Anthony Charlemagne Yu on raising compassionate sons

The President and CEO of Empire East Land Holdings, Inc., one of the most active real estate developers in the Philippines, Atty. Anthony Charlemagne “Charlie” Yu is the father of two sons, Oliver, 24 years old, and Ryan Yu, 19 years old.

Of his numerous distinctions, he is widely respected and admired as a leading light of a number of non-government organizations. He is the incumbent President of the El Nido Foundation, an environmental NGO organized for the sustainable development of the protected areas of El Nido and its neighboring municipalities in Northern Palawan. He is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ERDA Group of Foundations, NGOs which were set up by the legendary Fr. Pierre Tritz, SJ for the purpose of assisting the poorest of the poor in our country through education and educational assistance. He is a member of the Board of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) and the Board of Trustees of Culion Foundation.  He is also a Trustee of the NVC Foundation – Negrense Volunteers for Change, which was set up to fight hunger and poverty by providing proper nutrition for the poor, as well as sustainable livelihood opportunities for their parents. He is also a member of the Board of AHA! Learning Center, an NGO that supports public school children in various ways.  He also sits as a member of the Board of Kaya Natin Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership (Kaya Natin), which promotes good governance and ethical leadership in the Philippines.

He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree, major in Political Science, from the Ateneo de Manila University. He then pursued and finished his law studies at the University of the Philippines. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of London. He also has a Masters of Law Degree from the University of California at Berkeley.  He has also undertaken advanced studies in Finance from the University of Michigan.

An educator at heart, he has been, for some time now, a Professorial Lecturer at the College of Law of the University of the Philippines, where he handles classes in Constitutional Law.  He is also a Professorial Lecturer in Constitutional Law in the Philippine Judicial Academy (PhilJA), a component unit of the Supreme Court which serves as the training school for justices, judges, and other present and aspiring members of the Philippine Judiciary. For many years, he has also served in the Committee of Experts on Political Law of the UP Law Center which is tasked to prepare the suggested answers to the Bar examination questions. Even before he finished his law degree at the University of the Philippines, he taught in his alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University and Xavier School.

During the initial months of the COVID pandemic, he helped in organizing the “UP Law for UP PGH” in order to gather financial and logistical support from the UP Law community to assist UP PGH, which was at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic.  Later, he set up the Community Pantry sa New Manila with friends and colleagues in order to provide some basic necessities, such as food, to communities that have been deprived of work during the pandemic and were in need of urgent assistance.

Having been widowed only recently, he performs the role of a single father to his two sons, with whom he travels and scuba dives.

In an interview with Daily Tribune, Charlie not only shares his experiences as a father, but also recalls his special relationship with his father, Antonio Yu, as well as with his beloved mom, Rosario Yu.

Exposed to nature

Daily Tribune (DT): What are your fondest memories of your sons’ growing-up years?

Anthony Charlemagne Yu (ACY): Oliver and Ryan have always been curious about many things in life. When they were growing up, they often asked about what I did at work and in my advocacies. Those were very valuable teaching and learning moments for all of us.  It helped that their school – Xavier School – tries to instill social consciousness among the students.  They were exposed to the many issues within their community at a young age: climate change, economic inequality, social injustice, and environmental concerns.

Our travels have always been teaching and learning moments as well. They get to see the best practices around the world, and this allows them to think in terms of possibilities instead of constraints.  It trained them to think bigger and allowed them to see the world beyond themselves.  It also showed them how good governance can spell the difference in nation-building.

DT: They have grown up already. How do you bond? What passions do you share?

ACY: Oliver finished with Latin Honors in UP. Ryan is in his third year in Ateneo. Since all of us are busy working and/or studying all these years, long weekends and holiday breaks are really precious to us.

All three of us are very experienced scuba divers.  Scuba-diving allows us to be immersed in the natural world and admire the beauty of God’s creation.  It teaches us the need to protect the environment and to sustain it for the future generations.  Deep down under, we also come to the realization of how small we all are in the scheme of things, and this feeling of “insignificance” allows us to remain humble in our daily lives.

Exposed to the world

DT: How would you describe your fathering style – lenient, strict, stern, exacting, etc? Please show examples of situations

ACY: As a father, I need to teach them how to think critically, and exposing them as much as possible to the outside world is a very important component in that process.  I want them to realize there are consequences in all their actions and inactions. I never shielded them from people they choose to associate with because I believe that exposure to all kinds of people is best way for them to learn from different types of people.  I try to process their experiences and exposures to the extent that they allow me to.  But in everything else, they work and think for themselves.

For their school work, I have always emphasized to them that what is important is to learn from their teachers, classmates, books, surroundings, failures, etc., and that good grades are appreciated but they are not necessary.  I encourage them to choose good teachers and to avoid easy ones who do not teach.  Sometimes, we discuss things that happen in their classes as well as mine, and share lessons and laughter together.

