Meet the Legal Stalwarts Behind the Biggest Filipino-Owned Insurance Company
For Justices Bienvenido Reyes and Romeo F. Barza, law is a lifelong endeavor and a way to make life better for Filipinos.
They are unlikely heroes: no cape, no superpowers, no parade. But a year into the new normal, in which people, businesses, and whole industries are grasping for a safety net, one could certainly argue that their work is nothing short of lifesaving.
Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes and former Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Romeo F. Barza are lawyers-turned-trailblazers for the insurance company Cocolife, where the former serves as chairman of the board and the latter is a director.
A passion for corporate law
In 1990, Reyes was appointed as Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Malabon. He then rose through the ranks to become Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals in 2000, and then Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 2011. But before pursuing a career in public service, Reyes thrived in the field of corporate law in the 1980s. “It was at this same time that I, together with some friends in the business circle, established and incorporated several companies, particularly engaged in the fields of banking, insurance, security agencies, and trading,” he says.
It all comes full circle for Reyes. Following his retirement, he is now able to go back and relive his glory days in corporate law.
As for Barza, he started his law career as associate lawyer of various law offices, until he co-founded in 1980 the law firm Carpio, Villaraza, Barza, Cruz, and Rosell. In 1995, he started his judicial journey when he was named Regional Trial Court Judge of Makati. From 2003 to 2006, Barza served as National President of the Philippine Judges Association. In 2006, he was appointed Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals and retired as Presiding Justice thereof.
Justice as a lifelong endeavor
Both of them entered law to uphold justice. “I’m a believer that there are timeless advocacies such as truth, justice, and service to the nation, among others,” explains Barza. “As lawyers, I believe it is a lifelong mission of ours to remain strong advocates of that. It is something you live out every day.”
Reyes believes that practicing law is a commitment and a prevailing duty to the country. “The lawyer’s mission," he says, "starts from the moment he takes his oath as a lawyer and he should carry on with his undertaking for as long as he lives.”
“Some lawyers have the mistaken idea that their foremost mission is to serve their client’s interest,” says Reyes. “While it is indeed the lawyer’s duty to serve his client, he must make sure that in doing so, he puts the cause of justice first. Loyalty to the client comes only second.”
But in a world of compromises, they somehow manage to find room for both in Cocolife, the largest Filipino-owned stock life insurance company, where they continue to fight for people’s rights to proper access to insurance and healthcare.
“The moment I join a certain company or institution, I see to it that I devote much of my time to it," Reyes says, expressing his excitement in working with dynamic young leaders like Cocolife's President and CEO, Atty. Martin Loon.
When passion meets profession
Reyes takes pride in the values of Cocolife, and how the company reflects the best of Filipino culture. While working and sharing his expertise within the company, he saw the bayanihan spirit come to life. “People there are cohesive and collaborative," he says. "We value opinions and ideas equally, and everybody contributes to whatever matter is on hand."
Barza, whose law career has taken him from regional trial courts to the Court of Appeals, agreed to join Cocolife because he shares its vision to empower Filipinos financially to create better lives for themselves. “The legal profession and the insurance industry share the same advocacy of protecting the sanctity of life of our fellowmen,” he explains.
Their invaluable experience and eye for detail have helped them elaborate company policies as well as ensure that its mission is seen as a contract between Cocolife and Filipinos. Their legal expertise gives the company a strong foundation to stand on and pursue its goals practically and sustainably.
“We know the need of the ordinary people for affordable insurance and healthcare. It is our vision to see the entire population being able to secure this protection for themselves and their loved ones. As we move forward, we adapt and respond to the current situation and needs of the people,” says Reyes.
The pandemic, according to Reyes, has exposed Filipinos to the realities of being unprepared. “The ordinary person would want to get himself and his loved ones insured but is hindered by the thought of costs,” says Reyes. “Since this pandemic made all of us realize that health is a foremost concern, we would like to respond to this and provide the Filipino the affordable protection that he dreams for himself and his family.”
Protection is a necessity and no Filipino should be left behind. This conviction spurs in them the sense of obligation for a job that they believe never ends. The law is work that goes far beyond the courtroom, and for many, even retirement. Reyes, who left the Supreme Court in 2017, says he continues to be fueled by his “desire to reach and provide protection for the Filipino people."
The road ahead
Apart from his mission to make healthcare more accessible, Reyes also aims to increase public understanding and appreciation of law. He believes this can be achieved through his work in the corporate insurance industry.
Reyes is driven more than ever to continue working towards his personal goals, and of course, towards fulfilling the mission and vision of Cocolife.
Barza shares this same motivation. He strives to contribute and work as much as he can, while he can. “What little I can do, I prefer to share with others, hoping that it may impact their lives even in the smallest ways,” added Barza.
The pandemic has emphasized Filipinos’ resilience and dynamism, and Cocolife has helped them through the tough times. This, according to Barza, is the essence of Cocolife: “It is about being an instrument of service to others, of helping people achieve their dreams no matter what happens, the best way we can.”
Dedication of life to service—isn’t that what heroism is about?
Visit Cocolife's official website for more information.