Brief work milestones/history
Gene was barely 19 years when he gained employment with the foremost international global air carrier (PanAm) where he worked long, irregular hours even during holidays, earning P245.00 a month. He welcomed meeting and assisting various foreign and Filipino passengers, carried baggage and cargo, and slept nightly on a concrete floor using cardboard mats with his co-employees. His superiors were brought home and picked up daily with vans provided by the company. New employees were not privileged since the last daily flight departed midnight and the first incoming flight from the US West Coast arrived early at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. As a result, the same employees who worked in the early mornings also worked through the midnight flights until 1:00 a.m. and had to sleep at the airport. The flights from San Francisco continued on to Saigon and Singapore and the same aircraft returned early evening bound for San Francisco. This work schedule caused a substantial amount of sleep deprivation to many employees at the airport, since there were no sleeping quarters available.
Nonetheless, the otherwise predictable daily work circumstances which brought Gene’s life a substantial degree of humility and a greater determination to succeed towards another direction in the future, came about in the following situation, an unfortunate and accidental event in the last quarter of 1958 which nearly cost injuries and loss of lives of passengers and crew.
On a windy and storm-drenched Metro Manila, with poor visibility, a PanAm Boeing B377 four-engine aircraft with 58 passengers and ten crew members (mostly having boarded from San Francisco, Honolulu, and Guam) struggled to land at the Manila International Airport (now NAIA). On its fourth attempt to land, despite the advice of the tower Traffic Controller/Dispatcher to divert to Clark Air Force Base due to poor visibility, the Captain and First Officer decided to land. At about 5:30 a.m. the four-engine passenger and cargo commercial aircraft (the largest then) abruptly belly-landed and crashed with all its wheels collapsing and the four engines smacking onto and scraping the runway, its propellers cut and flying in all directions, some slamming into the aircraft wings and body. The aircraft skidded sideways completely out of control and its body and wings scraping the runway caused enormous sparks lighting the darkened night. Enveloped in thick smoke and the smell of spilled aviation gasoline, the aircraft finally crunched to a halt on the runway approximately 6,000 feet from the point of impact. With the cabin completely dark, it took Gene and a few ground crew personnel and mechanics who witnessed the crash just seconds to react and rush with various vehicles towards the stricken aircraft in an attempt to hastily evacuate the passengers and crew.
Only the rear door at the tail end of the aircraft positioned at an awkward steep angle pointing upward was operable and accessible. Two 20 feet ladders could only reach the height of the lone emergency passenger door exit. The crew elected not to jump out of the cockpit windows or attempt to use the front side doors of the aircraft because the volatile aviation gasoline (AVGAS) had spilled out of the gas tanks located at the collapsed wings and the belly of the plane and may burst into flames anytime. The smoke-filled cabin proved difficult to see through the interior of the aircraft with only a few available flashlights used.
As Gene entered the aircraft door from the rear with three ramp crew employees, the darkened cabin was surprisingly still, as the passengers and service crew appeared to be in a state of shock and perhaps disbelief at the accidental circumstances that had just occurred, which they survived. Some passengers had suffered chest and back pains, others with knee and leg problems. Others in shock remained still strapped to their seats but shaking uncontrollably with fear. Many had to be carried crying from their seats while the rest were carefully assisted with haste to buses waiting below the aircraft.
In hindsight, according to Gene, it was indeed a blessing to have the rain continuously pouring, drenching the stricken aircraft and flooding the plane’s perimeter. The passengers, who were covered with thick blankets from the plane, were bodily brought down from the aircraft. The responding fire engine trucks and ambulances from the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) sprayed foam, enveloping the aircraft and AVGAS, to reduce and neutralize the risk of fire. The wrecked aircraft was later lifted and towed by two huge crane equipments from Clark Air Force Base after two days.
Injured and visibly shocked passengers were brought to the American Hospital along Aduana St. and the Manila Doctor’s Hospital, while others uninjured were transported on passenger vans to hotels or their homes. The US military officers and soldiers aboard the aircraft were picked up by the US Air Force helicopters and brought to the Clark Field hospital in Pampanga. The sole fatality, Mr. Gervacio Elveña from Abra, a province north of Manila, was sadly brought to the CAA morgue. His relatives were provided substantial assistance by the company and his burial was attended by senior officials designated by PanAm.
What made this one of the most significant and unforgettable events in the history of PanAm was the heroic feat of the American flight service crew and a few Filipino airport employees who had performed their utmost best, risking their lives under the most difficult and trying circumstances with inadequate facilities, and still succeeding in saving the passengers and crew from further injury and avoiding casualties. The highest officials of the company based in New York first reacted with surprise and later with awe, conveying their utmost commendation to these few employees responsible for executing this feat all within an acceptable norm of unselfish conduct and utmost efficiency.
