Xavier alumni Michael L. Tan, DVM, PhD (’69) and Robert Louie P. So, MD (’93) received this year’s Xavier-Kuangchi Award for Exemplary Alumni last Friday, July 24, in simple conferment rites held at the Angelo King Multi-purpose Center.
The awards night started with an invocation by Rev. Fr. Peter O. Pojol, SJ (’85), awards and events chair, and member of the board of trustees. Johnip Cua (’73), chairman of the board of trustees, then gave the welcome address, citing the bold choice of the honorees to devote their professional lives in government service.
Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua III (’93), former Chairman of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology, presented the first awardee, Robert So. His introduction highlighted the achievements of his classmate in the Department of Health, his passion to serve, and reminisced about their time together in Xavier School. Robert accepted the award with a speech thanking the board of trustees, and shared the award with key individuals who have inspired and guided him throughout his life – his parents, mother-in-law, fellow alumni, his doctor, his mentor and boss, Atty. Alexander Padilla, Fr. Maximo Barbero, classmates, teachers, Xavier school, his children, and his wife.
Bienvenido Tan III (’69) introduced the next awardee, Michael Tan, Chancellor of the University of the Philippines (UP). In his acceptance speech, Michael was very much the university administrator, proudly recognizing the outstanding performance in UP of Xavier graduates, several of whom he invited to the event. He also paid tribute to ICA alumnae who have made noteworthy achievements in UP, among them Tiffany Grace Uy who graduated summa cum laude with the highest grades in UP’s postwar history. He ended with an appeal to Xavier School to produce more educators and for more Xavier alumni to become public servants.
The school president, Fr. Aristotle C. Dy, SJ (’89), gave the closing speech. His brief message cited both honorees for sharing much in common with Hsu Kuangchi, a court official in Ming dynasty China, who used his knowledge to improve the lives of ordinary people. He commended both men for seeking “to find ways to make life better (for the poor), especially by way of access to medical care.”
The program concluded with a short AVP that highlighted the role of the school’s Jesuit pioneers in shaping Xavier’s culture and legacy and revealed the logo for the school’s 60th anniversary, which will be celebrated in 2016.
In attendance were the family, friends, and former classmates of the awardees, the Board of Trustees, past XKEA awardees, and other members of the Xavier School community, including over 100 high school students.
MLTan Acceptance Speech
I am accepting the award with thanks, in the Chinese style, to our “ancestors” here in Xavier, the pioneering Jesuits who established Xavier School, particularly Fr. Jean Desautels, Fr. Daniel Clifford, Fr. Cornelius Pineau, and the many teachers who helped to mold me. I thank, too, my parents for taking the leap of faith, enrolling me in Xavier San Juan in 1960. I continue to be inspired by my parents’ bold action, now with my own children, including my daughter Alunsina who is with us this afternoon, in Xavier. I am hopeful Yna and her sisters will be part of shaping Xavier into a truly great co-ed educational institution.
Finally, by way of explaining why I stay on in education, and in UP, I want to share the honor of my award with the following Xavier alumni who went on to UP. They are only a small percentage of Xavier-UP alumni, but they represent a good cross section of fields where we will see the excellence of Xavier and UP.
In the new spirit of Xavier, may I close acknowledging two ICA alumni who give me bragging rights as well, and who inspire me as an educator. Tiffany Grace Uy, who just graduated summa cum laude with the highest GWA in UP’s postwar history and who will enter UP’s medical school next month. Finally, we are honored by Robina Gokongwei, who almost finished in UP but was forced by circumstances to transfer in her last year. We in UP consider her among our best alumni and in particular, I want to acknowledge how she has been unflinching in her support of our varsity players.
Luceat Lux brings us together, the past, present and the future.
RLPSo Acceptance Speech
Thank you to my good friend Ray who I shared a class with in nursery, was my teammate in the debate team, a fellow catechist in YCLC, and a classmate the whole of high school in the best class there ever was, section D.
To the Board of Trustees, the Xavier School family, (greet other VIPs), friends, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
Congratulations to Dr. Michael Tan for his award. He definitely deserves it. By the way, I am a fan. I read your Inquirer column. Though my office is subscribed to the Philippine Star. Is last year’s awardee here?
