Former trade chief, Namfrel founder Jose Concepcion dies

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Former trade chief, Namfrel founder Jose Concepcion dies

Jose 'Joecon' Concepcion Jr.


(4th UPDATE) ‘Joecon’ was also a 1971 Constitutional Convention delegate and Martial Law detainee. His favorite quote was ‘It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.’

MANILA, Philippines – Former trade secretary Jose “Joecon” Concepcion Jr., founding chair of the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), died on Wednesday, March 6. He was 92. 

Namfrel mourned the passing of its founder in a post on X (formerly Twitter), and said Concepcion “inspired hundreds of thousands of ordinary Filipinos to take up the cause of free and fair elections.” 

“Mr. Concepcion was a visionary leader who truly loved his country, and believed in the power or ordinary citizens to effect lasting change in their own communities. Mr. Concepcion’s favorite quote was ‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,’” Namfrel said. 

“Filipinos heeded his call, and his legacy lives on in the hearts of every NAMFREL Bantay ng Bayan volunteer who strives to continue what he and his fellow NAMFREL pioneers started,” the group said.  

NAMFREL played a key role in the 1986 snap presidential elections which saw dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos defeat opposition leader Corazon “Cory” Aquino in the official count of the Commission on Elections. 

However, NAMFREL’s incomplete count had Aquino ahead of Marcos, and the widespread fraud in the polls eventually led to Marcos’ downfall in the February 1986 People Power Revolution. 

NAMFREL was the world’s first citizen-led national election monitoring organization, and it would assist other countries help promote clean and honest elections after the EDSA revolution. Concepcion often traveled to other countries to speak about NAMFREL’s work.

BANTAY. A National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) undated file photo of Jose ‘Joecon’ Concepcion Jr. in a public engagement using a megaphone. NAMFREL

In a statement on Wednesday, the Makati Business Club (MBC) said that as NAMFREL leader, Concepcion “helped establish transparency in the historic 1986 election.” 

“He then helped re-establish democracy and free enterprise as Trade and Industry secretary from 1986-1991,” the MBC said.

Concepcion’s family is behind two of the Philippines’ successful companies – manufacturing firm Concepcion Industrial Corporation and food and beverage firm RFM Corporation (RFM).

Among the famous brands of Concepcion-Carrier Airconditioning Company are Condura and Carrier (airconditioners and refrigerators) and OTIS (elevators and escalators). RFM’s popular brands include Selecta (milk and ice cream), Sunkist (juices), Royal (noodles), and White King (flour).

One of his sons is Jose Ma. “Joey” Concepcion III, founder of GoNegosyo, a nongovernment group that seeks to uplift Filipinos from poverty via entrepreneurship. 

In a book about his father, Joey wrote: “My father is a dreamer, a visionary. He had many dreams, from being a pioneer in agriculture to being a priest. And he pursued each of them, although not all of his dreams would turn out as he wanted, just as his desire to become a priest never came to be. But that was because he had a bigger calling – to be able to serve the Filipino. Each step that Dad took for the greater good offers a great lesson to us, and every chapter of his life a great source of inspiration.

“The majority of Dad’s life story will be about his journey towards founding NAMFREL and ultimately contributing to the restoration of democracy in the country. Even the founding of RFM was ‘precisely an anti-imperialist effort to fight foreign domination of the economy’ when America had ‘control of the economy through Marcos.’”

In a statement, Concepcion Industrial Corporation said Joecon’s “influence echoes through Philippine industry, democracy, and civic engagement.”

“JoeCon’s visionary leadership, from his pioneering efforts at RFM Corporation to his pivotal role in shaping NAMFREL, embodied the spirit of resilience and determination. He believed in the power of every Filipino to effect positive change, inspiring countless individuals to rise up and make a difference,” the company said. 

“As former Secretary of DTI [Department of Trade and Industry], JoeCon’s contributions extended beyond the corporate realm, demonstrating his commitment to advancing the nation’s economic landscape,” it added. 

In its tribute published on Thursday, RFM said its chair emeritus “founded the One-Stop-Shop for business permits and licenses.” 

Concepcion also launched the “Yes, the Filipino Can!” movement to inspire every Filipino to take positive and constructive action in the community,” RFM said. 

Concepcion’s role in NAMFREL overshadowed his work as secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) during the first Aquino administration. After retiring from his family’s business empire, he served for several terms as barangay captain of Forbes Park.

Concepcion was a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, and was detained during Martial Law. 

His wake will be at the Heritage Memorial Park in Taguig City form March 7 to March 10. 

He is survived by his wife Maria Victoria Araneta, eight children, and 31 grandchildren. His twin brother is industrialist Raul Concepcion. –

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.