Testimonials for XKEA Awardee Jose Ma. Lorenzo P. Tan

Lory Tan with environmentalist and former Vice President of the United States Albert Arnold “Al” Gore Jr.

Testimonial 1

Caring for What We Should Hold Dear
By William Yao Chua, Batch Representative (HS ’70)

I remember vividly only last year, 45 years after Xavier, the whole batch of XSHS’70 – including those from abroad – celebrated our 45th anniversary as classmates in a momentous reunion with a weeklong stream of festivities.  Different career directions, family sizes and disparate challenges in life may have changed our ways and aspirations but the childhood friendships never faltered.  We all had a grand time reminiscing our childhood together and laughed at how we approached adolescent life.  We have had many reunions before this 45th year, and what I wish to share is what I began to discover about Lory after our Xavier School days.

You see, Lory started his career in the strangest manner.  After college, he joined – together with another classmate, Richard Tan (+) – a rock band called the Circus Band.  Lory and Richard could always carry a tune as part of a hastily assembled choir singing at all our Masses in Xavier; but I was surprised how Lory and Richard would take their love of music and singing beyond those simple Mass songs.  I was not much of a music buff; yet in the late 1970s, I began to appreciate what this band was all about.  Circus Band grew in popularity, performing many memorable live concerts; and their music was one among many that became what we know collectively today as OPM, Original Pilipino Music.

I was convinced then that Lory was destined to pursue his love for music.  Yet, a few years later, Lory took on the task of running the family’s investment in Bookmark, a publishing company.   At a time when the country was relying on foreign or imported publications, Bookmark under Lory, sought to develop original materials in the fields of Filipino culture and basic education.  He sought to promote what was truly Filipino in the arts with early attempts to make documentaries.  It was then that I began to understand that Lory’s love for Filipino music had become a love of everything Filipino.  He took on photography to document what he felt might be lost over time.  He had a passion to photograph Filipino food, even lechon from various regions, ancestral homes, rare indigenous birds, and the beauty of our forests.

Scuba diving and underwater photography would later on lead him to another level in his love for everything Filipino; it was his newfound love for the Philippine environment. The discovery of the beauty of our underworld then led him to a greater appreciation of the natural capital of our world, the oceans.  In a long chat with Lory 15 years ago, he pointed out that his focus was on conservation rather than preservation.  He defined it as sustaining what we consume on earth.  He strongly believed that God made the earth for humans to enjoy life to the fullest, and not to abstain from enjoying its resources.  Yet what men consume today need to be conserved and sustained with productive means for future generations to also enjoy.  He always spoke of the need to give back to Mother Nature.

Lory’s affiliation with the internationally acclaimed World Wildlife Fund (WWF), started when he was invited to sit on the Board of Directors of the Philippine Chapter of WWF.  Two years later, he was made the CEO and Vice Chairman, a role he took on for two terms encompassing 10 years of his life before retirement.  It meant dealing with international issues, fighting so that certain habitats will not be destroyed, liaising with many government agencies, promoting advocacies with the private sector and serving as a marketing unit to help raise funds to conserve the Philippine environment.  In the beginning, WWF’s Philippine operations were principally foreign funded.  Lory struggled to create a funding ratio that would bring WWF closer to local self-sufficiency, with our own nationals and businesses taking on a greater responsibility.  He wanted to show the world that Filipinos and local businessmen appreciate the natural environment.  He was at it again, espousing this “giving back” attitude.

I would like to cite a case he related to me four years ago.  There was a classmate –  whom I will not name – that he had approached about making a sizeable donation to WWF.  This classmate was already a major donor to the school and felt that this was sufficient.  This classmate felt there was no need to support charities other than education; yet his business used a lot of natural resources and local labor. Later on, he even tapped into the tourism industry to expand his successful and diversified business holdings.

One day, this classmate called him for an impromptu lunch and Lory agreed to meet him in an inconspicuous place because of this classmate’s fondness for good food at the cheapest price.  As the lunch went along, he mentioned to Lory that after two years of Lory’s prodding, he finally decided to donate to WWF because he has heard of the various conservatory efforts and its success in imparting conservation among the townsfolk that live in the vicinity of some of our country’s natural wonders.  Lory was expecting a low seven-figure donation; but the offer was instead an eight-figure donation.  Naturally, Lory wondered what prompted this surge in generosity.  The classmate merely responded with the word “karma.”

