Friday, November 26, 2010

A Delightful Evening at Insular Life's Centennial

Jim Roa, Nits Lazaro, Alma Roa, Nen Roa, Yoling Malferrari, Candy Jalbuena, Larry Jalbuena
I attended the 100th anniversary celebration of Insular Life, the largest Filipino life insurance company in the Philippines. My family had the privilege of being invited to this milestone celebration by virtue of our predecessors’ important involvement in the company during its growth years. My uncle Emeterio Roa Sr. was the General manager of the company before and after World WarII and my father, Federico Sr., was the actuary of the company during its post-war years. Other Roas who worked with the company were Cocoy Roa, the eldest in our family and cousins Percy and Frank Roa. To my knowledge there is only one remaining Roa in the company and she is not even surnamed Roa as Anna, the eldest daughter of Cocoy, is married to Dindo Soriano and carries his family name. She carries on the torch for the family in the company as its senior AVP in charge of Public Relations.

My expectations for the evening were not great and my attendance was merely obligatory. It looked like an affair that only those employed in the company would have special excitement and enthusiasm for. It seemed that this was going to be another typical corporate celebration with endless special citations to deserving employees, honouring outstanding clients and bombastic speeches from the Chairman and others of high rank. It had the makings of another humdrum and boring night.

Coming in from the usual heavy traffic in Ortigas avenue at early evening, it was not an auspicious start, at least for me, for the night.

Wading through the throng of formally dressed people crowding the foyer of the Meralco building we finally made our entrance and proceeded to the registration tables where we were given seat numbers for the program inside the theatre.

We had to go through another bottleneck entry leading to the cocktail area where a mini program was in progress. Boots Anson Roa, my sister in law was the emcee and was in the middle of selecting winners for a raffle.

My wife and I queued up for the buffet cocktail table. She whispered that the food should be good because she just saw Arlene Arce milling around the buffet table and concluded that she did the catering for the affair. Arlene is known for excellent catering services. At least there was something that promised to be outstanding for the evening.

After the satisfying repast I was glad to see some of our relatives, the grandchildren of our uncle Emeterio and his daughter Yoling. Things were looking up. It is usually nice to meet with relatives whom you seldom see as it gives one a chance to catch up on news about each other.

Another happy instance was when Boots announced onstage the presence of the author of the coffee table book written for the occasion. It was Joan Orendain whom I knew from way back through my brothers Pete and Dado. After some warm hug-hug, “beso beso” and a bit of chit chat she was sucked in by the flowing crowd and was gone. After Joan’s exit I saw onstage a familiar looking face who was talking about music...kundimans I think. It was Ed Gatchalian, a batch mate from the Ateneo Grade School and someone whom I occasionally saw in advertising industry activities when I was still active in the ad industry, airports and one time in Saigon when he still had a company manufacturing scented candles. We just waved at each other since he seemed in a hurry. It was turning out to be a nicer evening than I expected.

After the cocktails we were ushered in to the theatre. Anna led us to what I thought was the best seats in the house. It was about six rows from the stage and was at the second tier of the floor giving as an eye level view of the stage. It was reserved for the Roa family and there we were seated comfortably with cousins, nephews, nieces, siblings and in laws happy and feeling priviledged.

I knew that the presentation was going to be a musicale about the hundred year history of the company. I braced myself for the worst. A musicale about a company’s history is not exactly one that would make for great entertainment. Invariably, musicales produced by employees usually end up as cute extravaganzas with bloopers in song renditions and bungling on stage as main fares. In my mind, quick getaway ideas were being formed. Sneaking out once the houselights dimmed or pulling a disappearing act at intermission were some of the things I entertained doing.

As the curtain raised a dapper looking man, who reminded me a lot of Danny de Vito, strode on stage and started his spiel. He portrayed the role Chairman, Ting Ayllon, in the musicale as well as the narrator in between scenes.

As he introduced the first scene the stage began to fill up with a typical crowd scene at the turn of the century Manila. It was a well choreographed movement depicting the hurly burly of public places of the time.

After listening to the song “Infinite Possibilities” I knew that this was not amateur hour. Well polished actors strutting confidently on stage, impeccable line delivery, good singing voices characterized the opening scenes. Equally impressive were the production values of the presentation which was minimalist, using representational props and ingenious lighting for scene transfers. There were some songs that were truly great. “Insulares”, “Moving Up, Moving On”, “It will not End This way” and Who We Are, What We Are, Why We Are...Insular” were particularly excellent. The lyrics were well written and the music wonderfully arranged. It was an outstanding musical with impressive librettos, awesome choreography and splendid acting. There are very few corporate musicals on Broadway which you could compare this one. What comes to mind is “How To Succeed In Business without Really Trying” which starred Robert Preston...I am being overly enthusiastic, I think.

All in all it was a grand performance which should curb a bit my cynical view of corporate attempts at entertainment during company to dos. This was truly an exception.

It was a fine way of telling the audience, mostly employees, of the company’s beginnings and the unfolding events in their history to evolve into the prominent business leader that it is today. If one were to judge the effectiveness of the vehicle in inculcating pride and morale amongst its associates this would rate a ten. To paraphrase an ad agency slogan, “It is history well told”.

The Roas in the audience were particularly gladdened by the knowledge that a Roa played a pivotal role in the company’s history. Emeterio Roa Sr. or Tio Terio to our side of the family was the General Manager of Insular Life during its most trying years. He served as its General Manager in the immediate post war period; during the war, when they were forced to operate for show and the years after the war in bringing the company back to its feet after being ravaged by the Japanese military regime. I felt a lot of pride that among the illustrious early leaders of the company my Tio Terio was the most heroic in deed and in stature. He was the “Indio Bravo”, the corporate hero amidst a coterie of distinguished “Insulares”.

At intermission I took a quick glance at the playbill and noticed that it had an impressive dramatis personae composed of professionals from our local legitimate stage. The one big surprise was the fact that it was Ed Gatchalian who was the executive producer, the musical composer cum arranger cum director. No wonder he was in a hurry when I met him at cocktails. He had to be with his cast and crew at backstage.

At curtain call the audience recognition was ecstatic but what delighted me most was when Ed Gatchalian was called onstage the audience rose from their seats and gave him a standing ovation for a “tour de force” performance.

Earlier in the evening when I got out of the car at the entrance I was resigned to suffer a long tiresome, bore some and lacklustre evening, instead, it turned out to be one of the more enjoyable affairs I have attended. I thank my lucky stars for a serendipitous evening.

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