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Joecon and the candle that will never go out


I got an invitation a couple of weeks back to receive an award on behalf of my father, Jose “Joecon” Concepcion Jr. I forgot about it until I was handed the letter to remind me of the event as I was about to sit down for an interview. When I looked at the letter, I became emotional because we had just received word that dad was brought to the ICU and that his condition was getting worse.


I was perhaps unaware of it, but I would be told later that I actually stood up, went to the coffee table where a copy of my dad’s biography was kept, and said absently, “This is my dad. This is my dad.” He died a few days later, on March 6, 2024.


Joecon was my dad. I would suppose this would bear repeating because it has been nearly 40 years since he inspired millions to join NAMFREL and become guardians of the ballot. There is an entire generation that is probably unaware of this great accomplishment, and probably even more people who are not aware of his other achievements. I think it will benefit us all to be reminded of how one man was able to make a difference.


The award he was to receive on the day he was brought to the ICU was for JCI Quezon City’s Sanghiran Award, which is given to pillars of the organization who have sustained the advancement of its core values. He was an active member of the organization, but even I was surprised to find out that he was a founder of Capitol Jaycees.


Maybe it was because he had been part of so many things that it would be difficult to keep track of every organization he helped found and every cause he supported. NAMFREL was undoubtedly his most famous crusade, but it wasn’t his first. In the 1960s, he took it upon himself to improve his hometown of Pasay City – then a notorious haven for gambling and prostitution – and formed the Pasay Citizens League for Good Government. Then there was the Bishop-Businessmen Conference for Human Development, the ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the search for the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines, all of them he had a hand in starting.


After the EDSA Revolution, he would find himself deep in government service. But it wouldn’t be the first time, either. He was part of the 1971 Constitutional Convention, where he worked alongside my grandfather, Salvador Araneta, to push for constitutional principles that would democratize the nation’s capital base to allow Filipino manufacturers to thrive. He served as secretary of Trade and Industry, he ran for senator and, in retirement, decided he still could make a difference by becoming the barangay captain of Forbes Park.


And these are just his accomplishments in government and civil society. Under his leadership, RFM Corporation thrived and expanded, eventually becoming one of the largest food and beverage companies in the country.


He launched the “Yes, the Filipino Can!” movement, which sought to challenge every Filipino to take positive and constructive action in his community. He appropriated the aphorism “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness” during his NAMFREL days, leading Asiaweek to call him on their magazine cover, “The Man Who Lit a Candle.”


He knew what it was to sacrifice for his principles. He gave up his seat at one of the country’s largest conglomerates to become a government servant. As Trade Secretary, he defended local manufacturers and stood with them against influential importers. He was subjected to petty politicking by people who questioned his integrity as a government official, but he never wavered. I suppose it was because he lived so firmly by his principles that his conviction could never be shaken.


He always carried with him a whistle and a rosary. The whistle would come in handy when he indulged in what I suppose was one of his hobbies: untangling traffic. Mind you, he took it upon himself to direct traffic on several occasions: one rainy night in Taguig, on the way to church for my sister’s wedding… he also tried to do it on a crosswalk in Tokyo. Whether it was in a government office, a congressional session hall or a street, he relished the idea of being able to contribute and set things right.


So how do you live up to a man like Joecon? I suppose you could try and become what you beheld.


I am lucky to have had Joecon as both my dad and my mentor. I could only wish it for everyone. His whole life was devoted to serving the country. When he planted in people’s minds that it is in their power to protect their votes, he brought hope to people. I learned at his feet and I saw how it was possible to move people into action, to strive for something greater than one’s self, to be responsible for one another. Although he moved in the circles of the rich and powerful, his heart was with the common man. He could speak with both the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, and touch their hearts and minds.


I try and emulate his example by doing the same thing through my work with MSMEs. I try and imprint on people’s minds that they have the power to uplift their lives. I try and bring them hope by clearing the way for them to have jobs or build their own businesses. I try and convince my peers in business that they, too, can make a difference in other people’s lives by mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs, by supporting policies that help MSMEs, or by sharing their resources so that we all can rise together as one nation.


I always remind myself and my peers that, in the end, we are here for only a short time. The success, the riches, they will not last forever. What lives on is the lives you’ve changed.


My dad lit the candle. I try and honor him by making sure that the candle never goes out.



Source: Go Negosyo - www.philstar.com

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