Katrina Ponce Enrile: A woman worthy of her name
She had once been overheard to say: ‘At 10, I had to fight a little bit harder to be heard.’
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/KATRINA PONCE ENRILE
Anyone who had come of age in the late 1970s and the 1980s would surely know about the most famous names and faces of the younger set of the era known for the coming of age of feminism and women’s lib. The 1960s may have ushered in a cultural revolution but it was in the succeeding decades that the cataclysmic events of the decade that was, in the Philippines, would manifest in the ways and attitudes of Filipino women.
I mention this phase in our history because I am sharing my thoughts on one woman whom many consider one of the country’s most powerful, influential, and successful.
She is Katrina Ponce Enrile.
I may not be privy to the growing-up years of Katrina Ponce Enrile, and I would not have the advantage of seeing her from the point of view of someone old enough to observe the growing-up years of a child, but as a teenager, I would occasionally read about her and see her on photographs published in newspapers and magazines, although not too frequent. I just knew she was not only well-bred and beautiful in the mestiza sense being the daughter of a striking beauty of a mother (and the granddaughter of a handsome lady’s man of a paternal grandfather), but that, she too was brilliant. I would assume that she inherited her brains from her father, one of the wonder boys of the Marcos administration.
Katrina would, in time, be mentioned in juicy gossip now and then, but it was her smarts in enterprise and management that she would eventually be recognized, this notwithstanding the controversial stories that one occasionally heard of her family members.
‘Treat everybody with respect’
But to imagine her childhood and teenage years, one would suppose that for all the comforts that she might have enjoyed while living first in Urdaneta and then Dasmarinas Village, she had had to assert herself, as she had once been overheard to say: “At 10, I had to fight a little bit harder to be heard” — which was expected if one were the only daughter of a famous lawyer of a father and a lovely talented mother, herself a respected stage actress.
But no matter that she was the daughter of awe-inspiring parents, what she had been showered with, aside from her parents’ affection, was well-meaning advice.
For one, it was from her dad and mom that she first heard the words of wisdom, “Treat everybody with respect — everybody. Because you don’t know what fate will bring you or them. People that you meet when you are going up, you also meet when you are going down.”
No wonder that years later, as a businesswoman, she was very cautious when making decisions whether she was dealing with other top businessmen, her executives, or the employees who served the family company at her beck and call. “I always think of how my actions and decisions would affect others,” she said in an interview with the Daily Tribune Lifestyle section.
No, for all the feisty woman that we know her to be, Katrina was not advised to be aggressively proactive when facing a conflict. The legendary Juan Ponce Enrile, instead, advised his daughter: “Never throw the first punch. But if they throw the first punch, then…” This, she would take to heart whenever she had had to face corporate, social, or emotional bullies, not that she is one to attract people prone to violating her rights.
One imagines her father might have preferred her to be a boy, JPE being a man’s man, but to which she would have retorted: “Dad, I don’t have to be a boy to be what I am now… Girls can do it too.”
Call it outright confidence or chutzpah, or maybe it’s Pinay pride, but Katrina is not one to be cowed. And yes, she could lead and fight and attack, but as her father would most likely say: “Only if they attack first.”
What I have heard of Katrina, especially from my dear friend, Carol Mercado, who was her classmate at St. Paul College, is her signature confidence. “From our youth, when she could be stubborn, she has matured steadily into a self-assured executive no wonder that she has accomplished much as an entrepreneur.
“It’s a paradox that while she may have been underestimated at times and even flat-out rejected, she knows how to overcome these challenges because she is one creative person and she is not one to easily bow down or to say no. But then, she is not even outright assertive. She could be very charming and before any nemesis would know it, she has gotten what she wants without lifting a finger.”
It would seem that the lady would have aimed for political eminence, being the daughter of the powerful JPE, but to everyone’s surprise, she had chosen to create a name outside of her inherited box (or confines), so to speak. While she takes pride in being an Enrile, she has not taken advantage of her family name as though an amulet would do wonders for her. Instead, she has chosen to rely on the old-fashioned values of industry, respect for others, commitment, and determination. She might as well be a girl scout, except more courageous, daring, and trailblazing.
Flexing her risk-taking muscles
In her 20s, when her friends were disco dancing, she was, to use another friend’s words, “flexing her risk-taking muscle and sharpening her foresight for the first time — pivotal experiences that would shape her business sense now admired by many.”
She surprised everyone when, at 26, she bought properties in Palawan. “It was a big joke to many,” she recalled. “They could not see any reason I should take the risk and invest in a place where no one dared go. It was then no man’s country and perceived to be mosquito-infested.”
