Nepomuceno’s OCD road far from paved
There is no typical day for Department of National Defense Undersecretary Ariel Nepomuceno, the Administrator of the Office of Civil Defense and concurrently the executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Today, he could be briefing top officials on the extent of the damage from an intensity six earthquake in the north, the next calling the Social Welfare Secretary to apprise him of the damage caused by a super typhoon in the southeastern part of the country.
Nepomuceno’s recent visit to the Daily Tribune office got us into a conversation about his college days when it was an exciting time for one to be young.
It was not a straight path that he took. Like many young people of the 1970s to the 1980s, he had fought for his principles, took a break from school, and later went back with a different outlook.
But it was an experience that would define his choices in life and in the way he would serve his country. The boy who had defied rules has made a name for himself by simply being aggressive, progressive, and socially responsible. He could be firm but he could be compassionate and caring.
In Ariel’s case, his eventual chosen path was a career in government, although he also pursued the life of an entrepreneur. To move fast forward in our story, Ariel was appointed as Administrator only last December 2022. Way back 2010 to 2011 he was already the executive officer of the OCD.
He was born in 1965 in Malabon to parents who were separated when he was still in grade two. He was the youngest of the four children from his father’s first nuptials. His father, Renato Nepomuceno was a public servant assigned to the public market. His paternal grandmother, Josefina Nepomuceno, became his full-time surrogate mother.
“Growing up with my grandmother meant praying the rosary every day. I was with her all the time before I entered grade one. I was beside her when she prayed the rosary at night. I would close my eyes but I could hear her mouthing the rosary,” he related.
“I would accompany her when she went to the market in Divisoria. We would ride the jeep and I was seated on her lap so I was not charged my fare.”
“When she heard mass at six in the morning, I would accompany her. Our house was just at the back of San Bartolome Church.”
No wonder that he once wanted to enter the Oblates of Mary Immaculate Seminary. “I passed the written exam but I failed in the interview. I don’t know why,” he said.
When he finally joined the Philippine government, he had seen enough of his country, the worst and the best of it, “to make me promise to myself I will do my part to help my country in the best way I can and I know.”
It is a promise that he continues to fulfill, but that is another story that deserves to be told.
Since the family was financially challenged, he applied to only one school, the Philippine Military Academy because of the free tuition.
“My dream was to become an architect. But I couldn’t raise the 65 pesos I needed as my application fee for the entrance exam to UST,” Ariel confided.
He was one of the youngest of his batch when he entered the PMA because “a lot of my classmates studied at least two years in other universities before entering PMA.”
He did not graduate, though, due to an infraction he committed, for which he had to leave the academy. The long and short of this adventurous episode was that the young idealistic cadet felt that an unfairness on the part of the institution had been committed.
He then returned to Manila and enrolled in Economics at the University of the Philippines.
While at the University of the Philippines, he joined the intelligence service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as an undercover agent. It was the time of the Alex Boncayao Brigade and they were killing policemen and bombing public places. It was my way of protecting myself. “At some point, I got burnt out and left,” he remembered.
After a brief rest, he returned to UP. “This time, I majored in History. It became my pre-law course.” He was taken in because “then-president Edgardo Angara allowed my entrance to the University on condition that I maintain this high average every semester. It was quite a tall order so I really had to study hard.”
Along the way, he applied for a job to Channel 2. “I started as researcher-writer since I loved writing. Then I became a field reporter of Magandang Gabi Bayan. I was one of the pioneers, along with Noli de Castro. So I worked for channel 2 for more than four years kaya lang. I eventually resigned because I could not have a high profile career while being an undercover agent for the Intelligence Service of the AFP or ISAFP.”
He next joined the Senate where he became a researcher and speechwriter of Senator Heherson Alvarez, his fraternity brother.
It had been a wonderful time for Nepomuceno. He now looks back with fondness on those halcyon days while realizing “I learned my lessons that have made me the person I am today.”
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