'Exceptional and ideal Filipino': Tributes pour in for John Gokongwei

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Sunday, November 10, paid tribute to business tycoon John Gokongwei Jr who died at the age of 93, describing him as an "exceptional and ideal Filipino" and a "pillar of the Philippine economy."

In a statement, the Palace condoled with the Gokongwei family and a "grateful nation" who "respects the man for the indelible legacy he made in the fields of business, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy."

"Mr. Gokongwei was an exceptional and ideal Filipino. He exemplifies the traits that should endow us: industrious, disciplined, indefatigable, creative, generous, always hungry for knowledge, grateful and never forgetting his origins, and most of all, a loving person to his family and his country," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

Malacañang recalled the story of Gokongwei's beginning as an entrepreneur who had to work to provide for his family after his father died when he was 15 years old. Laying the foundations that would build one of the country's most diversified conglomerates in the Philippines, Gokongwei started out by selling items like soaps, candles, and thread to make money. (READ: John Gokongwei proves family-run conglomerates work)

"We will remember even as we will miss the foresight and corporate expertise of Mr. Gokongwei who successfully chartered unfamiliar territories in business to successfully launch new ventures and create an empire that made substantial contributions to the country's growth and development," Panelo said.

The Palace also recognized the tycoon, who together with his siblings, established the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, which donated P20 billion for education programs – "the biggest philanthropic endowment in Philippine history."

Gokongwei's legacy, it added, was one "worth emulating" by the Filipino nation and coming generations. (READ: Being John Gokongwei)

Malacañang also recalled Gokongwei's favorite piece of advice: "'Love your work. Work hard for it. Love your family. Love your country. Never stop learning. And always look back and be grateful where you came from.'"

Vice President Leni Robredo also offered condolences to the Gokongwei family, recalling "his many contributions not only to the business community, but to helping our fellow Filipinos in need."

'National flag carrier'

Meanwhile, lawmakers also paid tribute to Gokongwei, "a national flag carrier who planted Filipino greatness" in other lands and minds of people.

"Everything about Mr. John was big – vision, dreams, kindness – yet he never tired of punching above his weight, and the obstacles he toppled paved the way for others," Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said in a statement.

Senator Panfilo Lacson was then a police lieutenant colonel when he led the team that rescued Gokongwei's eldest daughter, Robina, from her kidnappers in 1981.

In a tweet, Lacson remembered with fondness how he and "Mr John" worked alongside each other to secure Robina's release.

"In 1981, I instructed him not to sound intimidated while negotiating for Robina's ransom; snapped at her kidnappers, '10M? Do you know how long it'll take me to count that much money? You can have my daughter!' I said, not too bold either Mr John. Rest In Peace, John Gokongwei Jr," Lacson tweeted.

The senator added that his team rescued Robina before any ransom was paid.

"Afterwards, John offered P400K as reward money which I politely declined. He officially donated 10 mobile cars to the PC Metrocom instead thru then-Chief PC Fidel V. Ramos," Lacson added.

Read their full statements below.

Malacañang Palace, through Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo

The Palace expresses its deep condolences to the family, the surviving wife Elizabeth, children Lance, Robina, Lisa, Faith, Hope and Marcia, friends and colleagues of Mr. John Gokongwei, Jr. who passed away [last] night at the age of 93.

Mr. Gokongwei, considered as one of the leading taipans, was a visionary and pillar of the Philippine economy. Our people recognize Mr. Gokongwei's amazing journey as a self-made industrialist, respected business leader, and generous philanthropist. A grateful nation respects the man for the indelible legacy he made in the fields of business, entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

While being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the demise of his father when he was fifteen removed the family from luxury and wealth. He had to work to provide for his family. He sold soaps, candles, and threads to earn money. From thence begun his journey of hard work, discipline, creativity, perseverance, accumulating vast business knowledge and acquiring entrepreneurial acumen in the process, until he built a giant of a business empire.

A cornstarch plant he built in 1957 became the seed that grew into various business enterprises that made one of the leading pillars of the business industry. Mr. John Gokongwei Jr. founded the Gokongwei Group of Companies covering a wide range of sectors from food manufacturing (Universal Robina Corporation) to real estate (Robinsons Land), air transportation (Cebu Pacific), retail (Robinsons Retail Holdings Incorporated), banking (Robinsons Bank), and petrochemicals (JG Petrochemicals), among others. Together with his siblings, Mr. Gokongwei established the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation where he donated 20 billion pesos, considered the biggest philanthropic endowment in Philippine history, to fund student scholarships and faculty research and build definitive learning facililities such as continuing schools for young engineers, preschool buildings and children libraries.

Mr. John Gokongwei, Jr. left a legacy to the Filipino nation and the coming generation worth emulating. His favorite advice: “Never stop learning.“ He always said: “I really loved my work. I loved being an entrepreneur.“ In a speech before his alma mater San Carlos University, he gave us a glimpse of the secret of his success and exemplary character: “I always tell my children, grandchildren, colleagues: "Love your work. Work hard for it. Love your family. Love your country. Never stop learning. And always look back and be grateful where you came from."

As we pray for the eternal repose of his soul, we will remember even as we will miss the foresight and corporate expertise of Mr. Gokongwei who successfully chartered unfamiliar territories in business to successfully launch new ventures and create an empire that made substantial contributions to the country's growth and development.

