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TOFIL Awardee

Jose S. Concepcion, Jr.
TOFIL Awardee for Social Advocacy, 2007

 

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
                                                                    NAMFREL slogan

In a country that staunchly regards itself as democratic, it is not uncommon to find, from the modest street corner store to the august halls of the senate, a multitude of voices vociferously arguing for or against various issues that are currently besetting the Philippines. It is a democracy that was hard-earned:  in many instances, paid for with lives during the Marcos dictatorship years, and brought about by the sacrifice, faith and prayers of countless Filipinos during the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolt.

The Marcos years brought to fore many painful but valuable lessons for Filipinos. However, if one were to pick just one lesson from those times for its continuing relevance, Jose S. Concepcion, Jr.’s favorite catchphrase easily makes the mark: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” 

Indeed, industrialist and businessman Jose S. Concepcion, Jr. found himself right at the heart of the EDSA People Power by refusing to sit at the sidelines and watch a dictator pull the country further into wretchedness. When the clamor for a “People’s Watch” broke out before the 1984 parliamentary elections, Concepcion lost no time in founding the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) together with Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich. In just six months, he was able to gather 150,000 volunteers, including a hundred organizations with the simple but effective means of networking. NAMFREL’s Operation Quick Count would rely on these volunteers to count, cull and report election returns quicker than the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) could. It was a tall order, considering that then President Ferdinand E. Marcos had the country under his iron fist. Still, NAMFREL’s presence reputedly curbed cheating — on both sides. After all, the group was created to allow fair and honest elections, one that would reflect the true sentiment of the people. And it apparently did. The results of the May 14, 1984 elections showed that the opposition won 40% of parliament seats, despite predictions of a landslide win for the administration.

NAMFREL’s reprised its role during the 1986 snap Presidential Elections – a chance it almost missed when the COMELEC delayed its accreditation. For Concepcion, the accreditation had been an exhausting 18-month struggle. The bigger battle, though, was still ahead. The February 7, 1986 Presidential Election was reputedly among the dirtiest and bloodiest elections in the Philippines. Batasan proclaimed Marcos as the winner, even as actual figures showed it was his opponent Corazon C. Aquino, the widow of his fiercest nemesis Benigno Aquino, Jr., who won. One of Concepcion’s pivotal roles during the EDSA revolution was in appealing to the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, together with Atty. Christian Monsod, to raise the call for Filipinos to troop to Camp Aguinaldo and support then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fidel V. Ramos who have defected from the Marcos fold. Still more significant however, was that under his leadership, NAMFREL’s network had swelled extensively; so much so that when the call for support came, the group was able to swiftly muster its members. To date, NAMFREL has been part of more than 22 national and local elections, participated in 37 countries. It has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize Awards, among other awards.

Concepcion’s commitment for public welfare is rooted deep in his psyche. He and his siblings were raised by their parents, Jose Sr. and Herminia to value hard work, discipline and integrity. Another person who greatly influenced his life was Dr. Ariston Estrada, one of his teachers at De La Salle, who introduced him to a book by Father William O’ Connor, “The Layman’s Call”. The book has since become his lodestar; he believes that his vocation is to serve God through his profession.

As the long-time President and Chief Operating Officer of his family-owned company, the Republic Flour Mills (RFM) Corporation, Concepcion was responsible for its subsequent growth as a conglomerate. From flour milling, RFM diversified into animal feed milling, poultry, livestock, and through Swift, processed meats. The RFM Group of Companies now includes real estate, semiconductors and banking. RFM is also a recognized leader in food and beverage. He is the Chairman of the Board of RFM Corporation, as well as head of Swift Foods, Inc., Philippine Township, Inc., and the Gregorio Araneta University Foundation, and Board Member and Member of the Executive Committee of Concepcion Industries.

Eldest son Jose Ma. A. Concepcion III calls his father a “social entrepreneur”: Concepcion dreams of finally drawing the Philippines out of poverty, and in so doing, restore the country to its former stature as a respected leader in Asia. To this end, he has been involved in numerous social advocacies that support the upliftment of lives. He organized the Pasay Citizens’ League for Good Government in the 1960s to transform Pasay into a model city. He set up the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines in 1962 to spur students to become active in nation-building. It was also during the ‘60s that he helped found the Capitol Jaycees. In 1975, the Bishop-Businessmen Conference for Human Development (BBC) was created with Concepcion as one of the founding members. The BBC is a partnership of bishops and businessmen geared towards the alleviation of poverty and social justice. He served as National Co-Chairman of BBC from 1993 to 2003. He also responded to the alarm sounded by the World Health Organization regarding the prevalence of heart diseases by co-founding the Foundation for Lay Education on Heart Diseases (FLEHD).

In the government, Concepcion campaigned and was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1971, representing the first district of Rizal. After the EDSA Revolt, he was appointed by President Corazon Aquino as Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (1986 to 1991). During his term, he organized what is now known as the “One-Stop-Shop” for business permits and licenses. He likewise established the People Economic Council, which aimed to empower people in the countryside and generate economic activities.  During that period, he also served as chairman of the Board of Investments, and was member of the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of the Philippines. He is currently the chairman of Barangay Forbes – a post he was first elected to in 1997. Since that time, he has remained a firm believer in the force of an empowered barangay in bringing about national development.

Concepcion is a long-time and fervent participant in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Because of this, he has earned the monicker “Mr. ASEAN”. He is a founding member of the ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASEAN-CCI), organized in 1975, and served as its chairman from 2000 to 2001. In 2006, he was appointed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as one of the three Philippine representatives to the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC). He is currently chairman of the East Asia Business Council (EABC), which is a coalition of ASEAN, China and Japan.

Concepcion has been recognized for his numerous contributions to social welfare. Among his awards are: ASEAN-CCI Distinguished Award (2006); Noble Knighthood of the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great (1980); Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Industry Award; and the President Ramon Magsaysay Malacañang Gold Medal as one of the Ten Outstanding Leaders in the Philippines.

Concepcion earned his Associate in Commercial Science from the De La Salle College in 1951, and his Bachelor of Science, Major in Soils from the Araneta Institute of Agriculture, now known as the De La Salle Araneta University. He is married to Maria Victoria, and they have been blessed with eight children: Jose Ma., Marie Herminia, Luis Bernardo, John Marie, Lourdes Celine, Victoria Ana, Mary Elizabeth and Michelle Marie.

 

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