in Serious stuff, my friend

Uneasy like Sunday morning

(This is a draft of a chapter of a commissioned biography. Permission to publish it in its raw form has been secured on the condition that the names of persons and some companies be changed.)

It wasn’t exactly easy like Sunday morning.

But it was nevertheless the last day of the weekend, a day when people sat back, put their feet up, and relaxed; a day when the world took things slow and shifted to a lower gear, the better to prepare for the accelerated pace of another work week.

For Antonio Valencia (not his real name), June 16, 1974 was a Sunday unlike any other.

It was the day after he had spent a night in detention—the very first such experience in his whole life.

Upon opening his eyes, Antonio jumped off the office desk where he had lain the night before and looked forward to going home; the earlier, the better.

Events of the past twenty-four hours were just too much for him to bear—it was enough to last him for a year, perhaps even five or ten.

Who could imagine being accosted, arrested, and then detained without formal charges being filed in court at all?

No one, least of all Antonio, an accomplished businessman, an astute banker, and, among others, a lifetime member of the Philippine Constitutional Association, an organization of legal luminaries, judges, and Supreme Court justices.

It was absurd as it was ridiculous.

If this was a joke played on Antonio by Marcos’ Martial Law government, he didn’t find it funny.

But he had no time, nor for that matter, the energy to unleash anger upon his captors.

Most, if not all of the special agents who arrested him were merely following orders; orders that once disobeyed, may cost them their jobs.

“Early in the morning [when I woke up] I was disallowed from making a phone call,” Antonio said.

Despite curtailed rights and limited privileges, he was treated courteously by security and was allowed to attend mass, he said.

Antonio then took the stairs to the ground floor of the Criminal Investigation Service building in Camp Crame, eager to attend the religious ceremony that was specially organized for detainees such as himself. The mass, he found out later, was attended by 15 to 20 persons, all of whom were high-ranking officials and/or employees of companies Antonio owned and/or controlled, including International Bank.

“I was picked up Saturday,” Antonio said in an interview. “These people must have been picked up either Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. Most likely most of them were picked up Sunday morning.”
This no longer surprised Antonio, or at least not as much as yesterday afternoon when, from out of nowhere, unmarked vehicles blocked the path of his car while cruising on Pasay Road in Makati. He was then presented an Arrest, Seizure, and Search Order (Asso) signed by no less than the Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, placed in police custody, and held incommunicado.

This took place the day before, a Saturday, hours before he was set to catch a plane to Hong Kong where he was set to open the representative office of Manila Chemical Bank—one of two banks he owned—and attend a cocktail party of another company.

But on that Sunday morning, Hong Kong was a foregone conclusion.

Upon seeing members of the International Bank family that morning, Antonio felt something was afoot but he didn’t know what it was.

Here he was, dirty, sullen, and irritable, being held against his will inside a building with none the wiser, save for police agents and his employees who were similarly detained. All of them—Antonio included—did nothing wrong and they were unaware of the reasons why they were being held at all.

If this was Martial Law, he would have none of it even though his businesses posted impressive growth.

“It was during Martial Law when my businesses expanded,” Antonio said in an interview. “If you check the years, I had done more during [the Martial Law] period than [the years before that.] After Martial Law was declared, I took control over International Bank in December 1972, followed by Manila Chemical Bank in May 1973.”

The facts bear him out.

In his graduate school thesis at the University of Santo Tomas which would be written in March 1982, Antonio said that International Bank’s earnings surged P1.8 million in 1972, its highest in its ten-year history (at that time).

In 1973, earnings rose further to P6.03 million, or a phenomenal 233 percent from the previous year, Antonio wrote in his thesis entitled [redacted].

“Surely, these achievements are by no means modest by any standard and could have been attained only by something more than just luck or pluck,” Antonio wrote, scoring the Central Bank (now the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) for the lack of fairness in closing banks, including International Bank.

“…only the vision, dynamism, the aggressiveness, the professionalism, the know-how, the experience, the dedication, honesty, perseverance, and integrity of the individuals who composed the new team of managers who directed the affairs of the Bank during the year, could have brought about such a phenomenal achievement.”

Besides having established peace and order, Martial Law also helped the society become more stable, Valencia said.

“Before Martial Law was declared, peace and order was terrible,” Valencia said in an interview. “In fact, I carried a gun.”

However, after spending a day in detention, peace and order were about as far from his mind as Hong Kong.

His apprehensions were not helped by the fact that he had a security detail follow him around the building, listening into conversations he held with his fellow detainees, among others.

As he took a seat along the corridor where the mass was being held, Valencia saw familiar faces: Carlo Carlos, an external vice president of a communications company, who worked part-time as his executive assistant and Norberto Barciga and Artemio Malixi, vice-presidents of International Bank.

In a different time and place, the encounter could have been pleasant.

It could have involved an amicable discussion about cutting costs, improving profitability, enhancing productivity, and perhaps some small talk over coffee.

However, this wasn’t a boardroom of any of the companies that Antonio Valencia owned and/or controlled.

