‘Three Acts’ | Inquirer Opinion

‘Three Acts’

Many of us have lifetime careers and after reaching retirement age, usually 65, we sit back, concentrate on scoring a hole-in-one (for golfers), or spend much time on “apostolic missions”—taking care of any number of grandchildren whose parents are busy making a living.

Some go through a second act, which could mean anything from changing careers, going into business, or chasing the dream of a lifetime, like checking out the Seven or Eight Wonders of the World.


On Tuesday, as the nation marks Independence Day, our family will also commemorate the 112th birth anniversary of Modesto Farolan, a man who in his lifetime, went through not just two, but three acts covering a period of more than half a century while serving under six presidents.

My father was born on June 12, 1900, in the small town of Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, the youngest son of middle-class landowners who made their living as farmers. At an early age he would leave the province, making his way to Manila to complete his secondary education at UP High. Instead of moving on to college, he decided that he would rather work than concentrate on attaining some academic degree.


First Act.

While still in his last year in high school, he put in work as a cub reporter at the Manila Daily Bulletin. After graduation, he moved to the Philippines Herald, the pioneer Filipino daily in English, rising through the ranks to become city editor. Two years later, he was editor of the paper.

Upon the restoration of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946, he joined government service as press secretary of President Manuel A. Roxas. After a brief stint as Philippine consul-general to Hawaii, he would return to his first love as publisher and editor-in-chief of a revived Philippines Herald. I remember how I almost fouled up the inaugural issue of the post-war Herald. A congratulatory message from Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, then ambassador to the United States, and my father’s predecessor as publisher and editor of the paper, was being awaited. Everything was in place; the presses were ready to roll when finally, after many inquiries, the cable company showed him a receipt acknowledging the delivery of the telegram from Washington, DC, with my name as the recipient. I had signed for it and thrown away the telegram in some corner of the house, not realizing its importance or urgency. Of course, when he finally located me and the telegram, all hell broke loose.

In spite of a hectic schedule, Dad visited me at the military academy at Baguio City saying, “You’re getting a fine education at government expense… something I never had. I’ll see you again when you come down for the 4th of July.” (In those days, Independence Day was celebrated in July and the entire cadet corps would go down to Manila to spearhead the military parade at the Luneta.)

During those years, he was a close confidante of President Elpidio Quirino (Ms Quirino, of the prominent Syquia clan of Vigan, Ilocos Sur, was my ninang in baptism.) When Ramon Magsaysay defeated Quirino in the 1953 elections, he wrote of how “when a tree has fallen, everyone makes firewood of it.” The Spanish words that he used escape me now, but I understood his feelings.

Second Act.

After Quirino left the presidency, Modesto Farolan turned to the world of tourism. He must have become aware of the potential of the industry during his stint in Hawaii. The islands were and continue to remain one of America’s favorite tourist destinations. Along with Salvador Peña, he founded the Philippine Tourist and Travel Associations (PTTA), a private organization aimed at developing tourism as a source of revenue for the public and private sectors.


In an unusual turn of events, President Magsaysay appointed him as the nation’s first commissioner of tourism—this, despite his reputation as Quirino’s close friend and advisor. He became the first Filipino to receive Life Membership status in the Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA) and, under President Carlos P. Garcia, he was elected the first Filipino president of the International Union of Official Travel Organizations (IUOTO), forerunner of today’s World Tourism Organization (WTO).

For his work in “developing and promoting Philippine tourism as a means of bringing in dollar revenues so essential to the economic stability and prosperity of the country,” he earned the title “Father of Philippine Tourism” in a posthumous Kalakbay Lifetime Achievement Award ceremonies of the Department of Tourism at Malacañang Palace in 1990. The idea that “It’s more fun in the Philippines” is the fruit of a seed he planted many years ago when the tourist industry was in its infancy. It is a slogan that he himself would have loved and appreciated.

Third Act.

When President Diosdado Macapagal came to office, he appointed Modesto Farolan ambassador to South Vietnam and Cambodia, where he witnessed firsthand the upheavals that eventually led to American withdrawal from Vietnam, as well as the fall from power of Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

His next posting was in Switzerland where his research on Jose Rizal resulted in an article “Rizal and Swiss-Philippine relations.” Not many of our people are aware of the fact that the Rizal Monument was designed by a Swiss sculptor, Dr. Richard Kissling. Actually, the winning design was submitted by an Italian sculptor, Prof. Carlos Nicoli, but it was deemed too expensive to construct. Kissling’s work was the second-place winner and, under his supervision, the Rizal Monument was completed in September 1912 and inaugurated on April 26, 1913. (I am indebted to Agathon Aerni and Marilyn J. Alarilla, now ambassador to Turkey, for their work on Philippine-Swiss relations.)

From Switzerland my father returned to Asia when President Ferdinand Marcos chose him to be  ambassador to Indonesia. He would stay there for almost 10 years, serving for some time as dean of the Jakarta diplomatic corps. (Ten years later, President Cory Aquino would appoint me to the same post. The Indonesian foreign minister, Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, who bade him farewell, was also the foreign minister who welcomed me to Indonesia. When I arrived in Jakarta, many of his old friends thought that he had returned for another tour of duty.)

In the words of his friend and colleague, Benjamin Salvosa, president of Baguio Colleges Foundation (now the University of the Cordilleras), my father, a high school product, was “the acme of the informal process of self-education and self-discipline.”

Having served six Philippine presidents, he would always remind me that “as a public official you do not serve any individual. You serve your country and your people.”

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TAGS: Diplomacy, Foreign service, Independence Day, Modesto Farolan, people
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