The f***ing passport

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    ‘She leaves a huge void in the Zobel family, taking with her many secrets and even more institutional knowledge that are irreplaceable.’

    IT was a baptism of fire, of sorts. When Enrique Zobel (EZ) was chairman of Bank of the Philippine Islands, he was almost always on the go. He had a trusted secretary named Mrs. Smith who kept things in order, who knew “where the bodies were buried.”

    One late afternoon he was frantic as he couldn’t find his passport. He had a flight to Brunei early the next day. He called for Mrs. Smith, but she wasn’t at her table. So, one of her assistants, a young lady from Calatagan, Batangas, stepped up to the plate. She asked “señor” what he was looking for and was told he was looking for his “f***ing passport.”

    Rebecca Caisip, that young lady, also didn’t know what a “f***ing passport” was. But she promised to help him look for it. And so she went about the office asking the likes of Eduardo Lichauco if they had seen EZ’s “f***ing passport.”

    The Zobel management team found this hilarious, especially because Rebecca was one of those religious who remained lay in their daily lives.

    I met Ate Becca in 1988 when EZ hired me as his executive assistant at E. Zobel, Inc. (EZI) upon the recommendation of former Assemblyman Renato L. Cayetano. She was the private secretary to Inigo Zobel but doubled at the same time as an additional secretary to EZ, augmenting Corazon (Corie) Aguirre, who was EZ’s private secretary. Becca’s additional value to EZ stemmed from the fact that she was from Calatagan; her father Jose (Ka Pepe) had been the farm manager of Hacienda Bigaa, and her sister Nanie, brother Teddy and brother-in-law Vic Chotangco were all also employed in the Ayala (and later, EZI) organization. So, she brought with her institutional memory.

    All the Zobel employees I ended up working with at EZI for the nine years I was there were very nice, fun to be with, and down to earth. But Becca, due to her long and deep ties to our boss, helped make life easier for me, whether it was arranging accommodations at the hacienda when I would be asked to visit, or logistics for a trip here or there, or, most memorably, helping me successfully get a visa (with the proper Zobel endorsement!) from the US and Spanish Embassies!

    I remember the latter (it was in 2008 or 2009) because I had been tasked to fly to Spain to help arrange the Philippine participation in the retirement ceremony of Neville Isdell, the beloved chairman of the Coca-Cola Company. I told Ate Becca I needed a visa for Spain; no problem, she said; we (meaning the Zobels) will help get you one. So it was not the beverage company, mind you, but Ate Becca, who, accompanying me for the interview, got me the visa from the Spanish Embassy – and a Schengen one at that! Ten years earlier, I was in my office at Coke when I got a call from her. EZ wanted me to fly to Hawaii to assist him in his October 1999 appearance before the blue ribbon committee of the Philippine Senate that wanted to inquire about the so-called “Marcos gold.” (I was still his executive assistant when the late President Marcos and EZ met numerous times in Hawaii to discuss setting up a foundation.) I told Ate Becca I would take a leave from work so I could fly, and so she said that she would then arrange my trip. Oh, but I added – at Coke we flew business class… did she think EZ would allow me? “Ako na bahala diyan,” she said. Problem solved.

    I last saw her in May when I visited the Zobel Foundation offices in Calatagan; as a trustee, I wanted to be updated on our projects. Ate Becca discussed with me the invite from the Foundation that I be its commencement speaker that June and was curious about my battle with COVID. As usual, she was of good cheer and after feeding me like there was no tomorrow we parted ways looking forward to our next meeting.

    That will have to wait. She passed away yesterday, strong in her faith, I am sure, to the end. She leaves a huge void in the Zobel family, taking with her many secrets and even more institutional knowledge that are irreplaceable. Her demise was too sudden and I still have to process the whole thing, but I know that the semi-shock I find myself feeling is testament that in me too she has left a huge void.

    No more laughter about the “f***ing passport” for a while; let’s just resume the kuwentuhan, Ate Becca, when it is my time to join you and EZ.

    (In the meantime send him my regards And watch over us who are left behind.)