By DFA SECRETARY TEODORO LOCSIN JR.
(Foreign Affairs Secretary and former three-term congressman Teodoro Locsin Jr.’s tribute to Former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. who celebrated his 85th birthday last December 26, 2021)
To our dear friend, Joe de Venecia, it gives me utmost pleasure to greet you a Happy Birthday. Thank you for reminding me once again that you are older than me.
Joe is what a sommelier would call, “premium vintage.” Weathered and stressed to the brink of drought, but with just enough rain for exceptional taste and flavor. His climb was nothing but arduous. With lesser rocks lining the path and lowly snipers holding higher ground. As smaller man would have coward in a dugout. Not Joe. He repeatedly stepped out of cover and stood taller than anyone else could because, well because in the eyes of all privileged to work with him, he stood seven feet tall.
He served as Representative for seven terms and Speaker for five, the longest serving under the 1987 Constitution. His stint in Congress was not without pain. He knew it better than me, the searing and scolding heat of Philippine politics while strapped to the ironing board. Joe didn’t even flinch. Through it all he wowed the entire nation with his accomplishments in promoting peace abroad and economic development at home.
He got every hated measure for the protection of the country passed through a Congress terrified of the political consequences, like higher taxes. The first Anti-Money Laundering Law to catch what public officials steal in office; the Anti-Terrorism Law and other laws so arcane but necessary that only he and a handful of us understood them. He authored the Build-Operate-Transfer Law, which shaped the urban landscape.
Before there was “Build-Build-Build,” there was “Joe-Joe-Joe.” Joe-ing, Joe-ing, and Joe-ing until he got what was needed. He made the unprecedented happen. Everything good that’s now passed is just an amendment of what he got done first.
He was instrumental in the peace process of the Left and the separatist movement in the South. When all seemed lost, he restarted peace efforts into a groundswell that forged two peace agreements. I dare say, he paved the highway for the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
Joe’s leadership was the indispensable and unbreakable link in the critical chain. And then you did what no one else would have dared: you defied the sitting President to protect the members of your House. Warrants of Arrest were served on House members of the Left. You slammed the doors on the faces of the arresting officers, then you opened your plush offices to give them sanctuary for months, even though the Left had always been mean to you. But that was you. It is not what is done to you, but what you must do to live up to the highest service of the Republic.
Oh, and I remember this too. You created the force for economic development in the Middle East, the OFWs. You got them started, and there are now millions, earning well to support families back home. You did that on your own, beating competition that included the giant Bechtel Corporation on their terms. God, I’m so proud of you.
Sometimes you faltered by your own standards, but there was always Gina to make up for it for you. Joe, you know all these and more. I don’t have to belabor your obvious brilliance, the man who could multiply in his head eight digits or more by the same numbers. As we say in law school when we have nothing more to say, Res Ipsa Loquitur.
I’ve always envied you, Joe. How you easily disarm with your charm, how you see clearly the bottom line in every issue, how pragmatism is like a second skin to you, but the first layer is always kindness and care. What needed doing would always be done with the least pain possible and never without some gain for those who had to make the sacrifice. Some of us go through life groping for these qualities and never come close.
Although I suspect that not the least of the weight you throw is your better half, Gina. After all it’s been said and never objected to that every great man has a woman behind him and every great woman has a man in front of her tripping her up, but not you. You knew better than not to follow her when she took the lead.
Happy Birthday, Joe. I love you, my friend. To Joe and Gina: we love you both.