The Renaissance Man Returns: Jose Rodriguez, Director, Instituto Cervantes

The Instituto Cervantes Manila has truly grown into a veritable institution in the lives of many Filipinos. Officially tasked with promoting the Spanish language and culture by organizing classes and events, this year has seen many new developments for the Instituto. In January, they moved into their new building located beside the Casino Espanol at T.M. Kalaw St. in Ermita, Manila. Then in July, Manila laid to rest its distinction as having the only Instituto Cervantes in Asia with the opening of Instituto Cervantes Beijing. August bore witness to the despedida for the much-admired Dr. Javier Galvan, who ended his term after five fruitful years as the Director of the Instituto.
When news of Dr. Galvan’s imminent departure first started trickling out to the students and patrons of the Instituto, speculation naturally turned toward the identity of his possible replacement. Whoever it would be, everybody was strongly hoping for someone who would have a great affection for the Philippines and rapport with Filipinos. For these criteria at the very least, the new Instituto Director, Jose Rodriguez, definitely qualifies. He loves Filipinos so much that he married one, then went on to live here for more than 25 years.

“My romance with the Philippines started some 30 years ago when I first met my wife in Spain. I was seduced.” Dr. Rodriguez confesses. “So today we have this total interconnection between a Spaniard and a Filipino.”

To demonstrate, he peppers his speech with Tagalog words and expressions, and even prides himself on his appropriately Pinoy-sounding palayaw, “Pepe”. It was indeed an inspired decision by Spain to appoint as Director of Instituto Cervantes Manila, not a stranger to the country, but an old friend.
Born and raised in the province of Ourense, in the Northwestern region of Galicia in Spain. Dr. Rodriguez’s wife is renowned Filipina portrait artist Lulu Coching. Their two children, Lara María and José Francisco, “grew up as Filipinos,” he asserts.

To get here Dr. Rodriguez has come a long and roundabout way from his Ph.D and M.A. in business administration, and Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural technical engineering. After completing his military service in Africa’s Sahara desert in the 1970s, he shifted to the field of journalism as a correspondent for major Spanish dailies, and eventually joined the Spanish News Agency Agencia EFE where he went on to become regional bureau chief for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. It was during his term and through his efforts that Agencia EFE established its English-language world service headquarters in Manila.

He became president of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) in 1992 and was elected president of the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) in 1995. He is also a member of the International Press Institute (IPI) and an honorary member of the National Press Club of the Philippines. He co-founded with the late Secretary Raul Manglapus and a group of Filipino Hispanistas, the weekly Crónica de Manila, a Philippine publication in Spanish.
He has been Honorary Consul of Bolivia in the Philippines (1987-2004), and President of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Espanola since 1989. Dr. Rodriguez has been awarded the Encomienda de Isabel la Catolica by His Majesty King Juan Carlos I of Spain for his contributions to the strengthening of Spanish-Philippine relations and was recently conferred the Order of Sikatuna by the Republic of the Philippines. He has also been conferred a degree of Doctor of Humanities honoris causa by the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

Dr. Rodriguez has spent the past four years away from our shores, and is very happy to be back here in his new role. “It was worth it to wait for this opportunity. This time I will no longer be just reporting on the Philippines. I hope to be able to make things happen in my field of endeavor that will be of mutual benefit to my two dear countries.”

Although he just officially started his term last September 1st, Dr. Rodriguez hit the ground running. In only two weeks his leadership style at the Instituto is already clearly felt. “I come back to the Philippines to assume this new position with something very important: a vision. My mandate is to focus on activities that will further strengthen the social and cultural relationship between Spain and the Philippines,” he explains.

Listening to the director, it becomes obvious that it is this clear vision that drives his enthusiasm. “My dream is to be able to increase Filipino interest in Spain in such a way that they will begin to appreciate that they have to learn Spanish in this day and age. Spanish was very much a part of the Philippines’ past. Having learned our lessons, my dream is that Filipinos will now consider Spain as part of their present and future.”
This dream rests on deep foundations, which the director respectfully acknowledges. “I hope to build on what my predecessors have accomplished and even dare to try to raise the level of awareness of our historical ties,” he states. “We share a great number of things in our culture. Let’s not forget that we have almost 10,000 Spanish words in the Filipino language. But in my own judgment, the Spanish culture is beyond language. It is customs, traditions, food, etc. In short, it is a way of life.”

He is positive that the Instituto’s work and worth will speak for itself. “I want to invite everyone to come visit the IC, to look at the beautiful building with state-of-the art facilities for students, an auditorium for conferences and film showings, and a library with, as of today, some 25,000 books.” The director also invites everybody to participate in and enjoy the many activities the Instituto Cervantes has planned for this year’s ¡Fiesta! the Spanish Festival for Culture and the Arts in October.

For Dr. Rodriguez, the Instituto’s further success lies in those who have yet to learn of it. “The youth, as Jose Rizalcorrectly said, is the hope of the land,” he avows, laying out his grand plan for targeting them. “Our goal is to make the Filipinos come to the Instituto Cervantes, not only for educational and cultural reasons, but as part of their way of life. To thrive, the Instituto Cervantes, or IC, must be a welcome home for everyone. We are committed to bringing the IC to the millions of students around the archipelago. Students are the soul of the Instituto Cervantes. They are the main hope to be able to achieve a dialogue between the two cultures.”The director stresses how the Instituto’s mission entails a coordinated effort. “We will try to achieve this dream by working very closely with my colleagues here, the Spanish Embassy, The Spanish community and the home government, and with the youth of this land through the universities and colleges of this country. But I know that our efforts will be crowned by success only when Filipinos embrace these programs as if they were their own. And I am confident that they will do so.”In all his statements, the consistent theme to the director’s stance is his great respect for the Filipino people and desire to serve the Philippines.

He passionately waxes effusive over our country in a manner that would bowl over even the staunchest militant nationalist or revisionist historian. “The Philippines is one of the richest cultural mosaics in the world. It is a unique window display into the westernization of the Orient. I would like to say to all foreigners who still have doubts, come to the Philippines, try the Philippines, stay in the Philippines, you will never regret it.”

Aside from raising his family and devoting half his professional life here, Dr. Rodriguez has also left a lasting legacy in the form of two books that he has published about the Philippines. “Crónicas is a mini-memoir of my stay in the country, he describes. “You will see all the major protagonists in the political and social life of the Philippines during those years, as well as other stories on themes like the Sto Nino, myths, faith, earthquakes, transition pains, the Spanish language, and prominent personalities.” He is most proud of his most recent book, published two years ago. Featuring portraits of Philippine First Ladies, he co-authored the book with his wife Lourdes, one of the country’s foremost portrait painters. “This is a book of portraits of women who shared their lives with men of power, women who played significant roles in the history of the nation,” he relates. “The book focuses on the first ladies as wives, mothers, and in one singular instance, as daughter, in the midst of revolution, war, tragedies, and political and economic challenges from 1898 to 1998.” Crónicas is available at National Book Store branches, while Philippine First Ladies Portraits is available at all Rustan’s Department Stores.Although the director has already so much to look back upon and be proud of with what he has already accomplished, he believes that it is more cause for gratitude and inspiration than an indicator that he should begin resting on his laurels. “I will never forget my 25 years in this country and the hand extended by the Filipinos, frank and kind, reaching out to hold me with a unique affection and brotherhood,” he concludes. “So now I am committed to everything left in my hands and more, to demonstrate that what has been given to me by the Filipinos has not been in vain.”
-text & photo by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in What’s On & Expat newspaper, 2006
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  1. Steadfast for Spain: Ambassador Luis Arias « judefensor

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