Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Adventure of Institution Building (Part I)

           The best seller “Why Nations Fail,” one of whose authors—James Robinson—will be in the Philippines in May 2015 as a main speaker in an international conference organized by the Financial Times and First Metro Bank investment Corporation emphasizes the primordial importance of building inclusive institutions for a nation to succeed not only in economic  development but in what is called in social doctrine “integral human development.”  As I look back into my professional career as an economist and educator, I can say that my greatest satisfaction is to have contributed to the building of the institution that is now called the University of Asia and the Pacific which will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in 2017.  This brief description of the history of UA&P is a response to a movement called Yabang Pinoy that asked me to recount why “despite negative conditions and looming pessimism that plague Filipinos,”  I chose to stay in the Philippines, persevere in what I do and live out my dreams and aspirations here.   Although this task would necessarily involve what in the local language we refer to as “carrying one’s own bench”, I am acceding to the request because I believe in what the movement is trying to do.  This article will form part of a compendium that “will be greatly useful to students who are yet to choose their career paths, to professionals from backgrounds  similar to or different from mine and to researchers who wish to explore topics that will be mentioned in the volume.”

          Sometime in 1967, a professional colleague of mine whom I met at Harvard University—Dr. Jesus Estanislao—decided to found a economics think tank at the prodding of a group of business and economic journalists led by Ambassador Jose Romero Jr.   The group was called the Business and Economic Reporters Association of the Philippines (BERAP) which was composed of some of the leading economic journalists of the late 1960s and early 1970s.    The think tank would devote itself to both macroeconomic and microeconomic research that would provide business journalists with continuing education as well as a source of basic economic data at the national, sectoral, regional and industrial levels.  After a year of gestation in a very small office provided by a coconut federation headed by Ambassador Romero, the Center for Research and Communication (CRC) was launched in an elegant residential building on Jorge Bocobo St. in Malate through an international conference of Asian journalists on August 15, 1968.  No other than President Ferdinand Marcos addressed this group in a separate ceremony in what was then the Manila Hilton.

          In 1967, the state of economic data gathering in the Philippines was at an incipient stage.  Fortunately, Jess Estanislao, the first Executive Director of CRC, had been a disciple at Harvard of Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets, who is considered the father of national income accounting.  Working with a young staff of recent university graduates from some of the leading universities in the Philippines (Ateneo, De La Salle, U.P., Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro), Jess and his team pioneered in crafting GNP and GDP data that would form the basis of the first economic forecasting efforts in the country.  In no time at all, CRC became known, not only to economic journalists, but to Philippine business people who were in dire need of macroeconomic data which they could use in their strategic and corporate planning exercises.  At one time during the 1970s and 1980s, there were some 400 “Friends of CRC” who were subscribing to the weekly publications of CRC on the economics of the nation, sectors, industries, regions and firms. 

          From the very beginning of CRC, Jess and those of us who agreed to help him—part-time or full-time—had the vision of eventually establishing a university that would go beyond economics and encompass other disciplines such as the arts and sciences, management, information technology, communications sciences, political economy and engineering and the physical sciences.  This vision was provided to us by St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, who at that time agreed to provide the fledgling institution the spiritual guidance of Opus Dei.  Jess and I were in close contact with him in Rome where he resided until his going to heaven on June 26, 1975.  He was beatified on May 17, 1992 and canonized on October 6, 2002, the year of his 100th birthday.

          Thanks to the doctrinal and spiritual guidance of Opus Dei, all the research, communication, and teaching we did at CRC were thoroughly permeated by Christian principles and especially the social doctrine of the Church since most of the work we did at the beginning was in the social sciences.  We were especially fortunate because at the very beginning we had two very experienced professors of philosophy and theology who came from Europe:  Fr. Javier de Pedro and Fr. Joseph de Torre who took charge of the doctrinal and spiritual formation of the faculty, staff, and students of CRC.  From the very beginning the policy advice we would give to both government and private sector officials were deeply founded on such principles of the social doctrine of the Church as subsidiarity, solidarity, the common good, the preferential option for the poor and the values of charity and justice. (To be continued)