I share this story and the word “karma” to highlight what Lory’s life is all about.  Unlike most of us in batch XSHS’70 that pursued the usual path of either starting a new business, nurturing an existing family business, rising up the corporate ladder, or being the best in one’s profession, Lory chose a road rarely traveled.  Undeniably, the values of many classmates were geared towards making money. Lory stood out and actually did what was essential in his Jesuit education – to be men for others, doing deeds for God’s greater glory, or what we simply describe as karma. Most often, it is just giving back and doing good.

Lory’s life was an enigma for many classmates who could not understand his preferences in life after Xavier.  But as we grew older, we began to see Lory in a different light and to appreciate his love of country, culture, heritage, and our environment.  In reunions, many flocked to chat with Lory because he always had something new to share about karma and ways of giving back.  It is said that those gifted with the ability and awareness to take action have the responsibility to take action.  My whole batch XSHS’70 feel honored today that Xavier School is giving its highest award for alumni to one of us – one who did take action in a most meaningful way.

Testimonial 2

A Testimonial on Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan
By Vicente S Pérez, Treasurer and Trustee, WWF-International (HS ’75)

As a co-founder of WWF Philippines, I first met Lory when he was general manager of Bookmark. He had published award winning books on forests and whales and dolphins, and given his interest in marine life and nature, we were honored to invite him to join the board of trustees of WWF Philippines.

In 2000, the WWF board, led by Don Jaime Zobel and Jaime August Zobel, together with Carlos Soriano and myself, felt that Lory was the ideal candidate to be the new CEO of WWF Philippines.  It was one of the brilliant recruitment decisions we made.  Lory was so dedicated to his CEO role, he reigned as the longest CEO, and later as Vice Chairman, of WWF Philippines, from 2000 to his retirement in 2014.

After I stepped down from my energy secretary post and rejoined the WWF board as chair in 2008, Lory and I had one of the closest and symbiotic Chair-and-CEO relationship.  We made an excellent tandem.  He was the public face and voice of WWF in the Philippines, while I was happy to stay in the background to assist in fundraising and governance.

Throughout 15 years, Lory was actively involved in crafting policy, developing strategic partnerships, building management capacity and creating sustainable financing frameworks for key ecotourism initiatives in the country.  So I shared many memorable trips with Lory with our major donors to Tubbataha Reef and El Nido in Palawan or with an airline sponsor to Apo Reef in Mindoro.  We would go diving together in Anilao and Hamilo Coast in Batangas, or go snorkeling with whalesharks in Donsol Sorsogon, or fly on a helicopter over the Sierra Madre mountain range, all WWF project sites.

Lory would sometimes call me on weekends, when he had a brainstorming idea about environment initiatives that he wanted to bounce off with me.  He was always so passionate that sometimes I can’t even interrupt him on the phone when he was on a roll talking about some environmental issue.

Lory and I traveled together overseas on numerous WWF conferences in Kota Kinabalu, Kathmandu, New Delhi, Jackson Hole, or Iguazu Falls.   Lory was well-respected within the WWF International network, being chair of WWF’s Coral Triangle Core Group, on the Sulu Sulawesi eco-region, and the Turtle Islands near Malaysia.  During these travels, Lory would be so excited about his wildlife photography, and some of my best travel photos, both above or below water, were taken by Lory.

Inevitably, an environmental crisis would erupt, whether the sinking of a fuel barge off Guimaras, or the grounding of a vessel in Tubbataha, or the ramming of a run-away coal barge against a Palawan island. Lory would immediately jump into crisis management mode and he would turn an environment disaster into an opportunity to rally sectors of society into action. There were a few occasions Lory would be so upset at an unacceptable behavior by a WWF corporate partner, and he would not hesitate to immediately cut off that corporate partnership.

Most recently two months ago, Lory and I were deep inside Malampaya Sound searching for the critically endangered Malampaya dolphins.  No longer encumbered by the daily CEO responsibility, Lory was his ebullient self, entertaining me and my fellow explorers about his deep passion for exotic food, about his culinary secrets around the country, and about his new weekend home in Lipa City.

Such is the passion, dedication and commitment of Lory towards the environment.  He is therefore most deserving of receiving this Xavier Kuangchi Exemplary Alumni Award.   Lory – congratulations!

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