I was all of twenty three in 1978 when I first came face to face with Atty. Teodoro Quevedo Pena. At that time, he was Chairman – Administrator of Bataan Export Processing Zone Authority, and a newly elected Assemblyman of the Interim Batasang Pambansa. Even then, TQP had a well deserved reputation as an able technocrat whom President Marcos plucked from the corporate world to set up the first ever export processing zone in the country.
That meeting at TQP’s Port Area office was brief, but it was the start of a long professional and personal relationship with one of the greatest sons of Palawan. Thrilled as I was with the opportunity of working for him, I resigned from my job at BF Homes, Inc. to join him at the Batasan as his Techical Assistant. I remember clearly his crisp instructions to me: take care of Palawenos going to Batasan and revive the then moribund Palawan Varsitarian, an association of Palaweno students in Manila which TQP eventually supported every step of the way. Meanwhile at the Batasan, TQP converted the Palawan State College into a university and created the new municipality of Marcos, now the town of Rizal in the south.
It was his trail blazing work at EPZA which set him up for greater responsibilities in the Marcos regime. The idea of an integrated export zone was a new concept then, and TQP was the acknowledge expert. After his success in Bataan, TQP would organize zones in Mactan and in Baguio, adding more luster to his achievements. For Palawenos looking for employment then, TQP was the popular godfather who provided hundreds of jobs either at the factories in Mariveles or at the EPZA offices itself. TQP recruited several Palaweno professionals to work with him and placed them in sensitive positions. One of his Deputy Administrators is a Palaweno, Tony Macalinao, who once headed the Palawan Economic Development Council. Former Puerto Princesa ENRO Roger Daquer was his Special Assistant who was tasked to make sure Palawenos had access to TQP.
Midway into his term at the Batasan, TQP was drafted by Marcos to head the then Ministry of Natural Resources . I vividly recall the day his appointment was announced. I was glued to a PBA game on TV when the sports caster broke the news of new Cabinet members. I could hardly believed what I heard when TQP’s name was mentioned as the new MNR Minister . Immediately, I went to a corner store and called their house. Mrs. Edda Pena answered and calmly confirmed that, indeed, her husband was appointed to the Cabinet. She also relayed the new Minister’s instructions that I should be at the turn-over ceremony the following morning. That event at MNR was TQP’s finest moment. The outgoing Minister, Jose Leido,Jr gathered a roomful of his top officials to meet their new boss. TQP came with a small staff composed of his law classmate, Atty Moreno B. Cruz, and two Palawenos, Atty. Lucas Licerio and myself. Truly, a big day for Palawan.
TQP faced the daunting task reorganizing MNR. Marcos’ instructions was for him to ” clean the place”. In a week’s time, he had let go of several ranking officials, including an Assistant Secretary. He was well on his way institutionalizing reforms at MNR when a parliamentary election was scheduled in 1984, and TQP as a Cabinet member, has to stand for election.
He lost that election and other subsequent electoral contests. Such disappointment at the polls could have led men of lesser stuff to sulk and ultimately forsake their own people. But through the years, TQP’s affection for Palawan never wavered and his commitment to its progress remained undiminished.
Viewed against his achievements as a public servant, these defeats are but footnotes in his long and illustrious career. At EPZA, his pioneering work is the foundation upon which succeeding export zones were built. As Minister, he caused the massive cadastral survey of Palawan and made land titling less tedious. His integrated approach to natural resources management made DENR of today more accessible to its constituents.
- Before, MNR’s line bureaus for Lands, Mines and Forestry were independent and largely uncoordinated whose top officials barely talked to each other. TQP changed the paradigm by putting all offices under one roof and under one unified organizational structure.
In brief,Teddy Pena opened opportunities where none existed and created spaces where one could sow the seeds for a better future. He touched the lives of people in his own inimitable way and made big differences in the institutions he served. His impact will cascade through the years for generations to come.
As the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson aptly wrote, ” lives of great men remind us, we can live our lives sublime, and leave behind, footprints in the sands of time”.
Teddy Pena’s footprints are everywhere.