This was Camp Crame, the headquarters of governments agents tasked to carry out orders, including arrest of subversives and seizure of their assets and properties.

When Antonio and Carlos met along the corridors during the mass, the two merely exchanged knowing glances, recognizing that anything that was exchanged between them—a word, snatches of conversation, a suspicious gesture—could lead to an extended investigation, or worse, punishment.

Artemio Malixi had no such reading of the situation.

He was barely able to keep it together, Antonio said.

Malixi kept on gesticulating—actions which Vicente himself could barely understand—thereby further raising their captor’s suspicions.

“[Malixi] was jumpy,” Antonio said. “He was giving me some sign. It was very irritating eh. It looked like he was in a state of shock, eh. He was very sad. But I was not shocked yet. I was expecting that the first day would go smoothly.”

By “smoothly” Antonio meant he was expecting he would be released anytime soon, optimistic that his detention would be similar to the experience of Rogelio Yao. A Filipino-Chinese businessman, Yao owned Philippine Milling, considered as the country’s largest sugar exporter at that time.

Yao, who also became the president of the Filipino-Chinese Federation of the Chambers of Commerce, was arrested and detained within the first week of the declaration of Martial Law, Antonio said.

But he was released two days after he agreed to surrender Philippine Milling to the Marcoses.

Yao’s release was facilitated by Romel Tabuena, according to Antonio.

Tabuena was the head of the so-called “eating group,” an informal group of a dozen or so businessmen, both Filipino and Filipino-Chinese to which Antonio also belonged. At a pre-arranged schedule, the group regularly had lunch together to discuss their concerns. Upon being raised and discussed during these meetings, these matters were brought to the personal attention of President Marcos himself through Tabuena.

Marcos decided to arrest Yao as a form of personal revenge, Antonio said.

During the 1965 presidential elections, Yao was identified as one of the supporters of then-incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal, who ran against Marcos.

“We were told also that Yao got into trouble when the [Nacionalista Party, Marcos’s party] knew that he was officially supporting the other candidate. So that came true,” Antonio said.

He added: “We were also informed that during the last minute, he turned to Marcos before elections. Now, [Yao] then voluntarily carried some money and went to see Marcos. Probably he had the feeling that he had to support Marcos otherwise he might get into trouble. But to his surprise, [Yao] was turned down [even though] Marcos badly-needed money during the last few weeks of the elections.”

After spending one night in detention, Valencia said that he felt confident that like Yao, he would be set free—and soon.

Immediately after mass, he asked permission from his escort to allow him to talk to the priest privately.

Permission was granted immediately.

“I introduced myself to the priest and told him about my detention,” Antonio said. “I told him that I was picked up yesterday and that up to now, my wife did not know where I was and that I was scheduled to go to Hong Kong. So I gave him my telephone number at the house.”

Antonio also asked the American Jesuit priest another favor—he wanted the priest to inform his close friend, Bishop Jose Sikatuna about his situation.

“So I also asked him to call Bishop Sikatuna, at least to inform him that I was picked up and that up to now I was still staying there and I was not allowed to make calls,” Antonio remembered telling the priest, whose name slipped his mind at the time of the interview.

At that time, Sikatuna was the national director of the Chinese Catholics in the Philippines and was “very close” to Antonio.

In the late sixties, Sikatuna was turned away in China—no thanks to Mao Tse Tung’s cultural revolution—and placed in the care of Antonio.

The two became so close that Antonio allowed the bishop to use his newly-bought car—a 1968 Ford Galaxie—for six months. In turn, their relationship enabled the priest to bless and officiate the mass during the groundbreaking of the seven-storey Superlative Building—owned by Antonio’s Superlative Investment Corp.—in Makati in 1965.

Sikatuna was even instrumental in teaching a thing or two about proper seating at the back of a car.

The more prominent person always sat to the right of the driver in a left-hand drive car, Antonio said, citing Sikatuna.

It was a lesson not lost on Antonio but was something which he himself couldn’t apply especially when he rode with Sikatuna, or for that matter, with Ciudadbank’s Angel Sy, who used to pick him up in his car for lunch during the time he was rumored to have acquired Manila Chemical Bank.

On that Sunday, it was Sikatuna’s turn to pay him a favor.

But all that depended on the priest whom Antonio met for the first and only time during circumstances that were bizarre.

As it turned out, the priest knew who Sikatuna was and had met him the day before.

However fortuitous, this piece of news boosted Antonio’s spirits.

Hungry, dirty, and spent, Antonio thought this a sign that his suffering was about to end.

As soon as the priest found the nearest phone, he would call Marlene up and tell her all about what happened to Antonio. Marlene would then come running for him, and, perhaps with the assistance of a lawyer or two, would set him free.

In just one day, perhaps just a few more hours, he would be reunited with his wife Marlene and son Frederick and all this would just become a bad memory that deserved to be forgotten; a small but nevertheless significant footnote in the book of the life of Antonio Valencia, banker and businessman.

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