Page last updated at 03:59 CST6CDT, Monday, 28 January 2019 PH
I just lost a close friend who passed away recently. He was a German but who loved the Philippines more passionately than many of us Filipinos. His name was Klaus Zeller and was the German Ambassador to the Philippines from 1983 to 1987. I was fortunate that I got to know him almost from the very beginning of his stay in the Philippines because of the priority he gave to attending to the social projects of German foundations in the Philippines. From the start of his love affair with the Philippines, he showed his preferential option for the poor, the underprivileged. Very early in the gestation period of the Center for Research and Communication (CRC) in 1967, the Foundation Hanns Seidel Stiftung of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria helped finance many of our educational and research programs in education and economics. Later in the early 1980s, just as Klaus was to enter the Philippine scene, Hanns Seidel Foundation expanded their assistance to CRC in the establishment of the first technical school in the country to adopt the famous dualvoc system perfected by the Germans. Ambassador Zeller immediately demonstrated his keen interest in helping the development process in the Philippines by giving a strong support to Dualtech which reminded him of the technical school called Steinbeis School in his hometown Reutlingen in Southwestern Germany. He immediately fell in love with Dualtech because its mission was to enable the children of very poor families to acquire technical skills that made them employable in Philippine industry.
Much later in a lecture he delivered in our University of Asia and the Pacific (into which the original CRC had evolved), he referred to his famous townmates Friedrich List and Steinbeis who were instrumental in the industrialization of Germany in the 19th century. From the very beginning of our relationship, I could recognize in him a veritable renaissance man, combining his wide knowledge of the humanities, sciences and technology that enabled him to be perfectly at home both in the academe and in diplomacy. In fact, his first choice as a career what to be an academic but when he was a postgraduate student he was asked by an elder colleague to join the Foreign Office in Germany. He gladly obliged.
Those of us at CRC who met him early in his posting in 1983 were immediately impressed with the way he combined in his person the legendary discipline and precision of the Germans and a very warm personality that made it easy for him to fit into our culture and to make many friends, both among dignitaries like Cardinal Sin and former President Fidel Ramos and the most common of folks. Not that we pigeonholed every German into the stereotype of a cold and unfeeling person. We already were familiar with the culture of Southeastern Germany, Bavaria, where people are more Latin than Aryan. Many of us had traveled to Munich for scholarships and exchange programs sponsored by Hanns Seidel Stiftung. But Klaus was the epitome of a person who could manifest what we can call “tough love.” He was always looking for ways to promote the good of Filipinos (the very essence of love) but he could be very critical of our defects such as a slavish attachment to everything American and the penchant of our youth to avoid technical education in preference for a college degree. In his first inaugural lecture at UA&P he tried to show the interplay of good craftsmanship, technology, education (especially technical), and religion. He did not mince words when he talked about the need to rebalance our relationships and move closer to the more developed countries of Europe such England, France, and Belgium (and of course, Germany).
He was quite instrumental in helping our university shape the political economy course that became the foundation of what evolved into a full-blown School of Law and Governance. Much before free market capitalism was tarnished by the abuses of the large financial institutions and corporations that led to the Great Recession of 2008 to 2012, Klaus was already championing the social market economy that Germany is famous for. He always insisted in the strong role that Government should play in addressing the imperfections of the markets. He did not believe in the dictum that a rising tide lifts all boats. Especially because of what he saw in the Philippines where there are scandalous inequalities in the distribution of income and wealth, he advocated for strong state intervention in the education and health programs for the poor and in the necessary controls to prevent monopolies and oligopolies to harm public welfare. (To be continued).