We sincerely thank God that at almost 84, the Lord has given us fair health and some residual energy.
Before the onslaught of the global Coronavirus pandemic, which has harshly disrupted and claimed more than a million lives worldwide, we would attend meetings, deliver speeches at home and overseas, pursue strategic goals, and comply with foreign obligations. At times, we were joined by wife Gina, who is 71 years old herself, has served two terms in the House of Representatives and was twice president of the 85-member Association of Women Legislators. Our 34-year-old son Christopher is on his second term as congressman and totally dedicated to economic, tourism, and agricultural development in Pangasinan’s 4th district which includes the miraculous Virgin Mary Basilica in Manaoag, visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year.
We ourself pioneered for 11 years in the 1970s/80s in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan, and Libya in North Africa as a risk-taker in oil exploration, and as prime contractor, operating the Port of Jeddah on the Red Sea, and Jubail in the Persian Gulf.
We also built a large-scale pioneering electrification network around the Riyadh central region of Saudi Arabia; highways in Iraq, oil drilling in the Emirate of Ajman, the United Arab Emirates. We hit commercial oil there to much joy, until the price of oil plunged from $39 per barrel to $8 per barrel in only a few months, and we had to abandon the well after much tears and wailing, and brought our oil rig and Filipino workforce home, the first Filipino-led oil well abroad with foreign partners.
In those halcyon days in the Middle East, we had some 50,000 employees as prime contractors and a few times as sub-contractors in various fields, which later led to the employment of millions of Filipinos in succeeding years, lifting Philippine dollar reserves – $200 million/$300 million when we began to multi-billions in a year, to over $90 billion in Philippine foreign exchange reserves today.
We lost our hard-earned wealth with our sudden pull-out from the Middle East triggered by the Iraq-Iran war, and our forced abandonment of our some $40-million in infrastructure equipment in the war zone and our tragic expensive repatriation of thousands of our workers back to the Philippines.
We remember with pride that our direct employment of tens of thousands of Filipinos in the Arab world, beginning with our initial small foray in Iran and our large-scale operation on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf, dramatically enriched the Philippine Central Bank’s dollar reserves, enabled us to regain our seat in Congress after martial law, get elected speaker five times without precedent, made a bid for the presidency but came out short, second to the popular movie actor Joseph “Erap” Estrada in a highly competitive field of ten, where our party then, Lakas-NUCD-UMDP (National Union of Christian Democrats-United Muslim Democrats of the Philippines), now Lakas-CMD Christian Muslim Democrats), had four strong unyielding rebel candidates, and several others while our friend Erap, alone in his party, sailed home victorious.
We used to tease him that he should have not run at all and left the presidential field to us instead of being confined later, until we moved for his pardon and later, he largely redeemed himself by his two elections as mayor of Manila.
Today, while our old colleagues are enjoying their retirement, we continue to be challenged by our work as chairman of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) which we founded in Manila in 2000, now composed of some 350 ruling, opposition, and independent political parties in Asia and meets at least twice a year. Our other organization, the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP), co-chaired by former senior US 30-year Congressman Dan Burton, has more than 1,500 parliamentary members in six continents.
We also initiated the now robust Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA) and transferred its headquarters from Manila to Tehran to contribute to efforts then to help bring Tehran to the center and the now successful Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council (APRC), based in Bangkok, headed by former Thai Vice Premier and former Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai.
We also continue to serve without salary as President Rodrigo Duterte’s Special Envoy for Intercultural Dialogue and to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and except for one trip, pay for our own transport fare and hotels stay with our special assistant Aldwin Requejo, who served for a long time as a junior executive in the House of Representatives. We enjoy our work and are not complaining, for serving the country is a great honor but the global coronavirus pandemic early this year has forced us to slow down.
We were caught by surprise by the passing last November 16 of our old friend and long-time colleague in the House of Representatives, Congressman Raul del Mar of the first district of Cebu City.
He was our steadfast ally in passing socio-economic and political reform legislation when we had the privilege of serving five-times as speaker of the House during the Ramos and Macapagal-Arroyo administrations. Raul also joined us in travelling great distances to foster parliamentary- and political party-diplomacy between our country and the global community.
Raul served his beloved Cebu City, Cebu province, and our country with utmost industry and dedication. He served as our deputy speaker during the 13th and 14th Congresses.
As we mentioned in this column much earlier, we feel bad that we could not personally pay our last respects to our friends who passed away during this pandemic period, as it risky for an almost 84-year-old senior citizen like us to travel and go to crowded/public places.
Farewell, our valued friend Raul, and our prayers for his beloved wife Melanie and children former Congressman Raoul del Mar and former Congresswoman Rachel “Cutie” del Mar.