Tribute to Filemon Berba, Jr.: Extraordinary leader, role model, and friend


Dinky Soliman’s legacy: Reducing poverty, responding to calamity

Seated behind my laptop while trying to cobble some random thoughts into a sensible essay, my attention was caught by a book entitled, Leadership for Extraordinary Results. On closer inspection, I realized the book was written by a long-time friend and role model, Filemon “Jun” Berba, who passed away last April 4, a week before his 85th birthday.
I had known Jun since the early 80s as I attended meetings and fora sponsored by the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP) and the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) which he led as president in 1982. Years later, he was conferred by the MAP its prestigious Management Man of the Year award.

I leafed through the first few pages and soon found myself engrossed in absorbing the many insights that he shared from his luminous career – from his first job as a cadet engineer through occupying key senior management positions and holding the CEO’s portfolio in some of the country’s leading companies including, among others: Globe Telecoms, Manila Water, Philippine Electric Corporation (Philec), United Laboratories, and Westinghouse Asia Controls Corporation.

Through his recollection of vignettes and anecdotes, the readers are edified by the lessons he imparted on how to deal with major challenges and crises that confront a manager and a leader.

Jun Berba published his book in 2015 and promptly sent me a copy. As I was busy performing my duties as Communications Secretary at that time, I did not even get to thank him personally. My deeper regret is not having had the opportunity to talk and discuss with him the observations he wrote in his book, particularly those on national leadership.
On President Corazon “Cory” Aquino: “(W)hile she was admired as a leader who inspired the critical change process, Cory was not a manager. She needed to put together a good management team to efficiently move the country forward. The inspiration provided by an effective leader has to be combined with the perspiration of efficient managers to transform a vision into reality.”

I could sense that Jun was delivering a subtle critique on what he believed President Cory could or should have done but didn’t – or couldn’t. I had the privilege of working closely with her for eight months, from December 1990 to July 1991, when I served as head of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS).

Every day, I would send to her office what had been worked on and analyzed by the PMS staff in terms of policy studies and recommendations. She attended to these promptly – mostly within the day. If need be, she called for an immediate meeting with the Cabinet members involved.

She was very professional in her personal conduct, and she was especially prompt in fulfilling her public engagements. She always arrived at least 15 minutes before the scheduled start of an event; I don’t recall a single instance when she was not punctual. “The least I could do in return for the honor of being invited is to be on time,” she said.

In terms of managing the policy making process, she observed the norms of sound management practice. She was able to steer Cabinet discussions toward definite conclusions and clear lines of action. Considering the magnitude of the problems she inherited – that dated back to the country’s deep slide into recession and heavy indebtedness following her husband’s assassination in 1983 – I believe it is fair to give her sufficient credit for enabling the proverbial ship of state to sail through choppy waters.

On President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, he wrote: “We can say that he carries with him the inspirational charisma of his mother Cory. He has set a high standard of integrity and honesty for his own behavior. But his recent responses during crisis periods were somewhat lacking in leadership and did not seem to inspire his team to look up to him for the kind of leadership needed under such circumstances.”

My sense is that Jun may have based these observations from what had been reported in the mass media or talked about by business leaders at that time. As one who had worked closely with the President daily, I could say that there are many nuances and intangibles that influence his decision-making process – which the public is unable to witness, much less appreciate fully.

If I had the opportunity, I would have assured Jun that President Noynoy always endeavored to decide with clarity of thought and purpose – and with only the national interest in mind. On account of his fair-mindedness and magnanimity, I am certain that Jun would have reassessed his views in light of fresh information.

Thank you, my dear friend Jun, for your personal message as you gave me your book: “I salute you for your sacrifice and dedication for our country’s progress. Peace, power and patience, my friend.”

Thank you for giving me an occasion to engage with you anew, imaginatively, through this column. We honor and cherish your memory. Your spirit lives on forever in our hearts.