Masonic Year

The first time Kuya Bert Pagotan mentioned that he intended to be the Grand Master of Masons in the Philippines, everybody in the group thought he was kidding and there were hearty laughs all around. The laughter was understandable considering that the date was sometime in April 1995 and he had just been appointed District Grand Lecturer in his Masonic District, plus the fact that not a few bottles of beer had been had by all. When the laughter died down, Kuya Bert added, “in 2030”. One or two laughed again but those who familiar with Kuya Bert knew it was not idle talk. Most Worshipful Roberto Q. Pagotan is today what he said he would be ten years ago. To many brethren, Kuya Bert is an enigma. Indeed, how could someone come out of nowhere and like a flash shoot up to the most exalted position in Philippine Freemasonry in record time? To be sure, Kuya Bert is no ordinary man. Born to a prominent family from Cavite in a Pasay City Hospital, he spent his early childhood in Looban, now part of Barangay Aniban, Bacoor, Cavite. His favorite sport was boxing. He became so proficient that at the age of six he knocked out a sparring partner. Later on, his family moved from place to place and consequently Kuya Bert, fondly called “Baby” then by his parents, had to transfer from one school to another, sometimes even in the middle of the school term. Although he usually topped his classes academically, he was given scholastic honors only up to his third grade. Thereafter, due to residential requirements, the honors were denied him. However, when he was graduating from the elementary grades the school authorities waived residential factors and granted him the top honors. He likes to narrate that when he attended the commencement exercises he was all alone; nobody in his household accompanied him. His teacher had to pin the medal upon his chest. An uncle later rebuked him for not informing them that he was the class valedictorian, but to Bert it was no big deal. As Kuya Bert entered his teens, ever gregarious by nature, he gravitated towards the usual barkada. The barkada, Philippine style, was the surest way to take one’s mind away from school assignments and Kuya Bert was no exception. His neglect manifested itself in poor grades that were noticed by an uncle who promptly took steps to distance Bert from his barkada. He wangled from the eminent Zamoras a summer job for his grandson at the Manila Hotel. Before Bert’s stint as an apprentice was up, the employees called a strike. He was inside the hotel when it started. He stayed on and as the strike dragged on his services were repeatedly extended. Management was so impressed with Pagotan’s work that he was given a regular item. Thus at the tender age of 15 the future Grand Master became a full time worker. At the plush Manila Hotel, Kuya Bert entered a new world of sophistication and he adapted to the environment as fish to water. Soon he was on a first name basis with regular VIP guests. His natural PR skills evolved to new heights. He learned to relate with people from all walks of life, from lowly waiters to foreign dignitaries. Bert familiarized himself with all the aspects of hotel operations. He even managed to set up a modest, but relatively profitable, business for himself as a sideline. He bought PX goods from the United States Naval Base in Cavite which was near his residence and sold them to hotel guests. Once, while he was operating an elevator, a foreign guest who was a church minister and his wife, seeing how young he was, inquired about his personal circumstances. Learning that he had stopped schooling, the minister convinced him that there was a way for him to finish his high school without interrupting his work and gave him a brochure on correspondence courses. Grabbing the opportunity, Kuya Bert mailed his application. After an extended period of time, the American International School sent him a letter of admission. That was the good news. The bad news was that it cost $123.00. In those days that amount was enough for a down payment on a good second hand car. Crestfallen, Bert was ready to forego his ambition to get an education. However, when the minister leaned of Bert’s predicament, he offered to pay for the tuition on condition that Bert promised he would finish his course. The innate goodness of the church minister was not lost on Bert He realized that the world is full of men with genuine concern for their fellow human beings. He accepted the offer and made a firm resolve that if he ever attained a position in life where he could afford to extend a helping hand to others, he would never hesitate to do so. Thus, was implanted in Bert’s heart the Masonic teachings of love and charity. Kuya Bert immersed himself in serious study. His benefactor was the proudest person when Kuya Bert, at the age of 17, got his high school diploma as the valedictorian of his batch. His good showing encouraged him to study further. Soon he finished a special course in Psychology at the same exclusive school. In the meantime, the hotel manager offered him a promotion as a front desk manager, but Bert turned it down. He was making more as a bell captain and, more important, he did not have to dress up like a mannequin. Bert was doing well. He was working in the best hotel in the Philippines, was personally known to the hotel’s president and was a close friend of his children, one of whom (Richard) he used to tutor in math. Kuya Bert, however, decided to look for greener pastures. He accepted a offer from a brother-in-law to manage his business manufacturing ladies lingerie’s. It was a total departure from his former work but Bert proved equal to the task. His natural ability to relate with people became his main asset in managing the budding business. Ever the extrovert, however, he was uncomfortable confined in a factory. As soon as an opportunity to work in a large concern was offered he accepted. His next job – with Allied Air Freight Inc. – introduced him to a line of work that was totally suited for a man of his aptitude. He familiarized himself thoroughly with all aspects of its operation and developed a network of friends engaged in other aspects of moving cargo by air, land or sea. Other noticed Kuya Bert’s business acumen. A company he had helped pro bono during the tough times that followed the imposition of Martial Law offered him the position of Chief Operating Officer of the fledgling Bagwis Air Cargo. Assured that he would have a free hand in managing the corporation he accepted, but not after a serious effort by his employer to retain him. With Kuya Bert at the helm, Bagwis Air Cargo was soon literally flying high on the road to prosperity. Success however gave birth to a dispute among the owners with Kuya Bert caught in the middle. He refused to take