OPINION: Enrique Zobel, hindi ka nag-iisa

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Jun 05 2020 11:17 PM

Understandably, biographies are written in memory of one central subject, but never in isolation of such individual. Always, there are myriad other persons, events, situations and institutions, supporting casts as they all were, satellite tales and recollections by other folks, that complete the life story. 

I happen to be one of the aforementioned related ‘incidentals’ and I am the story-teller. 

Hence, my fancy for referring to this segment as “Hindi ha nag-iisa!” (You are not alone!) Many will remember the quote as the battlecry phrase originally popularized as a pained people’s solidarity with the assassinated Ninoy Aquino. The late senator and Enrique Zobel were great friends, and I was much in the middle of such circumstance.

Indeed, there are others who do complete the story of any individual.

The life of Enrique Zobel (EZ) cannot be told without Calatagan, his hometown! The municipality is a finger into Balayan Bay in Batangas. It is the heirloom hacienda purchased by Don Domingo Roxas in the 1830s, inherited by the Zobel de Ayalas, handed down through seven generations. Today, it may be likened to a Philippine version of a Hyannis Port/Kennedy Compound in Massachusetts. 
Calatagan has become a weekend community for a coterie of the country’s elite and high society. There is much to be told about this place in EZ’s heart and its people, deserving a chapter or two, should a wider and more engaging writing endeavor be pursued.

For now, however, let me recall that beyond the Ayala premises in Makati, my introduction to my new boss on a personal basis happened in 1965. It was the beginning of an enduring respect and admiration for the man. Near awe, I might even say, as I came to know more of and got exposed to his person and his individuality. Getting to know Enrique Zobel really began in Calatagan. I surmise now, it was how he wanted it.

It was my first weekend as his new Executive Assistant. I had just been ‘promoted’ from the subsidiary insurance companies (IL-FGU Group where I began my Ayala career as a management intern) to the owning parent organization. It was still Ayala y Compania, exclusively a family partnership, then.

His weekends were spent in Calatagan, in his ranch known as Hacienda Bigaa. On that Saturday morning, we flew in a twin-engined Beechcraft Queenaire, I think it was. Then, I knew he was also a licensed pilot. It was the first of the very many flights we took together with him as the pilot.

Calatagan, in Hacienda Bigaa, had its own airstrip and hangar. The pastoral spread of grassland and meadows was laced with roads covered with crushed limestone, criss-crossed by barb-wired fences and corrals. I had never been in and seen any place like it, except from what I have seen in the movies. It was no ‘dude ranch’ but actually a working, productive haven for prized cattle and types of grasses. A crash course on cattle-raising I was being taught. Then, I also knew my new boss was a ‘cowboy,’ a professional cattleman. 

In an open jeep, he gave me a tour of the neatly maintained pastures and farmland. As we ambled along, he would stop for a while to engage folks along the way who doffed their hats off as we approached, an apparently accustomed gesture of respect for elders and owners of the manor. He bantered with them in distinct Batangas-accented Tagalog, exchanging nuances, occasionally embroidered with ranch hand cussing and laughter. I thought it was endearing, coming from a blonde-and-blue-eyed honcho!

Actually, most folks who met Enrique Zobel for the first time and heard him speak in Filipino/Tagalog got surprised and amused at such facility. I guess that was inevitable because EZ grew up with the language much around him and the reason became apparent as soon as we got off the plane that morning.

There were three men waiting at the rural tarmac. In unison, they greeted us in Tagalog. I was to find out that EZ had known these folks since childhood. There was “Mamay” Urcia and his younger brother they called “Big Boy,” and the administrative manager of the Hacienda, Pepe Caisip.

I gathered, from later Calatagan visits, that Mamay (his name might have been Santiago, and Big Boy may have been Juan, I must check) was EZ’s “yayo,” a kind of male nanny! (‘Yaya’ being the local term for the more prevalent female nanny). “Big boy” was a childhood playmate. Along with Pepe Caisip, they were Calatagan born and bred, all children of tenants and employees of yore. They were Hacienda Bigaa employees and also, already landowners in their own right.

As part of my personal orientation, EZ shared that much earlier on, the family intentionally shrunk the hacienda, divesting vast portions by selling these off. “We had our own land reform here long before government passed the law,” he was proud to claim. The first beneficiaries being the employees, farmhands and tenants at give-away prices of literally centavos to the square meter on lazy, easy installment payments! 

My animal husbandry tutorial that day was capped by EZ showing off his prized herd of large denizens I had never seen before. Indu-Brazil, Santa Gertrudis, and Charolais. And some of the cross-bred progenies. Until then, I also did not know that cattle forage is most effective when grasses and legumes are scientifically cultivated. Alfalfa and kudzu come to mind, just now. And corollarily, I remember that Filipinas Foundation’s first project, under EZ, was about Cattle Nutrition. The farm experimentally growing a variety of grasses was in Sumilao, Bukidnon under the Jesuit-run Xavier University’s agricultural school. 

There is a facet of Enrique Zobel’s life that is worth remembering when speaking of cattle and Calatagan. It is hardly ever known today. He was the Philippines’ single largest donor of breeding stock to the government’s Bureau of Animal Industry’s cattle dispersal project. Its objective was to improve the local breed as well as to propagate backyard ranching as an add-on productive farm activity. During his lifetime, he gave away hundreds upon hundreds of Calatagan cattle breeding stock. Over decades of bovine generations, one can imagine that there very possibly exists today among the country’s cattle population, a somewhat still lingering genetic connection to EZ’s Calatagan breeding stock! And who knows, even that ‘bistek’ or ‘beef stroganoff’ you had for dinner!

As I recollect and write, I would be exhibiting a tendency to float from memory to memory. Please excuse me. It is not to miss a chance at remembering cascading memories that can easily vanish! Even if only remotely connected, I interrupt myself and insert the item into the conversation. For instance, I do not recall now if we had a couple of Dalmatians riding with us that day. It could have been during another Calatagan day. Anyway, Don Enrique was also an avid dog-lover. It was through him that I came to know and met my first Labrador Retriever. Her name was “Sadie,” gentle, jet black and she wore a metal chain around her neck. I wonder if Dedes and Inigo still remember.

Pursuing the Enrique Zobel story is inevitably also an opportunity to recognize and hail the role of Calatagan folks, parents and children, who have become an indivisible component of his persona and legacy. After all, it is in their midst that the most eloquent embodiment of such legacy was bequeathed. 

The E. Zobel Foundation, Inc. in Calatagan, standing for “Enriching Lives Through Education,” makes certain that he will never be alone. “Hindi ka nag-iisa!”

For other other articles by Buddy Gomez, click Cyberbuddy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.