Benel P. Lagua
Rewarding to the Psyche

Beyond Brushstrokes
by Marivic Rufino

Finding a place in the sun is everyone's goal. A rewarding career in the private sector is every young graduate's dream. But for an idealistic young person with a mission in life, taking up a post in government presents a double opportunity - to meet a challenge in an extremely difficult environment and be recognized as a unique success despite the odds.

Benel Lagua, managing director of the Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium Enterprises (GFSME), is one such idealist. As head of the subsidiary of livelihood Corporation. (Livecor), Benel has found a meaningful way to earn a living while helping others.

"There is a social value in working for the government. It is not purely for profit." He explains that there is a perceived stigma, a negative governmental image problem that obstructs progressive work.

Once upon a time, Filipino professionals took pride in being civil servants but this pride has been eroded over the past two decades. "however," Benel points out, "It is the reverse in other countries." He admits that "there are trade-offs in Government. While earning your keep, you are doing a good turn for your countrymen, that is, if you are serious about your job."

Benel speaks about the vision and mechanics of the GFSME program which was started in 1984 as "a progressive setup for an active private sector and government partnership in credit supplementation." GFSME is a strong supporter of the livelihood industry by providing guarantee for the small and medium agro-industrial sector, cooperative and non-government organizations (NGOs).

Discussing the hazards of working for government, Benel candidly points out that one of the strong points of GFSME is its pay scale which is comparable to that of the private sector. The competent staff earns well, and stay with the organization.

Benel describes himself as a "flexible manager with a contingency approach to handling work situations." He believes in karma. "I try to make each day meaningful... I believe in everything I do today is an investment that produces corresponding results."

A simple, unassuming achiever, Benel has been highly commended by his board of directors as being "a very good managing director." A BS Management Engineering Degree (Dean's List) graduate from Ateneo de Manila University, Benel joined the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), Office of the President in 1977. He recalled that the move was purely by accident. "My professor Dr. Mari-jo Ruiz suggested to our group to try working in Malacaņang, I accepted the challenge because as a young man out of college, I didn't know any better! I joined out of curiosity, but I have stayed out of discovery that one can make a difference in the government service."

Benel became a government scholar for his MBM at Asian Institute of Management, graduating in 1980. He is a candidate for Doctor in Business Administration at the University of the Philippines. He also is an instructor-lecturer at Ateneo's Management Engineering department.

"I have been blessed in the sense that I have been to the best schools - Ateneo, Asian Institute of Management (AIM), University of the Philippines (UP). A good education leads one to situations that convert themselves into opportunities," Benel exclaims.

It is noteworthy to mention that Benel was topnotcher in the first nationwide Management Aptitude Test Battery given to directors and undersecretaries as an effort to professionalize the career service.

The turning point  of his life came when, as a civil servant who had been in various government positions such as KKK-Processing Center Authority department manager, and Livecor senior director, he was appointed by Livecor as deputy managing director at GFSME in 1991 and later as managing director in 1992.

When Benel took over GFSME in 1992, they were besieged with problems- "new competition, pirating of personnel, restrictions in the bureaucracy, misinformation. Many were skeptical about our future. Still, the past two years turned out to be the best in GFSME's history in basic operating parameters. This has not been a singular achievement. My staff has been very professional. And we are fortunate to have a supportive management board led by chairman Bobby de Ocampo and vice-chairman Joey Rufino."

"The main motivation of my career is the work content itself and the privilege that has been given me to steer GFSME. Of course one needs inspiration, and my wife Mafe has always been my side.

"I have very simple dreams. I'd like to make a concrete contribution to the betterment of other people's lives. I am glad that my line of work affords me this satisfaction. There are many things I still have to achieve in life, but most are really out of a sense of making life more meaningful rather than aiming to get to the top for its own sake."

"In all sincerity, I'd like to venture into new challenges. I consider myself a professional manager first and foremost. I just happen to find my niche presently at the GFSME."

Benel has his heart in the right place. His eyes are focused on a better  business climate for the backbone of the economy - the small and medium entrepreneurs . With more people armed with professional competence, determination, and a sense of duty to the country, the image of the government worker can only be enhanced and restored to its former prestigious stature.

"Government work can be very rewarding to the psyche. It is a privilege not everyone can have." Benel Lagua concludes as he sets off for another task with pride.


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