Page last updated at 06:49 Asia/Manila, Wednesday, 29 June 2016 PH
I have always been convinced that professional economists can benefit intellectually from working with historians. I still remember that my favorite subjects in the doctoral program in economics that I took at Harvard University were those in history and not the ones replete with quantitative models and econometric analysis. I was especially fortunate to have studied under one of the most outstanding economic historians of the last century, American-Russian Alexander Gerschenkron, who filled in the gaps inherent in economic growth models with the human events that largely determined the ups and downs of national economies. I also benefited greatly from the writings of Joseph A. Schumpeter, who had been in the faculty of the Economics Department of Harvard University and who passed away just a few years before I started my doctoral studies. Professor Schumpeter was the renaissance man par excellence. His writings were always multidisciplinary. Since I took over the position of Research Director of the Center for Research and Communication, my marching orders were to champion multidisciplinary research efforts among the faculty members of the different schools of UA&P.
That is why I readily agreed to work with historians of the University of Asia and the Pacific to come out with a book on the Romualdez clan of Leyte. Some members of this clan have played very prominent roles not only in the development of the national economy, but especially in the social and economic progress of the island of Leyte. As the readers will discover for themselves, many generations of the Romualdezes have excelled in medicine, economics, the arts, education, public service, the military, journalism, politics, and religious life. As one of its younger members writes in the Foreword of the book, he wants to “celebrate the successes of so many individuals in the family, and hopefully show to the people of Leyte, Manila, and even in Batangas City, that here is an example of a family who excels, not because they were born with a silver spoon, but because of their talent and because they made good use of the cards that God had dealt.”
The first time I heard of one of the members of the clan was from my father, Dr. Jose A. Villegas, who used to tell his children about his days at the Ateneo. He would mention the name of Eduardo “Danding” Romualdez among his schoolmates. My father admired the brilliance of Danding Romualdez and true enough this member of the clan became very prominent in the financial sector of the country during the 1950s and 1960s. He also was appointed Philippine Ambassador to the United States. At the beginning of my studies at Harvard, I met casually Tony, one of the sons of this friend of my father. Tony was in turn a schoolmate at the Ateneo of some of my close friends such as Tony Ayala and Bobby Paterno. Tony Romualdez excelled as an educator and as a professional in some international organizations in the United States.
When I returned to the Philippines in 1964, I started to follow closely the political career of then Senator Ferdinand Marcos. It was then that I got the impression that the very ambitious politician from the Ilocos region had considered marrying into the Romualdez clan as a distinctive political advantage. The Romualdez family from Leyte was highly regarded both nationally and regionally in Leyte. Without belittling the physical beauty and human qualities of the famous “Iron Butterfly”, it was clearly the future President who was taking advantage of his relations with the Romualdez clan rather than the other way around. I think the authors of the book will more than vindicate this impression of mine: that the marriage of Ferdinand Marcos to Imelda Romualdez bolstered his political career.
The numerous contributions of members of the Romualdez clan to the social, educational and economic development of Leyte and the entire Eastern Visayas also shed much light on what I would call the enigma of regional development. It is not well known that Tacloban, the center of development of the entire Eastern Visayas, was one of the most commercialized in the entire Visayas region. Before the devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, Robinson—the famous retailing outlet—registered its highest sales in the country in its branch in Tacloban. This fact reflected the high purchasing power found in this regional center. On the other hand, Eastern Visayas as a whole has one of the highest poverty incidences in the whole country with 50% of its population living below the poverty line (in contrast with 25% as a national average). To my mind, this reflects the dichotomy between the proactive role of people in the private sector, like those of the Romualdez clan, in uplifting the educational, health and social security standards of the urban areas in Leyte and the total neglect by the national government of the countryside and the agricultural sector, especially the coconut-growing regions of Eastern Visayas. Coconut farmers in this region as well as in other parts of the country are usually the poorest of the poor. (To be continued).