Mr. Gokongwei was an exceptional and ideal Filipino. He exemplifies the traits that should endow us: industrious, disciplined, indefatigable, creative, generous, always hungry for knowledge, grateful and never forgetting his origins, and most of all, a loving person to his family and his country.

Vice President Leni Robredo

Our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Mr. John Gokongwei Jr. We will remember his many contributions not only to the business community, but to helping our fellow Filipinos in need. — Leni Robredo (@lenirobredo) November 10, 2019

Sentor Panfilo Lacson

In 1981, I instructed him not to sound intimidated while negotiating for Robina’s ransom snapped at her kidnappers, “10M? Do you know how long it’ll take me to count that much money? You can have my daughter!” I said, not too bold either Mr John. Rest In Peace, John Gokongwei Jr. — PING LACSON (@iampinglacson) November 10, 2019

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto

Mr. John was a national flag carrier who planted Filipino greatness in other lands and in the minds of his people that yes, a poor promdi like him can.

We can tally the jobs his business created, the taxes paid, and the earnings it generated, but the inspiration he gave our young was the most important bottomline that was hard to quantify.

He now joins the stars he followed in sailing the wooden boat of his youth, guiding brave Filipinos who follow his example that for success to be achieved, one must leave the sight of shore.

He pushed the envelope and challenged convention in everything he did because this summa cum laude of the university of hard knocks believed that excellence can only be achieved by human talent pushed to the limit.

The result is that for those who patronize his brands, there is satisfaction to be enjoyed, and in each, a great story to be learned.

He started a phone company because he believed that the Filipino consumer has the right to unli choices.

He launched a Filipino airline because he believed that sky is the limit is for the Filipino entrepreneurial spirit.

He created his own coffee brand because he believed that the rich aroma of success can waft from one’s own brew.

He never tired of selling food because for him, no business mission outranks the duty to feed the nation.

Everything about Mr. John was big – vision, dreams, kindness – yet he never tired of punching above his weight, and the obstacles he toppled paved the way for others.

But this taipan was also a colossus of generosity. Sans fanfare, he funded schools and scholarships, so that poverty will not interrupt schooling the way it did his. He spoke softly but wrote large checks.

For leaving the world better than you found it, daghang salamat, Mr. John.

Senator Francis Pangilinan 

We offer our deepest condolences to Mr. John Gokongwei Jr.’s wife Elizabeth and children Lance, Robina, Lisa, Faith, Hope, Marcia, and the rest of his family and friends.

His legendary zest for learning and his boldness in trying out new things and his love of work and creating – regardless of his age or appearance – have been a guidepost for how to live.

Thank you for these and also for – regardless of the political winds – keeping on investing in the Philippines, employing thousands of Filipinos, and producing useful and affordable products and services.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III

I pay tribute to one of the greatest business leaders and philanthropists of our time. Mr. Gokongwei will truly be remembered for his selfless advocacies and contributions to the Philippines, be it corporate or charity work.

As many mourn the death of Mr. Gokongwei, we also pray that his legacy lives on in every person and community he has inspired.

De La Salle University

De La Salle University deeply mourns the passing of an exemplary industry leader, selfless philanthropist, and outstanding Lasallian John Gokongwei, Jr. (Master of Business Administration ‘77). pic.twitter.com/8pZqa5PF3v — DLSU (@DLSUManila) November 10, 2019

Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines

In behalf of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines big family of unions nationwide including the workers radio station Vimcontu Broadcasting Corporation DYLA, we express our heartfelt condolence to the Gokongwei family on the passing of their patriarch Mr. John Gokongwei. May the family be able to cope with his loss, said ALU-TUCP National Executive Vice President Gerard Seno.

The ALU-TUCP family remembers Mr. Gokongwei with his philanthropic acts in serving many of the underprivileged and for his various contributions to nation-building, Seno said.

ALU-TUCP National President Michael Mendoza, meanwhile, said the ALU-affiliated union employees at the Universal Robina Corporation and the Cebu Pacific flight attendants and cabin crews union employees remember Mr. Gokongwei with his being a family man, his keen business judgment, and his values of hard work.

Mr. Gokongwei is best remembered by employees with his constant casual, intimate dialogues with them with particular interest on their well-being working in the Gokongwei family-owned company. Employees will certainly miss these boss-and-subordinates conversations, Mendoza said.

Business owner and columnist Wilson Lee Flores

This photo was taken 3 years ago, when he was age 90. It is very sad news for the Philippines that one of our greatest self-made industrialists, a generous philanthropist and respected business leader, John Gokongwei, Jr. has died. Born in Fujian, South China and who grew up in Cebu, he was a visionary who had helped build up the Philippines economically.

View this post on Instagram This photo was taken 3 years ago, when he was age 90. It is very sad news for the #Philippines that one of our greatest self-made industrialists, a generous philanthropist & respected business leader John #Gokongwei, Jr. has died. Born in #Fujian, South #China & who grew up in #Cebu, he was a visionary who had helped build up the #Philippines economically. #picoftheday #nofilter #rip #potd #death #entrepreneur #leader #instaphoto #instapic #instalike A post shared by Wilson Lee Flores (@wilsonleeflores) on Nov 9, 2019 at 10:25am PST 

– Rappler.com