A tribute to Donald G. Dee

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It will not be easy to sum up the life of Donald in one column. He was a man of paradoxes.
He was diminutive in size but he stood tall among giants in the industry. Soft spoken and unassuming, his voice was heard in the halls of Congress, government offices and various fora as he pushed several advocacies for business and the country.

He had a scholarly no-nonsense demeanor and a stern look of a school principal. Behind this public persona, however, Donald was an affable and affectionate individual, a caring and loving husband and father to his children, always with an engaging smile and ready to listen and extend a helping hand to colleagues and office staff.

Staff of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) called him Mentos, hard outside but soft inside.

Donald was a competent and savvy business leader. He knew his stuff inside-out and was involved in many undertakings. He was instrumental in forging JPEPA, the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement, which was a bilateral investment and free trade agreement between the two countries signed in 2006 under the Arroyo administration.

He was a tough negotiator and a staunch advocate of employers’ interest on many controversial issues. Even the most radical labor groups respected Donald’s advocacies for employers. They privately exchange views and opinions on specific issues that eventually became the foundation for a tight bipartite partnership to foster mutual benefits for the sectors they represented.

Given his knowledge and experience, he had a direct hand in crafting many position papers for PCCI and ECOP. His success-driven trait and work ethic made the two groups the solid and effective business organizations they are today.

I met Donald in mid ’80s when we were on opposite sides of the cabotage issue. He and PCCI wanted cabotage lifted to allow foreign-flag ships to ply in our domestic waters. I, as head of the domestic oil tankers association, was against the lifting of cabotage as it will toll the bell for local shipowners.

After presenting cabotage as an economic and security issue, Donald saw the wisdom of retaining the cabotage law to protect the country’s interest.

After our meeting, he invited me to join PCCI. I agreed without hesitation, because I was impressed by the power of his logic, the depth of his analysis, his special gift of persuasion and his charming frankness. He can demolish one’s argument without offending the other party.

In our meeting, Donald was joined by Jun Ortiz-Luis, Jr. and the late Mike Varela. Together, they were called the “three kings,” later recast endearingly as the “three stooges.”

The term was coined by rival business organizations which was a disguised expression of admiration, awe, and respect, because PCCI was the largest, and by law, the recognized single voice of business in the Philippines.

If the trio were a ship, Mike will be the main engine that provides power, Jun will be the propeller that moves the ship forward and Donald will be the rudder that guides the ship toward its destination. Together and in unison, they shepherded PCCI and ECOP to be the premier business organizations and policy partners of the Philippine government.

With them at the helm of PCCI and ECOP, they retained complete institutional memory of these organizations which contributed largely to the success of their advocacies.

In the past two years, Donald’s widow, together with my wife Mila and some PCCI ladies regularly went to Manaoag as prayer warriors for his physical healing from cancer.

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