Strength and wisdom| UM’s executive vice president shares wisdom beyond his golden years

A BUSY day in Pedro “Pete” San Jose’s life starts with him waking up early in the morning. Even with busy schedules ahead of him, the 89-year-old executive vice president of the University of Mindanao (UM) takes it slow and steady, getting things done one at a time.

He starts his day early–waking up at two or three in the morning to say a little prayer and have some coffee. He goes to work at 7 AM; he’s been doing the same for 12 years now since he transferred to the main branch in September 15, 2002.

He found home as an educator in UM Tagum in June 1956. He faithfully worked with UM since then until he was elected as one of the board of trustees in 1999.

Pete juggles a number of responsibilities, being a part of the UM management, executive committees, and board of trustees. Yet, for this interview, he appears to be calm and devoid of stress. He exudes the kind of strength that is a gem in the workplace these days.

The rural life

He shared that his strength is something that he’s grown to have over the years. Being born poor and growing up in his hometown Arayat, Pampanga, Pete was used to rural life that involves planting and harvesting rice.

“I had to do a lot of things starting early in the morning,” he said. His habit of waking up early caught on to this day.

He grew to become strong and learned to deal with life problems like clockwork. “I learned to manage tension and stress,” he said. “Life challenges taught me to have a better outlook in life no matter what.”

He said that education was hard to come by, then, and he had to work hard for it. Pete shared that he used to work as a houseboy in high school, and a laborer for a huge construction company while studying in college. He eventually finished college in five years (1947-1952); his day job, which then earned him five pesos a day, taught him to be humble yet strong amid life’s challenges.

His hard work and diligence, working during the day and studying at night led him to earn his BA in Secondary Education at the Far Eastern University; he has a major in history and a minor in political science.

After graduation he started teaching in Davao in the now defunct International Harvardian University. He thanks the Lord for every milestone he achieved in his life; his faith remains in practice.

Faith in practice

Going to church grew to become one of his habits.

“I maintain my practice of attending the 6 AM mass everyday,” he shared.

His prayers? Not for himself. “I pray for the problems of the country, the problems that people have in their homes, and I pray for my family,” he said. His prayers go out for his seven children, 15 grand children, and four great grandchildren. “I also pray for the community.”

Pete will always include the community in his prayers. He has seen the plight of others when he worked for the government sometime in the 90s (as vice governor of Davao del Norte).

As he turned 89 last January 18, he said a simple prayer: he said that he is grateful to receive blessings from God and now he shares it to others. His birthday wish is simple: I’m still willing to serve people, and I prayed to the Lord that if He would allow me to live longer, I would be grateful.”

He anchors himself to his faith; he believes that it’s difficult to go through life without keeping it strong.

He wakes up every day with renewed zeal because of the words that he lives by. “If you can touch a person, in a positive way, you are contributing to his happy life. You become happy if you make others happy.”

He deals with life’s challenges and stress with a simple mechanisms: “Everybody has problems.

When you’re confronted with them, solve them the best you can. If you can’t solve them, leave them there and let time work its magic.”

He said that looking into the goodness in people also helps him manage stress. “I listen to people very carefully,” he said.


Pete shared his strength secret: “I’m very self-disciplined. I avoid what’s bad for me.”

For instance, he said that when he turned 47, he stopped eating meat. “No more lechon for me since then,” he said. His formula for staying strong is his strong faith in God and self-discipline. “If you have both, all the good things will follow.”

He eats only fruits, vegetables, fish, and oatmeal today.

At 89, it’s easy to see his strength at work—he is still able to work in UM and be part of its history. “I’m grateful to UM for their trust in me,” he said. Throughout his career, he’s able to see three UM presidents: the founder, the founder’s wife, and the founder’s son.

Fitness is engrained in Pete’s lifestyle. He said that he used to walk 23 kilometers once a month; now he continued his exercise by doing brisk walks daily. “I enjoy having the feeling of being relaxed after mass,” he said.

Father to students

Pete shared these kernels of wisdom for young people: being poor is not a hindrance in education; with faith you will succeed; don’t forget to respect your fellowmen and the elderly.

“Always remember that you, parents, will always think of what’s good for you,” he said. “When studying, be focused and be serious about what you do. Choose the course that you want and put your heart into it. There is no end to learning; study well and keep on learning. Be honest with your intentions—this will result in so many good things.”

Pete also said that he learned a lot from the young people that’s he’s been with. “I cherish our symbiotic relationship and give them credit for their ideas. I enjoy my relationship with the people around me.”

The students around him reflect his kindness; they have seen him actively engaged and inspiring young people in the university.

“He is pro-student. He would often make speeches to student events, and look into activities of small organizations. I saw his presence as very uplifting; he is one of the few officials who actually reached out to the students,” said UM alumni Sarah Merecido.

“He is like a loving father who knows how to appreciate his subordinates’ contribution to the university. I’ve never seen him angry. I look up to him because of his humility amid his amazing achievements,” added another UM alumni Lourie Jane Mantilla.

As he ages, Pete gracefully forward to the years to come with his head up high (even with a busy schedule, of course).

Photo by Bing Gonzales

Posted in Lifestyle