Salvador Mison: ‘My philosophy in life is the Golden Rule’

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In Photo: Mison as a cadet

MORE than 260 kilometers away from Manila, the young company executive officer is preparing administrative requirements for his battalion in a remote municipality in Quezon Province.

Lt. Gen. Salvador Mison
Lt. Gen. Salvador Mison

Skin charred from days of training under the scorching heat of the sun, Salvador Mison, known to his comrades as Buddy, was tasked to manage day’s activity of the military unit assigned to Guinayangan, Quezon.

“In 1957 I was a company executive officer for one of the companies of the 26th Battalion Combat Team,” Buddy, now 84, recalled over coffee. “As an executive officer, sometimes I lead patrols; sometimes, I have to do reports.”

During his free time, he would solve daily crossword puzzles or play basketball with his comrades. He also believes in the so-called Golden Rule.

“At 25, my philosophy in life is the Golden Rule. I was never cruel to anyone and, whatever fortune I have, I give back,” Buddy said.

With wife Ione during their golden anniversary
With wife Ione during their golden anniversary

He joined the Armed Forces of the Philippines, simply because he could not finish college on his own, unless he gets a scholarship.

“I always claim that I belong to a poor family. We hardly meet our needs,” he shared. “I only finished one semester in Mapua [Institute of Technology], but the next semester, I found myself struggling with P50 a month in my pocket in Manila. So I enrolled in the academy.”

Buddy is a native of Naga. His parents were merchants.

“My parents—Rafael and Consuelo—were merchants. During the Japanese time, my father was incarcerated by the Japanese—he was even tortured. I thought they wouldn’t let him live,” he said. “But after the war, my father and my mother were able to raise a small retail business.”

Buddy learned a thing or two from them on business. At 9, his daily routine involved an afternoon hike to the mountains.

“I go up to the mountain in the afternoon to buy eggs, [which I] then boil at 3 a.m. the [following] morning,” Buddy recalled. He sold the boiled eggs to Japanese soldiers.

“After that I will buy food,” he recalled, saying he outsmarted the soldiers by selling the eggs at higher prices.

Good family

AT 25, Buddy’s only goal was to do well in the military and, as most bachelors, wanted to have a family of his own.

“When I was 25, I dreamed of having a good family. I married my girlfriend four years later at the age of 29,” he said, smiling at the thought of his wife, Ione. “I was almost a captain then in 1962.”

He met his wife in his Masters class at the University of the Philippines. He was taking up a Master’s in Statistics and Ione, Sociology.

“We came to know each other in 1959,” he said. “I met her in one of our cognate classes, which is public relations.”

He never dreamed of becoming a general. Buddy simply wanted to become a good soldier.

“My dream was just really to make good in the military. I don’t know anyone in the military,” he said. “I never dreamed to be a general.”

He served for three-and-a-half decades in the army, the last years of which he served as the vice chief of staff for the late President Corazon C. Aquino. Including his cadet life, he served for 36 years in the military. When Buddy left the military, he was appointed as a director at the Philippine National Bank.

In September 1987 Buddy was appointed as the commissioner of the Bureau of Customs, to which he was touted by many as one of the most honest customs chiefs of all time. Archives report that he was able to keep himself clean in a graft-ridden government office.

Predestined

HE left the government in 1991 and joined the business empire of billionaire Lucio C. Tan.

“The good thing about Mr. Tan is he lets you do what you think you should do,” he said. “I served various posts in his companies—I was in the public-relations department, I became his spokesman for a time and, now I’m here, a president of a company.”

Buddy currently heads Basic Holdings Corp., a holding company controlled by the Tan family.

From preparing paperworks in the military when he was 25, Buddy now signs prepared documents by his assistants. He simply approves and signs contracts and new appointments.

“I learned to let things happen. I really believe in predestination. I feel that when we are born, somebody up there has already laid up things for us. I never dreamed to become customs commissioner. I never dreamed becoming a general. I never dreamed of becoming a businessman.”

But at whatever position he was appointed to, Buddy always keeps in mind that his work can never be mediocre.

“Whatever work that was given to me, be it a military man, a customs chief, or a company’s chief executive, I always give my best.”

‘Relaxed’

BUDDY said some people said he was very impulsive and always in a hurry when he was 25.

“But now, I am more relaxed,” he said. “There’s nothing more I can do. At this stage of my life, I don’t have any more challenge to face. Back in the day, the only way to go up is to work really hard.”

This is what he learned from his parents growing up and during his three-decade stint in the military.

“My parents really taught us the virtue of discipline and hard work, and that was sharpened in the military,” he said. “My training in the military just refined the training I got from my parents.”

Currently, Buddy owns a 7.8-hectare farm in Trese Martires, Cavite, which he tends to every Saturday.

“If I didn’t enter the academy, I [could] have taken up agriculture. In all the military camps that I was assigned to, I always plant trees,” Buddy said. “Some may question my actions, but I always believe that if I can’t benefit from it, then someone else will.”

Remaining years

BUDDY says he plans to spend the rest of his life spending time with his children, most of whom are in the US. His retirement from work should come soon.

“I will spend more time with my children—visiting them,” he said. “I also want to bond with my grandchildren and if I can still make it, I want to see places.”

The devotee of the Lady of Peñafrancia and Saint Martin de Porres said his biannual reunion with his children will be in Israel, the birthplace of Christianity.

“We want to go to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, the Dead Sea. I hope all of my children will come, because the last time we were complete was in 2012,” he said. “We started the tradition in 1998.”

Buddy is father to a brood of six, two of whom have joined the military, his Salvador Jr., now a major general and deputy chief of staff, and Siegfred, a columnist at the BusinessMirror.