Over the years, countless AIM alumni have received national and international citations. But until recently, no alumnus has ever had the distinction of receiving the prestigious Legion of Honor (Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur), France’s highest military and civilian award.
On 27 July 2017, Manuel M. Cojuangco, MBM 1973 and Triple A awardee, became the first AIM alumnus to receive this highest accolade for his contributions to promoting and strengthening Franco-Philippine relations and for steadfastly upholding the ideals of the French Republic.
His work with the Save Palawan Seas Foundation, a nonprofit Cojuangco established in 2006, gained worldwide attention for its creation of sustainable livelihood programs for Palawan communities.
French Ambassador to the Philippines Thierry Mathou, as his last official act in the Philippines, led the ceremony and bestowed on Cojuangco the rank of Chevalier (Knight). Less than 20 Filipinos have been given this honor to date. Among them are former Presidents Manuel L. Quezon, Corazon C. Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, as well as General Carlos P. Romulo.
The presence at the awarding ceremony of his employees, numerous friends, and classmates from elementary to graduate school said something about the man being honored. Leony Quintos, Cojuangco’s personal assistant of the past 39 years, best summed it up. She said Mr. Cojuangco is the greatest man she knows because of his genuine concern for his employees, treating them as family and always looking out for their welfare, even when they no longer work for him. Quintos said the award was very well deserved.
Cojuangco is the chairman of Jewelmer, an internationally renowned brand that “highlights the poetry of French design and the beauty of the golden South Sea pearl.” Established in 1979 with co-founder and French pearl farmer Jacques Branellec, Jewelmer built on the deep understanding of pearls of the sea gypsies known as the Badjaos. The company also leveraged on the historically provident location of Palawan, part of the ancient Pearl Road where Chinese merchants traded for pearls with these seafaring nomads.
Using state-of-the art pearl farms and modern biotechnology, Jewelmer perfected the process of breeding the gold-lipped Maxima Pinctada oyster to produce the biggest and rarest of all pearl varieties, the golden South Sea pearl. Philippine South Sea pearls are famous for their deep gold color and rich luster, leading international brands like Cartier, Chanel, Mikimoto, Tiffany & Co., Piaget and many more to feature them prominently in their own collections.
Acknowledging the unique role of the South Sea pearl in the rich historical and cultural heritage of the country, former President Fidel Ramos signed a proclamation declaring the Philippine South Sea pearl the country’s national gem. The pearl was further recognized when the Central Bank of the Philippines gave it prominence in the country’s one thousand-peso note.
As Cojuangco put it, “Our Philippine national gem is a symbol of hope and transformation in these changing times.”
Vive Manoling! Bien joué!