably would have gone to Mr. Marcos in 1976 [He was minister of industry during martial law.—Ed.] and said, Mr. Marcos, puwede na ba? Puwede na ba akong umalis? What kept me going up to  was I think partly ego. Partly the feeling that kung ako umalis lalong sasama ang sitwasyon because the people that will take my place won’t be as principled or scrupulous. I say it’s ego maybe I should have left earlier,” Vicente T. Paterno told the interviewer, the late Lito Tiongson, in the “Batas Militar” documentary produced by the Eugenia Apostol Foundation in 1997.
Paterno was goal-oriented from his youth. Told that his days were numbered (he had a lump in his lung), his stoic reaction was, “Oh well, you win some, you lose some.”
Then he decided (with help from Above) he would make it to the launch of his book, “On My Terms,” on Nov. 11 and to his 89th birthday on the 18th.
The pneumonia patient was allowed a three-hour furlough from hospital and was taken to Polo Club in an ambulance for the book launch.
Looking anything but sick, he delivered a short talk and basked in the love and respect friends lavished on him through hugs, short speeches in praise of a hero, and hearty handshakes.
To a man (and woman), everyone—many luminaries, no government officials—gathered in the gloaming and basked, in turn, in the presence of the great Filipino.
A pocket history of his life: a mechanical engineering degree from the University of the Philippines; an MBA graduate, with distinction, from Harvard Business School.
Socorro Paz Pardo, his wife, and he could afford only a Brown Derby hot dog and a Coke, while delighting in the Manila Bay sunset.
He made Phinma’s Bacnotan Cement profitable in its first year of operation, husbanded Meralco’s finances at a crucial point in its history when Eugenio Lopez purchased it from Americans, seeing to its profitability in a new way—offering Meralco bonds on Wall Street and the international market.
The Philippine government followed suit with bond sales some years later.
At the Board of Investments (BOI), he encouraged staff to attend important meetings, enabling them as resource persons to foreign investors and the press.
When the BOI was folded into the Department of Industry, he liaised with foreign ministers to form the BIMP-Eaga—the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area—to speed up development in Mindanao through sea and air links, free movement of peoples and goods, including tourism, and shared infrastructure.
The Sakbayan, Fiera, and Tamaraw vehicles were products of his Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) car-complementation program.
(In his talk at the book launch, Ernest Rufino mentioned the Progressive Car Manufacturing Program and the Foreign Investments Act, among other jewels in Paterno’s crown. Rufino also told friends that Paterno had been mentor and idol to younger Meralco officers, including himself.)
The 3,517-kilometer Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway was an early fruit of economic relations Paterno opened with Japan. Given an imperial award in 1981, the Order of the Sacred Treasure First Class, he chose to receive it here (a Tokyo ceremony would have been splendiferous).
Two persons received the Management Man of the Year 1982 award: Jaime Ongpin for the private sector, and Paterno for the public sector. That year, too, Ateneo named him Doctor in Humane Letters, honoris causa, in recognition of the integrity of his work in government.
Doing the impossible at the then Ministry of Public Highways, he identified the most corrupt; even the New People’s Army sent him anonymous letters identifying thieving district officers.
In 1980, a crew assigned by Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, then editor of Panorama magazine, to prepare a photo essay on the devastation caused by Typhoon “Aring” (international name: Sally) reported that on his last day at the highways ministry, he was in Pampanga province supervising emergency repairs.
(“A hero,” wrote Romain Rolland, 1914 Nobel Prize winner for literature, “is one who does something when others do not.”)
His first attempt to bring development to Mindanao with Masicap (Medium and Small Industries Coordinated Action Program), was not continued by his successor at the industry department.
It was revived in the early 2000s, encouraged by its originators, who were college seniors trained to facilitate bank loans for small entrepreneurs.
Paterno, as chair and president of Masicap-2’s Foundation, and his family provided seed money.
Several thousand Mindanao entrepreneurs have received P680 million, averaging P500,000 each.
Countryside development, with emphasis on Mindanao, was a lifelong mantra for Paterno. A few days before his passing, he was pleased to note news reports that the BIMP-Eaga was aborning again in Palawan province.
He started Philippine Seven Corp. in 1982 in preparation for retirement, but President Cory Aquino forced him to run for the Senate in 1987. He won and served up to 1992.
Today, Philippine Seven is robust, with more than a thousand 7-Eleven convenience stores across the country worth P41 billion. His son Victor heads the company.
Last year, the Asian Institute of Management and the Jaycees gave the Ramon V. del Rosario Award for Nation Building to Paterno.
He received awards to the end. The last came last week from the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), where he served as chair in 1986.
Namfrel gave him the award for his “significant contribution toward the strengthening of the Namfrel volunteer movement at its most crucial time; for his leadership not just in the business sector but also in government; and for continuously serving as a role model not just for ordinary citizens but also to those who aspire for public office.”
“On My Terms” tells how when he went into public service, he and Socorro had stayed up until 3 a.m., deciding how to make ends meet post-Meralco. Fortunately, her handicraft export business was doing great and she convinced him that it would pick up the slack.
On Nov. 21, after all life support had been removed, he fought another full day bravely, with his wife, who is on dialysis, his concern to the end.
Twelve minutes after receiving the reassurance he needed from nurse Gina and caregiver Joy, who whispered to him, “Don’t worry, Sir, we will take very good care of Ma’am,” he went to meet his Maker.
We are left with so few good men and, yes, his death diminishes us all greatly.