Herminio “Meniong” Guivelondo Teves, born April 25, 1920, former governor and former congressman of his beloved Negros Oriental, passed away yesterday at the age of 99. If he had his way, I am sure he would have preferred to make it an even 100. However, fate chose to intervene. It robbed him of a year. But what is a year compared to a long and fruitful life.
Meniong first served at the House of Representatives in 1969, but his term was cut short by the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. He was OIC Governor of Negros Oriental in 1986-1988. I first met Meniong during his second stint in Congress, which was in 1998-2007. I was still an editor for this newspaper then, and Meniong was my source on goings-on at the House.
Meniong was among the few standouts in my 26 years as a journalist. He was a “character,” to say the least. Sometime back he had asked me to edit his book on crafting and legislating tax laws. And it was while going over his book that I truly appreciated his common sense and practical approach to issues and other things.
It was my honor and privilege to have known him, to have had him as a news subject as well as a news source, and to have been his friend. I last saw Meniong during his 97th birthday celebration at the Alabang Country Club. I can still recall how his eyes lit and how he smiled as he shook hands with guests and shared a few words with friends at the party.
In Meniong’s memory, please allow me to share with you an updated version of my column published in April 2018, on the occasion of his 98th birthday:
I referred to him then as “Old-Timer.” It was the way he did things, the way he went about them, that I admired the most about him. He was high society but he was never snooty nor snobbish. He was always very down-to-earth, very folksy, and quick to offer a smile and a very firm handshake. And then there was his common sense way of dealing with things.
He was a veteran of life – he was around a long time, had experienced a lot, and had plenty to share with those younger than him. At 91, he could still play nine holes of golf. In fact, at 91, I still had the pleasure of his company in attending a Healthcare and Retirement conference in Makati City. At the time, he was still on the lookout for new business opportunities.
Meniong was always an entrepreneur. While his older brother Lorenzo, born in 1918, was busy with politics, he was busy with running businesses. To name a few: Unitrade Inc of Dumaguete City; Tolong Sugar Milling Co. Inc. in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental; Tayasan Agricultural Farm in Tayasan, Negros Oriental; and San Antonio Cattle in San Antonio, Sibula, Negros Oriental.
Meniong was always a busy body, even in his late years. He was already 78 when he started his second stint in Congress, but he still managed to work for three terms. His inability to keep still I blame on his sea legs. He went to the Philippine Nautical School and graduated at the top of his class in 1941 with a degree in maritime transportation.
He was deck officer on an inter-island ship when the war came to Philippine shores in December 1941. During the war, given his maritime training, he helped out on a number of US vessels. He helped ferry military equipment and soldiers all around until a Japanese bomber sunk their ship. After the war, he was head instructor at Cebu Nautical School. He later joined Iloilo Negros Shipping Company’s Cebu City operations, and was its manager in 1947-1951.
Three years later, his older brother Lorenzo was elected representative of the 1st District of Negros Oriental. Lorenzo was congressman in 1954-1965, and was senator in the 6th Congress and 7th Congress, from 1967 until the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. Lorenzo was also governor of Negros Oriental in 1978-1987.
Meniong’s first foray into politics was in 1969, at the age of 49. With Lorenzo at the Senate, Meniong was elected in his stead to represent their congressional district and was serving at the House until Martial Law shut down Congress. In 1986-1988, Cory Aquino made Meniong OIC governor of Negros Oriental. And then in 1998-2007, he was back in Congress for nine years.
If I recall correctly, in his last term in Congress (2004-2007), Meniong was the most senior member (in age) of the House of Representatives, and yet he still managed perfect attendance. He was also always on time for plenary sessions. That was just the kind of person Meniong was. He took his responsibilities seriously, and old age was never an excuse to take things easy.
But more than his punctuality and his industry, and his capacity for work even in his late years, I admired Meniong the most for his wisdom. Wisdom, of course, is not something that comes naturally to all who age. Meniong’s resulted from his broad experience, and his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He lived long enough to see and experience many things, and to learn from them. This, I believe, was Meniong’s greatest gift. If only we can all be like him in this regard.
Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council