I stand before you all tonight, feeling unworthy, a bit embarrassed and totally overwhelmed. With all respect to those who have made the selections to one of Xavier’s most prestigious awards, I wonder how they could ever think that I am in the same league as Dr. Michael Tan, Dr. Harvey Uy, Dr. Willie Ong, and many other highly regarded awardees. If you look around, even among my good friends here tonight, there are those who are equally deserving or even more deserving than I. Ray for example is the reason why we have automated elections as he was head of the Comelec Advisory Council for Election Automation in his own short stint as a Cabinet Secretary in public service. Top that with all these awe-inspiring personalities, legends of generosity and magnanimity whom I have known only through their reputations before tonight, I hope you will understand why I feel very, very small.
Nonetheless, I am embracing this privilege and honor. It is one that is unique and brings out feelings no words can actually describe. There is a different level of satisfaction and joy when your own school, the one who nurtured and trained you to be the best human being you could be in a dangerous and unforgiving world, honours you for a job well done. I am humbled by the Board’s decision and selection and for their appreciation in seeing merit in my modest contributions. I will not disrespect the Board by saying you made a mistake with me, but rather I will respect their decision by owning up to this and striving to continuously live up to your high expectations.
If you may allow, however, I will not keep this award to myself but rather share this with the positive influences who have given me life and purpose. They are my awardees for exemplary people without whom I will not be here today. May they enjoy the honor and distinction through me.
To start off, thank you to my parents, mama and papa. I am of course nothing without you, even beyond the biological sense. They were hands-on and were always there for me and my brothers. My parents did it all themselves, every minute of everyday, no yayas, no drivers, no relatives helping. When emergencies happen in the worst hours at the worst places, they would drop everything and run to our rescue. When at the day’s end, the battles were just too harsh, there will be a comforting warm meal and loving support that prepares us for the next day’s trials. Best of all, when we cannot afford to go to school, they found a way and never gave up. And so here I am. This is for you.
Thank you to my mother-in-law who accepted me in the folds of her family and in her home. She was never judgmental, and ever so open-minded, supportive, and altruistic. Without her support, it would be impossible to have a happy family today. This too is for you.
Thank you too to those who helped our family, who helped my mom and dad, when the going was rough. At different points, many extended their hands in generosity, either to me, to my brothers, or to my parents. I am a scholar of many benefactors. Sometimes, I felt sad it had to be that way, I wanted us to stand on our own feet. But then maybe it was God’s way of saying to me, look, there is a lot of good in the world, here they are willing to share, and it is worth fighting for. You guys kept our family intact. And you taught me many valuable lessons about selflessness. Personally, I would like to give special mention to Mr. Howard Son, Mr. Benjamin Yap, Dr. Harvey Uy, and Mr. George Sy and family, as well as the 1967 and 1969 Foundations of Xavier. Dr. Harvey saved my eye, treated me for years, even when I had no money to pay him. Uncles, here I am. This is for all of you.
Thank you to my mentor, boss, and one I consider like a second father to me, Atty Alexander Padilla. My career would not have flourished were it not for him. Not only because he was the appointing authority who signed my papers, but more so because he taught me so much about the value of integrity, honesty, competence and dedication. His words always strike me and he puts his words to action. He taught me that we must have an inherent bias for the poor, he often quotes that those who have less in life should have more in government and that we must make the people we serve feel like kings even when some of them are paupers. But what I appreciate most is his love and unwavering support. He treats my family as his own, justifies my insanity as out-of-the-box thinking, and I have the courage to do what I do because he has my back. I may not earn millions, but I am happy to help millions. I still have much to learn and I would have accomplished nothing without you. Sir, here I am. This is for you.
Thank you to Fr. Maximo Barbero, my spiritual director. I am so happy you are here. I owe you a visit. If it were not for him, I would be a lost child. His wisdom shaped me to be able to take whatever evil the world had to throw. You see, Fr. Barbero is very close to my family. He became chaplain of the Immaculate Conception Chapel of the UP-PGH on the same year I entered UP as a College freshman. Talk about divine providence. And every time I felt I needed guidance or was angry with the world, I ran to him. When I got my first and only failing mark in college, I felt compelled to explain to him and he advised me. I got a 1.0 from the same professor the next year. So his advices are short and sweet and very effective. Or maybe his prayers were. Either way, I wouldn’t have made the next steps of my life from grade school to high school to college to med school were it not for his presence. I really hope my children get the same relationship and formative advice from our Jesuits today. Father, look at me, here I am, this is for you.
