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At Large

The ‘Global Filipino’ turns 75

/ 12:39 AM December 28, 2011

As expected, there was a “cast of thousands”—or of at least a thousand—at the 75th birthday celebration of former Speaker Jose de Venecia last Monday.

Table signs testified to the wide range of guests: politicians, of course, including those at the national level and Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino, and mayors and provincial board members from the 4th district of Pangasinan now represented by Rep. Gina de Venecia in Congress but long the bailiwick of JDV; business folk; diplomats, including US Ambassador Harry Thomas; civil society stalwarts; media friends; Church luminaries; and of course members of the De Venecia and Vera-Perez families.

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Seated with JDV at the head table were former colleagues in the legislature, Speaker Sonny Belmonte and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, as well as his most important political patron, former President Fidel V. Ramos. But most of his tablemates were international personalities, many of them former high government officials and ambassadors, whose presence testified to the new and wider arena the five-time speaker has chosen as his sphere of influence.

Soon after being ousted from the speakership, De Venecia turned his attention to regional and international concerns, particularly to bringing an end to long-festering political and armed conflicts through international mediation. He founded and co-chairs the International Conference of (All) Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), and is president of the Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International (Capdi), both of which were well-represented at the party, among them Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok Anh and the former prime minister of Nepal.

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Already, both the ICAPP and Capdi have been involved in efforts to bring peace in the region: between Thailand and Cambodia which share a disputed border; among Nepal’s political factions following the formation of a coalition government; and between North and South Korea, which process now enters a sensitive stage with the recent demise of “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il.

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But it wasn’t his achievements in business and politics and now in international affairs that members of his family chose to focus on when they took the stage to pay homage to the man dubbed a “Global Filipino.”

His brothers Oscar and Tito focused on JDV’s childhood, reminding those present that as they were growing up, there was “no Joe de Venecia yet,” as he was better known by the family nickname “Pepe.” His sons Joey and Christopher recalled funny anecdotes that showed the very human side of their otherwise serious parent. “He doesn’t know how to operate the latest gadgets,” began Joey, “and he can’t even turn on a TV set!” finished Toph. Joey shared that before their latest trip to Azerbaijan, the last time he spent such an uninterrupted span of time with his father was on a trip to Vietnam when Joey was just four years old. Remembering that he and Joey slept together in one bed in Vietnam, JDV asked him why he insisted on sleeping on the sofa in their hotel room. “But I was only four then,” Joey replied. “But to me you will always be my four-year old boy,” the former speaker retorted.

Carissa, Gina’s daughter from a previous marriage, who was 13 when she met JDV for the first time, remembers putting the then businessman through the wringer in their first interview. “And it was a sign of his generosity that he took time to answer every question put to him by a 13-year old girl,” Carissa said.

Most touching was the tribute paid by an officer of INA Foundation, the support group of bereaved mothers founded by Gina soon after the death of their daughter KC in a Christmas season fire. Recalling JDV’s quiet but substantial support to INA, the officer thanked JDV for “turning the negative energy of grief to a life-making and deliberate choice to go on living.”

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Most awaited, of course, was Gina’s homage to the man she described as “my one true treasure in life.” She remembered how they both met at a crossroads in their own lives, “at a time when I was starting on my own again.”

She described the JDV she met then as “looking like he needed a lot of tender loving care,” despite his reputation as quite the ladies’ man after the end of his first marriage. Gina says her family harbored many reservations about the budding relationship. “Are you blind?” they demanded. “Absolutely not,” she replied, and today she asserts: “Time proved my instincts correct.”

Life with Joe, she said, “has been full of painful lessons learned,” including “a lot of trials and many disappointments” and having to “let go of some dreams for the nation,” referring perhaps to his failed bid for the presidency and his treacherous ouster from the speakership in 2008.

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But such memories were set aside that evening at the Golden Bay restaurant. Amid the presence of so many friends and colleagues, the song and dance numbers by his grandchildren, the soaring songs of tenor Nolyn Cabahug and colleagues, one thing was clear: not only was JDV back in fighting form, he was now stretching his wings to realms far beyond the Philippines.

It would be a shame to let a man of his many talents and abilities, and his far-ranging network of contacts and friends among officials of different countries, remain an unused and unrecognized resource. The government could do worse than to harness his strengths as a diplomat and negotiator. At 75, JDV has run through the gauntlet of political trial and triumph, glory and defeat. I am pretty sure he no longer harbors political ambitions, but instead wishes to serve his country in pursuit of peace and trade with our neighbors, a noble goal to pursue as one chases history’s verdict.

Happy Birthday, Global Filipino!

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