Farm boy also rises: From school janitor to president
ROXAS CITY, Philippines—George Cortel cleaned the toilets, library and hallways when he was a working student at Filamer Christian Institute (FCI). Now, about 40 years later, he is the acting president of the only private university in Capiz province.
Cortel took over the reins at the school, now known as Filamer Christian University (FCU), on July 3 after the term of Dr. Domingo Diel expired.
He will serve for only a year unless the term is extended by the board of trustees.
The installation ceremony, held on the FCU campus along Roxas Avenue in Roxas City, was attended by school employees, friends and other guests.
Cortel comes from a poor farming family in Sapian town, also in Capiz. He and his eight siblings helped their father till their 500-square-meter farm planted to rice and corn, but also attended classes at Sapian Elementary School and Sapian Barrio High School.
Since the farm was small, their produce was only good for the family, Cortel said. “We cannot sell the rice because it was not even enough for the family,” he said.
Sometimes the food was not enough. Cortel recalled that when they had a whole chicken for the day’s meal, his parents did not get even a piece.
Being poor taught him to be “industrious, honest and thrifty,” Cortel said.
Before going to FCI, Cortel took a secretarial course at Colegio de la Purisima Concepcion, a school run by the Archdiocese of Capiz. After a semester, he dropped out because his family could not afford to pay the tuition.
He worked as a helper at Majeco, a farm implements dealer in Roxas City.
Some friends from FCI high school asked him to study there. One of them introduced him to the school chaplain, who in turn introduced him to Erlinda Sarmiento, treasurer and supervisor of working students.
Cortel enrolled in FCI in 1974 and worked for a bachelor’s degree in economics. He also worked there as janitor for three years until he was promoted to bus driver.
“I made my vacant time in Majeco productive by driving the vehicles there and the tractor. A colleague would let me practice,” he said.
He also drove for then college president Dr. Augustin Masa, a pastor and a father figure.
“He (Masa) has a son. But he considered me one of his own children,” Cortel said.
At FCI, Cortel met Joseline Marcelia, who later became a nurse and his wife. They have three children, Michelle, a nurse, George Ivan, a dialysis nurse, both of whom work at Capiz Emmanuel Hospital, and Michael George, who works on a cruise ship.
After earning his degree in 1978, Cortel considered going back to Sapian, but realized that there were more job opportunities in Roxas City.
He took on the offer of Masa to go with him to Manila to pursue a master’s degree in business administration at Philippine Christian University (PCU), a requirement for dean of FCI’s College of Commerce.
Masa talked with the PCU administration and was able to work out an arrangement for Cortel’s housing and scholarship. Part of the arrangement was that Cortel would receive a regular salary as the university driver and janitor.
Had Cortel not taken Masa’s offer, he would have applied for a job in a government agency.
After getting his master’s degree in 1980, Cortel went back to FCI and worked as Masa’s administrative assistant.
Full support for siblings
From there, he went on to become dean of the FCI College of Commerce, assistant to the president for finance and operations, vice president for finance and administration, and vice president for academic affairs.
As he rose through the ranks, Cortel helped his family. He financed the education, as well as board and lodging, of five of his eight siblings. They are all professionals now.
Cortel retired in 2011, a year after FCI became a university, for “personal reasons.”
He worked at Iloilo Mission Hospital as the executive assistant to the administrator for a year and eight months before he was downed by vertigo.
To keep himself productive, Cortel accepted a consultant’s job at Kapis Mansions Hotel and FCU. “If I do not work, I would have an imbalance in my life,” he said.
When the term of Dr. Domingo Diel as FCU president expired, the board of trustees’ search committee declared the position of president vacant on May 31.
Cortel decided to apply because it was an opportunity to serve his alma mater. “I could not be George Cortel now if it was not for Filamer,” he said.
Cortel said he believed his experience at FCU was a factor in his selection as acting president. He has a year to prove he deserves a term extension.