Gene and his colleague, Senen Vicente, both who were considered the most junior in the passenger service department, together with an American dispatcher, Roger Smith, were later given the highest meritorious recognition. Gene was soon after promoted to head the PanAm Agency & Interline Sales Department at the company’s head office in Manila, while Senen Vicente was promoted to a supervisory position at the airport.
Gene proved to his superiors that he was quite capable of completing the tasks assigned to him. He exemplified the best an employee was expected to be. The company recognized his hard work and granted him favorable working hours thereby allowing him to take evening classes to finish his college at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran where he graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Commerce, major in Finance and Management (Magna Cum Laude).
In his late 20’s, Gene was invited to join Reynolds (Philippines) Corporation where he had succeeded in his position as Marketing Manager and led the Architectural and Building Products Division in the Philippines. Another two years thereafter, he was sent to the headquarters of Reynolds at Richmond, Virginia, USA.
There he excelled as only one of the five Filipinos to further their education in the manufacturing and marketing of various aluminum product applications of the company – from powder, foil, sheet, and extrusion – for food, medicine, building structures, electrical power lines, paint, highway railings, A/C coils, vehicle accessories, aircraft, and a multitude of other applications. While in the U.S., Gene topped the exams given after the training period and was offered a five year contract as an expatriate, first as Assistant General Manager, then as General Manager for the Venezuelan operations. After returning to the Philippines and deciding he wanted to stay in his country and start his own business, Gene called Mr. Louis Reynolds, Chairman of Reynolds International and respectfully declined the position, with sincere gratitude.
The succeeding phase of Gene’s professional life after 7 years with Reynolds saw him with a greater sense of mission, much more confident and driven to succeed on his own. A partnership with his three closest colleagues and associates formed the Empire Management Corporation of the Philippines and simultaneously, Gene founded his own companies as an entrepreneur-businessman in his late 30’s and early 40’s.
His initial ventures included the establishment of prawn farming in aquaculture, fruit farming, and other subsidiary corporations related to the acquisition of land for future development, construction of the very first tallest high-rise apartment building in the Philippines along Ayala Avenue in the financial district of the country, establishment of The Flower Farm Corporation , considered the premiere florist in the country with a lush seven-hectare farm which houses hundreds of varieties of vibrantly colored cut-flowers, herbs, plants and trees in Tagaytay City, and other projects where he utilized his knowledge either as a Financial and Management consultant or as an investor in other real estate developments in the Philippines and North America.
Gene built Gateway Business Park (GBP), an industrial-estate in Cavite under the holding company of Gateway Property Holdings, Inc. GBP is Cavite’s premier industrial park, nestled in 180 hectares of gently rolling terrain in Barangay Javalera, General Trias, Cavite. The park was carefully developed to meet the high technological demands of all types of industries. It has all the features of the best business parks in the world: an excellent road network, reliable power and telecommunications infrastructure, adequate water supply and a highly efficient wastewater treatment facility. It implements a park management system that ensures uninterrupted operations in a clean, safe and well-secured place. GBP’s universal appeal and world-standard features have made it the site of choice for 23 multinational and domestic companies engaged in diverse manufacturing endeavors and products.
In his 60’s, he established the Geronimo Berenguer de los Reyes, Jr. (GBR) Foundation that would involve a museum (which now exhibits the most extensive 19th and 20th century photographs of Manila and other parts of the Philippines), a parish church built and dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe due to his deep devotion to our Blessed Mother Mary, charitable projects directed towards assisting in the education of children from marginalized families, the under-capitalized hospitals and public schools, and the various professional chairs for the advancement of Philippine history, business, education and special projects among the religious organizations seeking his attention and assistance.
Above all, Gene wished to share his blessings and grace among his colleagues, employees, deserving friends, priests and nuns who would require help in their chosen fields of profession and charitable projects such as that of Mother Teresa’s “Missionaries of Charity”, who unselfishly endeavor to work caring for the aged and sick members of our society who are not in a position to care for themselves, while educating the very young children who need help in their neighborhood.
Professional achievements/awards and recognition
Gene was an “illustrious adopted son of the Province of Cavite”, recognized “for the enormous and meaningful contributions that have resulted towards the progress, development and good public image of Cavite”. He was also recognized “for providing invaluable support to the provincewide communities and public schools through the GBR Foundation’s programs for social and educational development including the ‘GBR Award and Excellence’ in History, Culture, Mathematics, English and its continuing program to promote computer literacy towards gaining global competitiveness for the Caviteño youth”. Quoted from the plaque awarded by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Cavite duly signed by all the members as well as Governor Ayong S. Maliksi and Vice Governor Juanito Victor C. Remulla, Jr. on January 26, 2004.