Ambassador Juan José Rocha: A tribute | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

JUAN José Rocha

The passing of Ambassador Juan José Rocha—Johnny to his family and friends—on July 20 was a lamentable loss to Manila’s business, civic and cultural life.

His business was centered on shipping, freight, crew manning and travel. His civic activities were spread wide over many organizations, but in the last 20 years he became increasingly involved in the commemoration of the non-combatant victims of the Battle for Manila in February 1945 through his presidency of Memorare Manila 1945 Foundation.


Johnny was born in 1937, and at the age of seven he saw his mother die from American shrapnel in February 1945. Other close relatives perished in the German Club massacre, including a teenage aunt who was gang-raped and then sliced open with a bayonet.


Fluent in Spanish at home, he acquired equal fluency in English when he studied at the American School in Manila and at the San Rafael Military Academy in California. When asked what local college he had attended, he would humorously answer that he might be considered a “subway alumnus ” of the Ateneo since he got hisCommerce degree from the Jesuit-run University in Santa Clara in California.

When passing Japan on his overseas trips after the war, he saw the ruined Japanese cities and realized that Japan, too, had suffered war destruction.


With an elder brother preferring to live in the U.S., he was called on to manage the family business centered on the C.F. Sharp Group, engaging in the activities already listed.


Good relations


As a businessman he was reputed to treat his employees like family, and had good relations with them. He was looked on as a highly ethical businessman whose standards were rooted in a strong moral sense; he once told a German friend bluntly that he did not see how a Christian country like Germany could commit the atrocities of the Holocaust.

He belonged to various business and civic associations like the Makati Business Club, the Manila and later the Makati Rotary Club, Namfrel, the Manila Symphony Society and many others.


He was unabashedly a Cory-ista and took part in the People Power Movement that ended the Marcos dictatorship and elected Corazon Cojuangco Aquino to the presidency.


JUAN José Rocha
JUAN José Rocha

She appointed him Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary to the Kingdom of Spain in May 1986, serving until October 1992. This gave rise to various awards from Spain, Germany, Mexico and Chile (he had been Chile’s honorary consul in Manila).



After his return he went full-tilt into the commemoration of the non-combatant deaths in the Battle for Manila, commencing with the 50th anniversary of liberation in 1995.


He became president of Memorare Manila 1945 Foundation, instituted the annual memorial ceremony in Intramuros, inspired the touching sculpture that now stands there, and campaigned successfully to have Philippines-Japan Friendship month moved from the egregiously inappropriate month of February to July, the month we established regular diplomatic relations. Before his death he had arranged with the Intramuros Administration to make the February memorial program a regular annual event.


He arranged to have an abridged English translation made of Spanish writer Antonio Pérez de Olaguer’s  early post-war book titled in translation, “Terror in Manila—February 1945.”

Above all, Ambassador Rocha sought to turn people’s gaze from an exclusive concern with military battles to the savagery of civilian massacres and the destruction of irreplaceable   heritage in Philippine history’s greatest crime, asserting in the civic sector what the diplomatic sector was too timid to mention.


Sympathizers in Japan joined in the effort and were represented at the February programs in Intramuros. When they learned of his passing, they quickly sent their condolences to the family.


His funeral Mass was very well attended. He will be missed by those who knew him and also by those who did not, but whose   lives he touched in significant ways.

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