sides and instead resigned. It was only a matter of time after Kuya Bert left that Bagwis Air Cargo flopped. The enterprising Kuya Bert then entered into a partnership with a relative in the manufacture of pressure tanks. They were doing well, however, one of the former owners of Bagwis Air Cargo sought his services and offered him a block of shares as part of his compensation. It was an offer difficult to refuse. And so Wings Freight Forwarders came into being with Kuya Bert owning a third of it. With Kuya Bert as vice president for operations the result was predictable – success. Again however, success led to discord between his partners, and again he was in the middle. He left in disgust and even forfeited his share. Not long after, the corporation closed shop. Kuya Bert decided to venture on his own. With the help of his wife, Shirley, he founded CARGO MATE INCORPORATED. It was to be the flagship that gave birth to five other corporations all fully owned by Mr. and Mrs. Roberto Q. Pagotan. One of them, Genetrix Incorporated is co-owned with two brother Masons who are based in Saipan, Marianas Islands. While Bert was actively pursuing his business ventures he did not neglect his personal development. He found time to secure a bachelor’s degree from A. Rodriquez College and take special studies in Management at the Ateneo de Manila University. He even enrolled as a law student at the Philippine Law School. Typical of his character, when he saw how dilapidated was the classroom at the law school, he had it repaired and air conditioned at his personal expense. Having consolidated his business holdings under the solid day-to-day management of Sis. Shirley, Kuya Bert Pagotan embarked upon humanitarian and other charitable endeavors. In the 1980’s he was drafted into active duty as a major in the Philippine Air Force reserve force. Emerging at the top his training class in 1984-1986, he immersed himself in the Philippine Air Force’s intelligence work. As evidence of his exemplary service he was awarded 19 service plaques of merit and awards, plus 12 commendations for various achievements while in active duty. Twice (1986&1988) he received the coveted Officer of the Year award of the Philippine Air Force Reserve Command. Early in his military sojourn he was assigned to the command of General Vicente Eduardo, then Director of Prisons at Muntinglupa. At the New Bilibid Prisons he analyzed why recidivism was high among hardened criminals. There is an area in the prison compound where hardened criminals were quartered. Even guards were not allowed to venture into this area without the express permission of the Director himself and even then only after taking very elaborate safety precautions. One day, the daring Major Pagotan, simply walked into the compound. Before the flabbergasted hardened criminals could react, he brought out his peace offering: bottles of liquor. The Major drew the response he expected; the convicts immediately brought out their hoards of food for “pulutan.” It was a typical display of Kuya Bert’s human relations skill. He soon earned the trust of the hardened convicts. General Eduardo was seething with rage when he found out what his young aide had done. The future Grand Master became a frequent visitor of the compound. He discovered that the convicts who were released almost always came back, because they found it difficult to cope with freedom. It was next to impossible for them to secure gainful employment and out of frustration they committed crimes and pleaded guilty just to be returned to prison. He offered to set up scholarships for their children. His reason was that an education would give the children a better chance of finding livelihood. It would increase the odds that the prisoners would return to a family with a decent income. Using his own funds he sent to school, each year, 30 to 35 children of convicts. When there were not enough he sent to school the children of lowly paid prison guards. Among the officers in the armed forces whom Kuya Bert befriended was Navy Lieutenant (s.g) Isidro Banaria. On one occasion Lt. Banaria, confided to Kuya Bert that he wanted to join a civic club. Major Pagotan advised him to think twice before joining for he once belonged to civic club but he left after finding out that their supposed charitable deeds were just for show. He instead advised Lt. Banaria that it would be better if he became a Mason because, according to Major Pagotan, Masons practice charity without publicity or fanfare expecting nothing in return. His friend inquired if he was a Mason. The Major replied that he was not. “Well,” Lt. (s.g.) Banaria said “I thought so, but you see, I am a Mason!” After a few moments of embarrassing silence, Major Pagotan meekly asked his friend how to go about becoming a Mason. And so, with VW Banaria as his sponsor, the future Grand Master came to see the Light. Pagotan forthwith devoted his full attention to Masonry. His rise was astounding. Barely a year after his raising, he was elected Junior Warden of his Lodge, Pagkakaisa Lodge No. 282. At some point thereafter the lease over their lodge hall expired. A few brethren “volunteered” his garage as a temporary venue. Kuya Bert Pagotan not only agreed,” he repaired his garage to make it suitable for lodge use. A year later (1933) he was elected Senior Warden. The members actually wanted him to be the Master, but because of his reluctance they were constrained to elevate someone else. Four months later the Master resigned. Kuya Bert realized it was a set up but he had no options; he had to occupy the Oriental Chair. Upon being installed as Master, Kuya Bert proceeded to build his Lodge temple and finished the work in seven months. Kuya Bert was chosen as the Outstanding Worshipful Master by MW Pablo C. Ko, Jr. The following year, he was tapped as District Grand Lecturer by MW Danilo D. Angeles. And so started his journey to the purple of our Institution. His unselfish and untiring devotion to Masonic labors was so amazing MW Angeles singled him out as the “Most Outstanding Mason.” VW Roberto Q. Pagotan continued his exciting adventure in our exalted Institution. In 1996-97 he was appointed District Deputy Grand Master for Masonic District No. 13. The following year he was entrusted with the position of Chief of Staff of the Grand Master in addition to being Senior Grand Lecturer and Associate Editor of the Cabletow. In 1998-99 MW Enrique Locsin made him his Executive Assistant These accomplishments were not lost among then brethren. In 2001, the members of the Grand Lodge elected him Junior Grand Warden. In 2002, he became the Senior Grand Warden, in 2003 Deputy Grand Master and, ultimately, in 2004, Grand Master of Masons under the jurisdiction of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Philippines.