Thank you to my closest friends, my classmates, including Claud. This may not be too healthy but I did not have too many close friends after you guys, because none can compare with our camaraderie, brotherhood and the values and experiences we shared growing up. Those unending basketball games, having Days with the Lord as a class, the Christmas parties at Jacob’s, the summer and weekend outreaches and catechism, escaping your bodyguards to eat fishballs, making sure everyone passes math, everything were all happy experiences and memories. Despite your stature, you were all modest and down-to-earth. You accepted me for who I was and you were always there for me. Like tonight. I was terrified of this night, and I still am. But you guys always make me feel at home. It is so comforting to have you here with me on this very special day. I am just sad some of our friends like Stan, Robbie, Paolo and Spens cannot be here to join us. At least Pao sent Claud. You shaped me to be the person I am. We were not all the same, but we had one heart. Here we are guys. I guess it’s true, we are the better section. This is Ours, my friends.
And of course, to my wife, Duanne, my heart and soul. When my world is crumbling, you steady me and help me build it up again and again. What many have not realized is that whenever I sacrifice, you sacrifice with me. When I had to turn down that offer in Germany as head of market access, that offer in a multinational company that may have helped us get a better home than be evicted in a rented one, you understood me and stood by me without anger or remorse. When I had to stay late for work, you trusted me, or at least I think you did, and didn’t make life harder. You gave me sound advice when I was confused about critical decisions, and made me see some other perspectives I alone would never had seen. I am sorry for having to have you go through all these difficult things but thank you for staying by me. You truly are my better half and are the apple of my eye. Can I go out with my friends later? This is for you.
Thank you too to my children, Rafraf and Rui. You are the reason I shun corruption. You are the reason I work and live. And just seeing you smile when I get home makes it all worthwhile. They say the children should be better than the father. Well, they already are better people than me. And I know Xavier will make them even better. So, This is mine, you have to get yours.
Before I end, just a tidbit on who I am, I am a nobody, and it’s okay. I prefer it that way. I am blind on my right eye, but not blind to what is right. I pray the rosary everyday, I think that is what traffic is for. I used to try to sell cheap but quality medicines. They used to call me a drug lord, hopefully in a good way.
Now I work as audit head in PhilHealth. We aim to achieve national development and make our country progressive by making all Filipinos, especially the poor, the near poor and the low-middle class more productive through the provision of affordable health care. That’s just a fancy way of saying I am now an insurance salesman. But not like any other insurance salesman, I am a social health insurance salesman. And I catch crooks. So for those who have not paid their premiums, I suggest you do.
And for those who may be inquiring, yes, I had received threats and I am afraid of them, petrified, but we still need to do our job. Yes, I had been offered bribes, but shunned them all. So if you really look at it, I am no one special, just some public servant doing his job, like many others who do. And to me, that’s what makes this night special; the fact that Xavier, my school who has molded tycoons, achievers, great men with compassionate hearts, has chosen to honor public servants through us. Government is often tainted by the images of grafters, plunderers and liars. It is associated with a high degree of dirty politics, corruption and frustrating inefficiencies. But there are bright sparks. When I entered government, by chance or maybe even fate, I met so many bright stars, honest and hardworking, innovative, dedicated and true. I know of one who even genetically engineered flowers to make sure they get the graduation ceremonies in a critical reform year done, and done right! He was doing his job. Innovative, hardworking, and dedicated! And I applaud Xavier and the Board of Trustees for recognizing public servants through us. Hopefully one day, the bright stars in government will be enough to illuminate the darkness that plagues the different agencies and give us results that we so desperately aspire for. If these can be done by Xaverians, so much the better. Luceat Lux.
So on behalf of my family, my friends, and the 2,000,000 public servants of our country who try to make the country move forward, thank you Xavier School. Continue helping us make the country a better place. And thank you for appreciating and recognizing our efforts, no matter how small.