Generosity as a Gift of Life: The Life and Times of Remigio O. Biala, CPA

Hard work and generosity, I guess, sum up Remigio Biala’s life story. A kidney organ transplant recipient, thereby giving his life a new lease, Mr Biala in turn paid forward such magnanimity by helping others in various personal and communitarian projects. These qualities, coupled with talent and a dash of good luck, also brought him to where he is today: a successful practising accountant  and tax agent, with a huge client base and his own commercial office-building in Marayong. I first met Mr.Biala at a Christmas gathering, but it was only last week during the interview that I realised how much meaning and life’s lessons the man has gone through in his 65 years of existence: there we were, my wife, son and I as well as members of Mr. Biala’s family listening to him—a survivor in the battle-scarred field of life—recount his story, over sumptuous seafood galore dinner in his home in Kellyville.

Mr. Biala, ‘Reming’ to his friends, was born and raised in Kisikis, Alcala, Pangasinan. The 3rd of 8 children, his family leased a farm that produced peanuts, upland rice, corn, mongo and the chief produce, tobacco. The latter’s commercial cultivation paid for his and his brothers and sisters education. He graduated with honours at Pindangan Elementary School and Alcala High School, eventually finishing an accounting degree at the University of the East. As a young boy Reming helped his father at the farm, particularly in cultivating tobacco. This also taught him the notion early on about the values of hard work and family collaboration, for they have no hired labourers and only have the family members to rely on. ‘Before we go to school, we go to the fields,’ he reminisces. Reming talks about those days vividly as he explained the types of tobacco plants and processes involved in their commercial production: native Philippine plants have ‘bigger leaves,’ are sun-dried and made in to cigars while Virginia types are smaller and oven-dried in their farm’s pugon. Then he told us how the tiny tobacco seeds were germinated in small plots, and replanted. Ironically, Reming does not smoke.

His parents’ efforts paid off since all their children became well-entrenched professionals, both in the Philippines and overseas. Of the eight, six found greener pastures abroad: 3 sisters worked as nurses in Germany, 2 of his brothers are engineers in Saudi and Australia. An older sister worked in Dusseldorf (Germany) hospitals since 1968 and has recently retired back in the Philippines. She was Mr Biala’s inspiration in staking a career abroad, even visited her in Germany. In his case however he wanted to live in an English-speaking country, and Australia which in the mid-70’s recently opened its skilled migration doors for Asia was the logical choice. Already a practicing CPA back in the Philippines, one of his clients whose sister migrated in Australia encouraged him to apply, and he did. There’s a saying that if you are meant for something, that will happen and the doors of the universe will open. In Reming’s case it was all green light: his application and departure for Australia all happened within the same year, 1975. He and his family arrived Sydney in August 1975 at a time when there were still few Filipinos and when ‘stores close by 5 pm.’ And, as every Filipino migrant understands it is not always easy to find the right job at once: in Mr Biala’s case he had to work extra as a burger shop assistant, being required at the same time to do an academic re-training as an accountant, in spite his degree and accounting practice back in the Philippines. Without fuss, he enrolled in accounting subjects at UTS. Yet, it was a no-regrets decision as ultimately he flourished in Australia professionally and economically – at one time becoming manager of a department at Ernst and Young, one of the biggest names in Accounting. And although he has stayed in Australia (35 years) longer than he lived in the Philippines (30 years), he visits the Philippines at times more than twice a year – effectively staving off homesickness!

As said earlier, generosity thematically ran through Mr Biala’s life where he was both at the receiving and giving end of life’s favours.  Nine years ago when he developed a life threatening kidney problem where he shrank to almost half his usual weight, his brother willingly donated his kidney. ‘I now have 3 kidneys’ Mr Biala told us with a twinkle. Again the ‘gamble’ paid off as years later, he and his donor brother, as I saw them at his home, are both pictures of good health. Mr Biala’s wife Winnie, a former law librarian at MLQ University, has been the ‘wind beneath his wings.’  At the time his kidneys were failing she stood by his side and helped nurse him back to health. In these times of easy divorce and change of partners done as easily as changing slippers, he and his wife’s marriage is proof that ‘some things never change with time.’ They comfortably communicated and traded barbs and jokes. Asked of the strength of their marriage Mr Biala remarked: we give each other space and freedom even to the extent where one may take holidays alone or with friends.

Reming talked how that marriage began: in an act of unprecedented generosity. Perhaps as a testament to his being an honest to goodness worker, his former accounting employer in the Philippines –Mr Quirante – footed the bill for his wedding reception, wedding cake and all. Mr Biala never forgot this, and years later, he offered Mr Quirante – his wedding Ninong – and his wife an all expenses paid belated honeymoon trip to Australia.  That was Mr Quirante’s first trip to Australia, and abroad. Indeed generosity is a seed that bears great fruits, although not immediately.  Generosity it seems comes naturally to Mr Biala: he allowed a friend’s family and a physician relative to stay in his houses—rent free—in Dagupan and Alcala.  In Sydney, Mr Biala lends an active hand to humanitarian and communitarian causes. The latest is his support of a fund-raising car raffle in May, and his spearheading of the Grand Charity Concert in October this year where top TV and recording artists from the Philippines will perform at the Homebush Sports Complex. The projects aim to raise funds to help pay for the ‘Filipino community’ dedicated property in Schofields, in Blacktown. The vision is to ultimately build a multi-purpose centre showcasing Filipino talent, art and culture.

Talking of Filipino culture, during the interview, Mr. Biala’s grandchildren sang to us the Tagalog farm-song enumerating all the vegetables in the garden: Bahay Kubo. It was a song I have not heard for a long time…just like the strains of genuine generosity. Tagore said ‘Life is given to us, we earn it by giving it.’ I have seen this quote actualised in Mr. Biala’s life. Indeed his is one that has gone through the full circles of receiving and giving, and further giving. It was a benediction hearing his story.

Our ‘Kababayan ko,Ipinagmamalaki ko’ section features the success stories of our fellow Filipinos here in Australia.  If you want your story to be featured in the section or know someone who has an inspiring story to share, you may send us an e-mail at kkik@kalatas.com.au to express your interest so we can schedule an interview.


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