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A radical advocate for the underprivileged

Before I had the privilege of meeting lawyer Florencio B. Orendain (FBO) personally in 2014, I knew him only as founding chief executive officer of the Home Development Mutual Fund, more popularly known as the Pag-Ibig Fund. I also knew he was involved with the Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium Enterprises (GFSME). These are two major saving and investment mechanisms that mobilized funds for the immediate benefit of the “small guys” in Philippine society. Pag-Ibig was able to generate a big fund source for affordable housing development financing for its members, while GFSME gave credit access to small and medium entrepreneurs. And these funds were professionally managed with integrity, serving faithfully the beneficiaries for which the funds were created.

I likewise learned that with his profound legal mind, FBO successfully ventured into creative project financial engineering.

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I was introduced to FBO when a friend gave me a copy of a draft Information Memorandum on Efcot, or the “Experimental Farming Community of Tomorrow.” This is a proposed project that can benefit almost 6,000 coconut farmers in Nakar, Quezon, who are willing to consolidate their small landholdings under a usufruct agreement to be able to establish a multicrop-based agro-industrial estate and enterprise. The enterprise will be launched, developed, and operated for them by a professional team, and transferred back to them after they and their children have been trained to take over the entire estate. FBO introduced the use of the “trust system” to assure the farmers that the project is not a disguised scheme to use their land for purposes other than their long-term interest. The entire project is to be “held in trust for them and their beneficiaries.”

FBO was lead convener of this Nakar initiative. He mobilized professionals who were willing to contribute their expertise, experience, and time to conceptualize the project and determine its feasibility, viability, and sustainability. His premise was simple: Small farmers-landowners need professional expertise, just like conglomerates and multinationals, to succeed, and big funding for capital expenditures can be sourced only when small landholdings are consolidated.

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FBO wanted to bypass unscrupulous capitalists and market middlemen who take advantage of small farmers. It takes radical creative thinking to advocate for such goals to get the confidence of small, poor coconut farmers.

He called me early in the morning on many occasions, before the sun was up, to discuss his ideas and concepts, their historical bases, the experience of other countries, the challenges to be overcome, networking and organizing requirements. FBO had a great pioneering mind and spirit.

Efcot must now be FBO’s seemingly “impossible dream.” It continues to be in the predevelopment stage, as the initial start-up funding remains elusive. But his concept is indeed radical, even “revolutionary.” Coconut farmers are among the poorest in Philippine agriculture. FBO wanted them uplifted in a big, sustainable way. And he knew that if Efcot succeeded to establish a comprehensive, master-planned, multi-product and service agro-industrial estate, the model could be replicated in other areas and for other poor farmers and fisherfolk. Those who have less in Philippine society could find partners who would work with them to give them the chance to have access to expertise, experience, and resources.

In the passing of Florencio B. Orendain, all those who encountered him are reminded that everyone can make a difference when they care for the underprivileged who need to be helped and uplifted. Those who have been blessed with privileges must share of themselves. And the beneficiaries would pay forward.

Godspeed, FBO. Your life has been well lived. Your commitment to those who have less in life lives on.

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Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and now a business consultant.

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TAGS: FBO, Orendain, VENIDA
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