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Octogenarians

/ 04:05 AM November 28, 2011

Last Friday, my cousin Max Edralin celebrated his 80th birthday. One of the country’s top professionals in the highly competitive environment of public relations, Max continues with an active schedule as a consultant with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. As J.J. Calero in one of his BusinessWorld columns some years ago put it, “Mention Max Edralin and the first thing that comes to mind is a true blue, dyed-in-the-wool public relations professional.”

With family and friends in attendance, Vice President Jejomar Binay reminded the audience that Max once served as the president of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines and received its highest award, the “Gold Tamaraw.”

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Not many people know that in 1955 as a reporter for the Philippines Herald, Max and four others—Jose Aspiras of the Evening News, Francisco de Leon of the Manila Chronicle, Manuel Salak Jr. of the Manila Times, Gregorio Coronel of the Philippine New Services—were sent to jail in a landmark case involving confidentiality of news sources. They refused to reveal the identity of the source of a story about an extortion attempt in a murder case involving then Defense Secretary Oscar Castelo who was concurrently justice secretary, one of the most powerful officials of that time. It was the Supreme Court that ordered their release from jail.

I have always thought that Max’s finest hour was as president of Operation Smile Philippines, when he headed scores of medical missions throughout the country, providing indigent children with a new lease on life with free surgical operations to correct facial deformities.

* * *

Two years ago, I wrote about a “vanishing breed of nation builders,” referring to a group of young Filipino men who were sent to study at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) right after World War II.

Just to refresh our memories—I seem to be dwelling a lot on memories these days but as someone put it, if you don’t know where you’ve been, you won’t get to where you’re going—the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946 provided for the grant of 50 midshipmen slots at the USMMA per year for a period of three years. This was aimed at helping in the rehabilitation of the merchant marine sector of our economy that had been completely decimated during the war. When we speak of the merchant marine, we refer to the fleet of civilian-owned vessels operated by the government or the private sector and engaged in commerce or the transport of goods and services in peace time. In war, the merchant marine fleet becomes an auxiliary of the Navy and can be used to deliver troops and supplies for our Armed Forces.

In 1946, the first 50 candidates chosen through civil service exams nationwide were shipped out to the Academy at King’s Point, New York. Of the 50, all except one would finish the four-year course. Some of the prominent members of

USMMA Class of 1950 included Nemesio Prudente, Danilo Vizmanos, Luisito Goduco, Gil Fernandez, Romulo Espaldon, Cecilio Hidalgo, Ramon Madrid, Leonardo Bugayong,

Inocencio Estaniel, Vicente Perez, Alfredo Protacio, Gonzalo Santos and Benjamin Tanedo.

For some reason, there were no scholars sent in 1947 and 1948. In 1949 the arrangements were resumed but this time only 20 were sent to the Academy. Of the Class of 1953, the reader may recognize a few: Francis Ablan, Feliciano Salonga (father of Lea Salonga), Jaime Francisco, Francisco Almazora (an old buddy from Bangkok days), Alfredo Divino and Serapio Martillano (former flag officer in command of the Philippine Navy).

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In 1950 the third and last batch of 20 candidates was dispatched to King’s Point. The Class of 1954 included Gregorio Abad, Hermenegildo Domingo, Jose Lansangan Jr., Jose Reyes and Bienvenido Lim.

With the graduation of Class 1954, the brief relationship with the USMMA came to an end. Of the 90 Filipino King’s Pointers, most eventually joined the private sector where they excelled establishing their own successful business enterprises. A few stayed with the Philippine Navy, occupying some of the highest positions in the organization. Their contributions in the field of maritime affairs constitute one of the most important chapters in the history of our country and in the continuing task of nation-building.

Many of these “nation builders” have since passed away. A number are completely retired, but there remain a few who continue to live life to the fullest. They can pass from one time zone to another as though they were taking a bus ride from Cubao to Baclaran. They can swing a golf club like a pro and make some really great shots once in a while. They look 60 when in truth they are octogenarians.

Last Saturday, friends of Bienvenido Lim of Mabalacat, Pampanga, the “industrial capital of the Philippines” (according to a sign just as you enter the town), gathered to mark his 80th birthday with pancit guisado and champagne, symbols of the probinsianic origins of a boy who made it big in the highly technical world of naval architecture and shipbuilding. Together with his classmate Jose Reyes, they established Reyes and Lim, a firm engaged in the business of designing and building ships. They would also end up as ship owners since some payment for their services would be in the form of the very product they had built. With the death of Reyes in 1998, the 38-year partnership came to an end.

Today, Lim still moves around the globe in search of salt and ships. He is based in Toronto where wife Menvy lives. When it gets too cold, he flies in for several rounds of golf. We tell him that we accept most forms of currency—US or Canadian dollars. At the moment, however, we don’t accept Greek drachmas or euros. His tastes have become more cosmopolitan but he enjoys the simple fare that the Navy Golf Club offers. He hasn’t lost sight of his origins; however, his ways have become those of the Western world where his formal education took place—blunt, frank and outspoken—peppered with Pinoy humor, a dash of self-deprecation, and a huge bowl of generosity.

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TAGS: BSP, Max Edralin, people, public relations
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