Today, Palawan is a safe haven from the pandemic, and, of course, an investors’ paradise.
On the other hand, her parents saw a promise in her, someone who would play a key role in the family enterprises. They appointed her as Group Treasurer even before her 30th birthday and with it the added role of overseeing the many concerns of the JAKA Group of Companies. It is quite a daunting responsibility given its extensive industrial reach –- food manufacturing and product distribution to marketing and logistics; forest plantation management; safety match manufacturing, property management, and development; as well as IT, security, and financial services. It would seem that, for a “beginner” in the big league, it was beyond Katrina’s grasp, and yet, she lived up to her parents’ expectations.
In time she would qualify as the firm’s COO and eventually CEO. Not one used to trumpeting her achievements, Katrina candidly shared: “I was able to turn around the company, helping navigate it through the debilitating Asian Financial Crisis in the mid-1990s. And when the peso devalued in 2008 to 2009, when we had [a] one dollar-denominated loan which I had to quickly deal with, I was able to restructure our company and keep it afloat.”
Soon, she would be trusted to manage JAKA’s investments, which “allowed me to dream of bigger things, this in the midst of an economic crisis and the pressure to survive it.”
Her baby Delimondo
When shopping in a supermarket or a grocery, Filipino consumers, especially those who take their corned beef seriously, would pick the Delimondo brand. They would also put the brand’s Bolognese Pasta, Luncheon Meat, Yellowfin Tuna spreads, and aromatic oils in their cart or shopping bags.
Katrina confided, “Delimondo was my baby and was purely our family’s venture.” Hers was a one-woman team that managed the brand’s marketing, sales, and R&D. To introduce it to the market, she gave away cans of their initial recipes for free. “I wanted to offer something deliciously different, one that I enjoyed from my travels abroad.”
It wasn’t long before investors would come in too aware that Delimondo operates its own plants that produce and package its own products. The company would soon expand and offer its manufacturing services to other products all the way to exporting them.
In time and with Katrina at the helm, JAKA shifted to investing in other companies.
But if her JAKA performance is impressive, anyone should take a look at her other achievements. To cite one, as the Philippines Overseas Telecommunications Operations director and CEO/president, she led the efforts to renew the company’s franchise that would allow it to provide the Philippines satellite services.
For another, as director and president, she has brought into the Montemar Resorts Development Corporation and Montemar Beach Club Inc. not only her management expertise but her exposure to top international resorts as a frequent guest. No wonder Manila’s well-heeled set considers these resorts as standard-bearers of local luxury travel.
Transforming the upper east corner of Luzon
Katrina also sits as the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority’s vice chairperson, and sat on its Board of Directors up to 2012. . In this role, she envisions making the province a model destination that easily rivals the country’s capital.
“They’re considering appointing me as administrator. Once that post is confirmed, I will be fully committed to transforming the upper east corner of Luzon into another business area that the Philippines will be proud of.” As part of her vision, she plans to build a stronger economy with the available freeport and expand its potential by constructing an airport. To attract investors, she plans to boost incentives to encourage more players to relocate.
“We plan to make smart cities there. I plan to make it very green. I plan to protect the lush forests. It’s really also known as the rice granary of the Philippines. I plan to push the transition from GMOs (genetically-modified organism) to non-GMOs. I know that that will be a hard task but I plan to do it. I want to give the Filipinos healthy food for the next generations to come,” she states.
Worthy and deserving
As the only daughter of the most famous native son of Cagayan, Katrina brings to her new job an affection for the province and Cagayanons and the whole Cagayan Valley.
She may have grown up in Manila, travelled the whole world, but her heart has always remained in the home of her father, Juan Ponce Enrile, and it is among his people, relatives and townsmen that she intends to pursue her next dream. There is no stopping this feisty Cagayanon. For her home province, she is out to conquer the world.
But then, I must insist that this is not about being her father’s daughter, although there is no denying the great influence of JPE on Katrina becoming the woman that she has become — strong-willed, passionate, forward-thinking.
Still, Katrina could only thank herself most for being herself. That she accepted the challenges that came her way and faced them head-on using her own gifts and advantages – which undoubtedly brought her to her destiny, one that she has arrived at and one that she has yet to fulfill.
Indeed, if the women’s movement has reached this far, and women today now enjoy key positions in government, the private sector, and civil society, this may be attributed to the generations of women who have looked toward the future and embraced their destinies as key players in the affairs of humanity.
Katrina is one of these women and we wish her all the best. No one could be more worthy of the challenge and deserving of the honor.
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