The Honorable Francisco M. Varela
Francis Varela walked into my life some 23 years ago, in 1992, when I did a brief stint in government, at the Department of Finance. Joel Valdes, the chief of staff I inherited from my predecessor, told me that he would be unable to continue at the DOF but he would find me a suitable replacement before leaving. The replacement turned out to be a brilliant young man who had just completed his masteral studies in economics at the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific. He was 24 years old, and was Francis Varela.
Thus began a relationship that was to last for 23 years. During this period, I came to know Francis well, not just as a man of great intelligence but of wisdom beyond his years. He was an absolutely honest man, whose integrity was constant, consistent and uncompromising. And his wisdom and integrity, he matched with natural leadership and a great amount of charm.
He had a stubborn streak, yes, but he was also terribly likable.
When my government stint came to an abrupt end in 1993, I invited Francis to join me in the AsianBank group and in particular to try his hand at AB Capital and Investment Corp., the investment banking arm of AsianBank, which was then one of the fastest-rising medium-sized universal banks. Unsurprisingly, his career blossomed and he excelled, rising eventually to become the president of AB Capital.
When I assumed key responsibilities at the Phinma Group, I invited Francis to expand his role within the group, initially getting involved in strategic planning, and eventually in preparing to take on increased operating responsibilities in one of our major operating companies.
Throughout our years of working together, I had numerous late afternoon discussions with Francis, mainly about the poor state of our country and the need for enlightened leadership. He assisted me often in writing my major speeches or in drafting my occasional opinion pieces. He was my constant companion in protest marches and rallies. We lamented together the sad plight of our country and never stopped hoping and dreaming that one day our people would have much better lives. In recent months, we had begun plotting and speculating about who our next president should be. Though a generation apart, we were of kindred spirits. My wife and others have said that Francis was the son I never had.
Thus it was that in 2010, when Br. Armin Luistro accepted the invitation to head the Department of Education, I asked Francis if he would be willing to help Brother Armin. I was worried that Brother Armin would be walking into the government department with a budget of tens of billions of pesos without a highly trusted finance man by his side. Francis told me that if I thought he could help, he would be willing. Brother Armin enthusiastically accepted my offer of one of my finest executives, and throughout these past five years, he has not stopped thanking me for introducing Francis to him. And we all now know, of course, of the tremendous impact Francis had on the DepEd and its efforts to rid itself of corruption and to develop a culture of integrity and true reform.
And so, to my DepEd friends, while we all lament the untimely passing of Francis last Saturday, you know that you have it in your hands to give lasting meaning to the work of Francis over these last five years. Pursue, intensify and institutionalize the reforms he and your entire team have worked so hard for, so that they become the irreversible norm. And work even harder to make the DepEd the showcase for enlightened development and integrity that it should be.
And finally, to Wenna, Bea, Pia, Lila, Rafa and Nathan and to Francis’ parents, siblings and friends: Know that your husband, your father, your grandfather, your son, your brother, your friend was a good man and a genuine patriot who loved you, his family, his friends, and his country above all else. Just as he was extremely proud of all of you, you have every reason to be enormously proud of Francis. Francis was of the rarest breed, almost extinct, type of public servant—honest, intelligent, competent, effective, with a genuine desire to serve. How much better our country would be if there were many many more Francis Varelas in our midst!
As for me, some may think that Francis was lucky that someone like me was able to help him in his career. On the contrary, it is I who am immensely blessed for having had the privilege of having a truly outstanding and unforgettable person a part of my life for all of 23 years. To the family of Francis, thank you for sharing him with me and with us all. And to Francis, thank you for enriching my life these past 23 years, and more, for I will not forget you.
Last Saturday, when the sad news about Francis came, my dear secretary Sylvia texted me her words of comfort, and added that Francis biked his way to heaven! Maybe that is why Francis has that beautiful smile on his face. The Good Lord allowed him to bike all the way to heaven!
Happy biking, Honorable Francis. Till we meet again.
(Eulogy delivered by Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. at a memorial Mass for Education Undersecretary Francisco M. Varela.)
Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. ([email protected]) chairs the Makati Business Club.
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