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Friday, March 1, 2024

There can only be one Bobby Ongpin

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“There’s imperative need to update the 1987 charter to erase the fact that the Philippine charter has become repressive and a big hindrance to the entry of foreign investments”

There are many stories about Robert “Bobby” Velayo Ongpin, the tycoon, billionaire, technocrat, international businessman, visionary and former Minister of Trade and Industry of then President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr.

But, as to tributes to his many successes, they are all written in the many columns that appeared in the pages of the country’s mainstream media and obituaries contributed by companies like San Miguel Corporation and its subsidiaries where he worked as a director.

An obituary was also given by Philex Mining Corporation where he was once a big stockholder and the internationally known auditing firm, SGV (Sycip, Gorres and Velayo) where Ongpin was a managing partner after he was Finance Secretary.

Ongpin was then the youngest ever to hold that position after he finished his post graduate course in Business Administration at Harvard University.

A story is told in the book of Washington Sycip, one of the co-founders of SGV, that when Wash was interviewing RVO, as he was called by associates and those who worked with him, the young Ongpin pointed to the chair of Wash and said “How long will it take me to be in that chair?”

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Well, Santa Banana, soon after, when Cesar Virata became finance minister of the late elder Marcos, and also the latter’s prime Minister, Ongpin was called to Malacanang to be Minister of Trade and Industry in 1979.

Quoting Onpin, he once told an interviewer “when the President tells you to serve, you say yes.”

It was in 1983 when he made history by creating the Binondo Central Bank that saved the country from economic collapse.

On this occasion alone, Ongpin should be written as “the man that made history by creating the Binondo Central Bank.”

There are other unwritten stories about Bobby Ongpin when he was director of the firm that founded the well-known Tagaytay Highlands in Tagaytay.

But, when he was absent one time from a board meeting of the firm, business partner Willy Ocier ousted him from the board.

Ocier was the son of one of the exchange dealers of the Binondo Central Bank, which was then composed of seven foreign exchange dealers gathered by Ongpin to deal in foreign exchange, which saved the country from utter collapse.

Under Ongpin, the Binondo Central Bank sold foreign exchange only to the government to meet its foreign obligations and to import the country’s imperative needs.

Truly, Bobby was known for the many successes he did, much more than his few failures, according to Ongpin himself.

RVO’s debt-free Alphaland Corp. is expanding into a nearby 732-ha Patnunangan Island, to be called Balesin International Gateway, which Bobby was expecting to be completely finished before the yearend.

It will be a resort complex with fresh water, five 5-star hotels, an 18-hole golf course, and 1,834 luxury beach and golf course homes.

Bobby’s idea: Attract the world’s high net-worth individuals to enjoy the most unique beach resort and nature enclave for members and guests.

I once asked Bobby in my many one-on-one conversations where he gets all his ideas and he did not answer, but simply smiled meaningfully. For that’s what Bobby was, always dreaming big.

To complement members and guests of Balesin, he has bought more Cessna planes for the benefit of members and guests, and a hydrofoil jet boat, which was scheduled to arrive in one week’s time from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, where it was brought by a vessel.

It will be a first in Philippine waters. For that’s what Ongpin is all about, always thinking big.

In fact, another big project of Ongpin is to attract premier soccer big league teams to go to Balesin when it is winter in the United States and Europe..

And for this, Ongpin has built an artificial grass football field in Balesin which is now ready.

In fact, soccer teams from Laguna are already playing in the Balesin Football field which has artificial grass, plus amenities like a grandstand under it, complete with a dormitory for players.

Give it to Ongpin, he always thought of everything.

When I asked him why he thinks the well-known premier soccer leagues would come, he said in fact he already made arrangements with them.

Ongpin believed that soccer should be the No. 1 sport in the Philippines, instead of basketball, since soccer does not need height which basketball needs.

The late legendary Pele of Brazil was 5 feet and 7 ¾ inches tall and the now legendary Messi of Argentina is only 5 feet 6 inches tall. I believe Bobby.

Actually, Bobby did not have any unfinished projects, so to speak, before he died.

When he thought of a project, he pursued it to its end.

Santa Banana, he even had a special spa built at the Alphaland Mountain Lodges in Baguio for the benefit of those who bought lodges and their guests, the only one of its kind in the summer capital of Baguio.

When I asked Bobby what is next in his agenda, he answered “Just wait.”

For that was Bobby, the one and only tycoon, technocrat, international businessman and visionary, the one and only Bobby Ongpin.

Ongpin, as this column goes to press, will already have been buried in his beloved Balesin, cradled in its arms when he died and now cradled still in the arms of his Beloved Balesin.

Members and guests of Balesin should have no worry about this island paradise club not maintaining what the founder of Alphaland Bobby Ongpin had done, since Alphaland President Rodolfo Ma. Ponferrada is a very hands on and a very able executive.

Actually, this is already his second stint at Alphaland as President.

Met him once and I believe he will continue all the good things Ogpin has done.

Not only that , the Board of Directors of Alphaland is composed of well-known businessmen.

*** *** ***

Senator Robin Padilla has filed a resolution seeking to convene the Senate and House of Representatives into a Constituent Assembly to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution and make the present economic provisions of the charter compliant to the present time.

Padilla is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes.

This means that opponents of charter change can no longer stop the amendments of the 1987 charter because the two chambers of Congress have started the wheels of charter change rolling.

The House amendment of the charter is being pushed by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and was passed by the House panel.

Under the Senate resolution under the constituent assembly, the two chambers of Congress will vote separately by three fourths of its house.

In the House, Speaker Martin Romualdez had cited four revisions in the 1987 charter — Foreign equity limitations; Discriminatory screening or approval mechanisms; Restrictions on the employment of foreigners as key personnel; and other operational restrictions, all of which have hindered the economy.

For his part, Senator Padilla wants the Philippines to accelerate economic growth and fulfill its economic commitment by removing, Santa Banana, restrictive economic provisions to allow foreign businessmen to invest in a more conducive landscape.

Data and studies have shown the Philippines is the third most restrictive out of 84 countries, ranked by the OECD’s FDI regulatory restrictiveness index.

I believe that with both chambers of Congress now ready to amend the 1987 charter, it’s a go-signal for charter change.

For these reasons there’s imperative need to update the 1987 charter to erase the fact that the Philippine charter has become repressive and a big hindrance to the entry of foreign investments.

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