By Susan V. Ople
This is my ode to the Philippine Ambassador to Iraq Reynaldo “Boy” Parungao who recently died of cancer and its myriad complications. He was known in labor circles as a true-blue, original Ople boy: good-natured, jolly, and loyal to his boss, then labor secretary Blas Ople. I was still a kid when a batch of new recruits mainly from various law schools helped my father transform labor’s frontiers during martial law days and beyond. Those were exciting days, I was told.
In a column entitled, “Amba Boy”, ABAKADA party-list congressman and Tribune columnist Jonathan dela Cruz described his friendship with the late labor atttache and Philippine Ambassador to Iraq Reynaldo “Boy” Parungao:
“I first met Pareng Boy in the early ’70s when we were conscripted, as it were, by then Labor Minister Blas Ople to join the department which was poised to open up new horizons for the country’s burgeoning workforce after the passage of the New Labor Code (PD 442). Being a lawyer, he was assigned to the labor relations group (while) I was in the employment and training corps. In a very real sense, we were with the original Ople Boys — the batch of new graduates enthralled by the promise of a new and exciting labor and employment regime. Heretofore, labor and employment concerns were second tier issues in the scheme of things paling in comparison to the attention given to, among others, finance, defense and security and even agricultural concerns.”
”The new Labor Code changed all of that, especially since the country was by then in the first years of martial rule. Under that regime, labor and employment took center stage as the competing economic and social forces waded their way in the new environment circumscribed by PD 442. We must have done a lot of good that in time we were manning the ramparts of the “New Society,” as it were.”
Former labor secretary Benny Laguesma recalled that he and seven other Ateneo law graduates including Boy Parungao joined DOLE in 1975 as contractual employees. “We were paid a monthly salary of Php 600 a month and we would go out and eat like rich people,” he quipped, adding that they chose to work for DOLE long after they passed the bar.
Fred Palmiery recalled Boy Parungao as labor attache for Tokyo, Japan:
“Boy opened the Japan market which was then under the control of a few recruitment agencies. In a sense, he broke the cartel and allowed other licensed recruitment agencies to participate. To protect our workers, he imposed a US$20,000 bond for all Japanese promoters to be deposited in Philippine banks so that financial claims of Filipino workers would be met. At that time, there were about 800 Japanese promoters. He was bold and innovative as labor attache.”
Palmiery heads the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (FAME) and is one of the founders of the Society of HK-Accredited Recruiters of the Philippines (SHARP).
Director Nicon Fameronag joined Ambassador Boy Parungao as members of the Middle East Preparedness Team headed by Special Envoy Roy Cimatu during the Iraq war. Of Boy, he wrote:
“Oh what a story-teller he was! No one subject of his storytelling was sacrosanct. Even his life was fair game. One should not set a 30-minute meeting with Amba Boy and expect to conclude the agenda on time; for almost always, an encounter would last hours. I am sure now that had Ambassador Boy P. not become a lawyer, he would have been a first-rate writer. But he would have hated to be chained to a writing desk. To him, life was an open ground.”
Administrator Carmelita Dimzon of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) fondly described Parungao as “maporma, makuwento, pala-kaibigan.” She remembered the last time they met at the cafeteria of the University of Asia and the Pacific at lunch break of a forum on oversesas employment.
In her e-mail to this writer, May Dimzon wrote:
“ (POEA Administrator) Hans and I were talking when Amba Boy approached us and said, Pa-picture naman tayo at baka wala ng susunod pang pagkakataon. Baka last na ito. Tiyempo ko na at kasama ko ang dalawang Administrators. He then called his son, Eric, to join us and requested one of our staff to take the photo. As I type this message, I have goosebumps. Iyon na pala ‘yon.”
Here are the five things that I shall always remember about Boy Parungao:
- His love for my father was unconditional.
- No other friend can be as faithful as he was.
- No other person could tell a story like him.
- No other Filipino loved Iraq as much as he did.
- No other “Boy” could take his place in the hearts of people he helped along the way.
When you’ve been long out of government and still have troves of friends coming to say farewell at your wake, then you wore your life well.
God bless you, Amba Boy Parungao. Please give my father a warm hug for me. (Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)