Harvard Bureaucrats Ball

Harvard Bureaucrats Ball Featured

LAST December 15, the Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Association of the Philippines (HKSAAP) celebrated its 33 years in the country with a gala event, the Bureaucrats Ball, a tradition started at the Harvard Cambridge campus and replicated in the Philippines only for the second time. The gathering is a Harvard family affair where in the words of its hardworking executive director Jose Buenaflor Jimenez 3rd, "Although divided in political convictions and affiliations, its members stand united in the pursuit of better living, [through] exemplary leadership, honor, and always with utmost integrity."

Harvard University over the years has had many of its graduates recruited to various Philippine administrations. In the best tradition of academic and professional excellence, the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) has had its share of these men and women occupying the political spectrum. The classic "clash of ideas, the thesis and antithesis resulting in a synthesis" has been the hallmark of the philosophy behind the institution's founding. The Harvard-Kennedy community is diverse as the citizenry it serves.

At the ball, Migrant Workers Secretary Susan V. Ople (MC/MPA '99) was the guest of honor. She recounted in her talk, "Tale of Optimism Over Adversity," her life at Harvard with classmates Arlene Donaire, Amina Rasul Bernardo, Corina Unson and Jesse Robredo (†). Arlene, an artist/photographer, encapsulated her message with a quote to remember: "To be effective as a leader, you need to be as authentic and as free as you can be."

The affair was also an occasion by the outgoing Harvard alumni board headed by the indefatigable Raffy Alunan 3rd (MC/MPA '97) to award the Veritas Medal recognizing the successful run of our Harvard colleagues in government, led by current BCDA Chairman Delfin Lorenzana, UP President Angelo Jimenez, Batangas Vice Gov. Mark Leviste, and various undersecretaries: Gloria Jumamil-Mercado of DepEd, Anneli Lontoc and Cesar Chaves of DoTr, Maria Antholette Allones of DMW, and those working at attached agencies. Of note was the recognition of the founding fathers of the association and its subsequent permutations: from the original '89 KSGALPHA to the 1997 KSGAAP Foundation to the 2012 HKSAAP. The Veritas Medal was our chest-thumping way of conveying to our own that we are proud of their services to the government and the Filipino. (Full list of awardees in our FB and Viber group.)

Genesis

In Jimenez's briefing paper, the Harvard KSG was the latest of the 10 graduate and professional schools, founded only in 1936, with the oldest, Harvard College itself established 300 years earlier in 1636. The first Filipino graduate on record was Angel Nakpil (MPA '41). A prominent grad who had a stint in the cabinet was Onofre Corpuz (MPA '53) who served in various capacities as the secretary and minister of education, president of the University of the Philippines, and first chairman of the Career Executive Service Board in the late 1960s. Not until the 1980s were the Kennedy School graduates recognized in government.

"It was in 1989 when the association would begin to take a more formal structure. After completing the Mid-Career, Master in Public Administration program in 1989, Lito Monico Lorenzana, with classmates Primo Arambulo, Alejandro Flores Jr. and Christopher Gomez, initiated the creation of the alumni community," wrote John Jimenez.

An illustrious finishing school

In his welcome remarks at the Bureaucrats Ball, Lito Monico Lorenzana (MC/MPA '89), with a tinge of nostalgia spiced with humor (excerpts reprinted here), said the idea of organizing the alumni of the KSG in the Philippines was not at first coated with an aura of gravity — in the genre of Harvard alums "changing the world":

"We were mulling the idea of broadcasting the bragging rights we earned with our Harvard diplomas (but tastefully and nonchalantly), hinting that we have gone successfully through a year of (with tongue in cheek) the world's renowned finishing school. Harvard has also been arrogantly proclaiming that the institution imparted a fine patina of excellence on their graduates — Harvard men and women (and gays, to be politically correct). That there's just us! Babes Flores and I took the opposite view. We believe we were already distinguished and excellent, ahead of the curve even before we passed through the gates of Harvard. In fact, we made Harvard great!

"Thus, this HKS group's original purpose as envisioned by the four '89 Mason Fellows of the Kennedy School was nothing grand or formal or earth-shaking as changing the world, making it a better place, making a big difference ... etc... etc.'

"BTW, don't get me wrong — all of these are noteworthy and good. But more importantly, we needed a vehicle back in the Philippines to show off our elegant Burberry double-breasted Blue Blazers bought at a huge discount at Filene's Basement in Boston." (Full text of the speech by this columnist in our FB and Viber group.)

Role of Harvard graduates

As in any dynamic organization, the KSG reinvents itself from time to time. Thus, in 1997 it transformed itself into a foundation establishing a global network with Chato Calderon's (MC/MPA '88) group of multilateral consultants and cabinet members at the forefront. Its stated mission was elevated to a more grandiose declaration coated appropriately in bureaucratese "...to promote the ideals of public service, leadership, honor and integrity, inculcated by the experience and education of the school, to organize and provide assistance for research studies, conferences, and dialogues, relating to the development of policy issues, and alternatives, with special focus on public policy issues, in the context of Philippine development."

The intervening years saw the organization stamp its mark mostly on government with members recruited to the cabinet and sub-cabinet levels, the military and the bureaucracy of six administrations.

In another metamorphosis occurring in 2012, one of these Cabinet members, Raffy Alunan with Tony Abad, registered with SEC perhaps the final version of the Harvard-Kennedy School Alumni Association of the Philippines — HKSAAP. But for a quirk of the pandemic years, the board extended its term that ended appropriately with the election of the incoming one at the Bureaucrats Ball. The association's efforts over the years are "always work in progress," and its success or failure is a mostly subjective gauge on ideas and policies emanating from the collective minds of the members harnessed effectively well by its leadership; injected into the government mainstream, applied for the country's benefit. The challenge now for the incoming board is to do better than the last.

With a revolving door between the HKSAAP and government, there is a danger that the principles behind which the former was founded may be overlooked. Its leadership and ultimately its membership may have to remind themselves that they must at all times adhere to the "Veritas" of its existence — nothing more than the delivery of good governance to its clientele — the Filipino.

To remind us all, I reiterate my counsel years back when I assumed the first presidency of the KSG: "You are good, if you can uplift the Filipino from their current condition. But you are greater, if you bring them to a condition beyond where they need not be uplifted."

That is the role the HKSAAP must carve for itself.

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