I don’t think I am strict as a parent, but I am not lenient as well.  They know my standards and parameters, and we have had very little problem working within them.

While my parents, particularly my mom, were a lot stricter, I would like to think that my parenting style was very much patterned after the way my parents brought us up.

DT: What are your fond memories of your father?

ACY: My father was a very hardworking man. He was engaged in several businesses, and he was also a real estate developer in Taiwan.  I learned the value of hard work just by watching him.  He always had a vision and he worked hard to turn his vision reality. It was during his time that Taiwan was developing their impressive cityscapes. His discipline in work is what I truly admire of him.

At home, when there were discussions among siblings, some of which turned to heated arguments, I would always take the weaker side without realizing it.  My dad and mom would then point out to me that I was always defending the weaker side, and casually mentioned that they don’t understand why I was “lawyering” for one side whenever there were debates or arguments.  That was the first time it came to my consciousness that a lawyer is one who defends others.  In a way, that must have somehow influenced me to aspire to be a lawyer.

A voice for others

DT: What did you learn from your father that you have passed on to your sons?

ACY: I am confident that my sons can fend for themselves.  I hope that my sons can also be the voice of others.  I hope that they can stand up for what is right and speak for those who have been deprived of a voice.

I am always proud of the fact that my sons attended very good schools.  As a father, I would be prouder if they can use what they have learned to be of service to the world in whatever way they can.

My parents have always been very helpful to others.  During good times, they have helped many of their friends who were in need.  They also contributed to a lot of causes – schools, churches and family associations.  By exposing my sons to my advocacies, I am hopeful that they would devote their efforts to advocacies of their choice when their time comes.

Recently, my wife and my sons were involved in a community pantry that we set up with friends and colleagues – Community Pantry sa New Manila – during the Covid-19 pandemic.  We discussed it over the dinner table and decided to launch it the next day.  Each of us contacted our friends to come together and pool resources for this pantry.

Under this initiative, we asked for help from our friends who were willing to give food, clothes, and other resources. We placed tables and shelves in a spot along Broadway Avenue in New Manila, Quezon City, which was later transferred to an indoor location in the nearby Broadway Centrum. Word spread and soon, many of our neighbors, friends and other business establishments came to donate.  It was one of the longest community pantries at the time.  Activities like this help in the formation of young minds and would hopefully propel them to do their share.

DT: What was the best material and non-material gifts that you received from your father?

For non-material gifts, I think the “lessons in life” are the most important.  My parents allowed us – all seven of us – to grow in paths we chose for ourselves, even if they were not in agreement with the paths chosen. They also allowed us to experience different things in life.

While our peers were living very comfortable and sheltered lives then, my brother, Dexter, and I were allowed, and even encouraged, to serve as dishwashers and waiters in a small restaurant when we were very young.  Washing very greasy plates, preparing brandy-spiked coffee for early patrons, waiting on tables of guests who were at times not very courteous, and bonding with other dishwashers and food-servers taught us very important lessons in life.  Such an experience at a very young age exposed me to the demanding life of manual labor and allowed me to understand and empathize with the labor force.

Later in life, I would help in labor union organizing, and even joined the strike against the steel factory of my own mom’s family.  Looking back, my mom and dad must have been heartbroken to see their son take up the cudgels for the workers against their interest.  To their credit, they didn’t stop me from my advocacies even when it hurt their interests.  These lessons are the best gifts I have received from them.

For material gifts, I honestly cannot think of anything memorable. I think the reason for this is because I was brought up in a family that did not give much value to material things.

DT: What character traits did you inherit or imbibe from your father?

ACY: That would be discipline. My father was very hardworking.  He was in the office before anyone and would be the last to leave the workplace.

Honesty and integrity are very important to both my mom and dad.  For them, one’s name and reputation are more important than anything else.  I remember them telling us that there are two things they gave us which we should value – good name and good education.

Legacy and advice

DT: What is your most incredible legacy to your sons?

ACY: I do not think in terms of legacy.  I just hope that they would become responsible people who would continue to possess a critical mind and have a heart for others.

DT: What is your advice to them about life, career, and marriage?

ACY: Whether in life, career or marriage, all I hope for is that they would be good people.  It may seem easy but being good is probably the hardest thing for most people.

DT: As we celebrate Father’s Day, if given the chance to talk to your late father again, what do you want to tell him?

ACY: Thank you for being such a great example and inspiration to us!  You and Mom have done so much for all of us.  Thank you for all the love and lessons in life.  I would like to express my appreciation and love also to my mom, Rosario, who has filled the role of both dad and mom to us since your passing.