The Institute of Corporate Directors’ regular Breakfast Roundtables normally pack a crowd of anywhere between 60 and 80. Often, the gatherings are held at the Tower Club in Makati City.
But yesterday’s event featured an extraordinary guest—so extraordinary that 250 people, mostly directors of private corporations, showed up.
The unassuming Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle sported a gray short-sleeved barong and exuded an aura of calm amid the glowing introductions by former ICD President Rex C. Drilon II. Tagle, as we know, just returned last month from the Vatican where he was part of the conclave that selected the new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis.
Many Filipinos prefer to think of Tagle as the man who could have been the next Pope.
Cardinal Tagle started by saying he had a hard time thinking about what to say about the topic “Bringing God back in the boardroom” because it would mean that God was in the boardroom but decided to get out, or was never there in the first place.
“And I thought God was omnipresent,” he joked.
The Cardinal’s light, anecdote-filled, animated and at times self-deprecating humor engaged the audience. “I presume you invited me here as a priest and not as an expert on corporate matters. So I am allowed to talk like a priest,” he said.
A priest who has the gift of communicating, one may add.
Tagle reminded the audience of “God’s brand of governance” rooted in righteousness, justice, peace and mutual upbuilding. Working in a corporation devoid of these values would be draining and exasperating, such that any decent person would know better than to stay.
Acknowledging that he was perhaps in a roomful of movers and shakers of Philippine business, Tagle said that the tendency was to make one’s “importance” felt. Rank and hierarchy are important to those who feel entitled to lord it over.
But the leader whose brand of governance he adheres to tells a young man to sell his riches to give to the poor, and washes the feet of others – a task reserved for the lowest of the slaves.
Thus, the prospect of “bringing God back to the boardroom” could be dangerous and threatening. It means challenging the status quo and getting out of one’s comfort zone.
Finally, a lesson in humility: “Do not raise yourself; wait for others to do it for you.”
In the aftermath of Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise resignation, Tagle was touted as one of the “frontrunners” in the search for the new pope. He became the focus of so much media coverage that he did not recognize himself anymore.
People bet on his chances of becoming the next leader of the Catholic Church. “All of sudden, like a stock, I was the subject of speculation.” He felt so uncomfortable that before he left for the Vatican for the conclave, he stopped reading the newspapers and watching television. He was glad to leave the hype behind in the Philippines.
Once he got to his destination, however, he realized that social media had enabled the hype to reach foreign shores. Diners in restaurants or pedestrians, even school children, recognized him. People asked to have their pictures taken with him. “I felt like hiding; I did not deserve this.”
He felt this way until a Filipina domestic worker thanked him profusely. “Because of you, our employers have become kinder and more considerate to us Filipinos. They now give us a bit more dignity,” she said.
And then it hit him. He realized that all along, the attention had not been for him but for the “little ones”. “I had a change in perspective—and since then I began to agree to more requests for photo ops.”
Equally interesting was one question posed by a member of the audience. He wanted to know whether the church sector, like the private sector and some government agencies including government-owned and -controlled corporations, was undergoing governance training specifically for purposes of fairness, accountability and transparency. Cardinal Tagle said that there were measures in place within the hierarchy; whether these are observed, however, is another matter altogether. They are also working to impress upon priests that they are subject to the laws of the land, not just the protection of the institution.
The Cardinal soon left the meeting to rush to Quiapo Church to celebrate Mass for the disappeared—Jonas Burgos and the many others like him whose names we don’t even know.
More than that, he also said he would be praying for those who are physically still here but who are absent in the consciousness and memory of many.