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A tribute to Dr. Sixto K. Roxas

I have been wanting to write the following piece for a long time because of my strong feeling against the practice of recognizing and rewarding outstanding individuals after they have passed away and are no longer able to appreciate the honors bestowed upon them. One person whom I would like to see honored in his lifetime is economist Dr. Sixto “Ting” Roxas.

I cannot claim to know Dr. Roxas personally, but I know enough about his professional life to believe that he deserves the tribute that I’m about to write.

Ting Roxas first came to public attention when, fresh from a stint with the then-government-owned Philippine National Bank, he organized and headed the Philippine company that would challenge foreign dominance of the Philippine petroleum-refining industry. Cavite-based Filoil Refinary Corp. did battle with the multinational giants Shell, Caltex and Mobil. But in time it became clear that Filoil was no match for the financial and market muscle of the Big Three, so Filoil closed shop before long.

Ting Roxas did not have much time to be idle after Filoil’s closure. The Macapagal administration that came into office in 1962 lost no time recruiting Roxas for the position of chairman of the National Economic Council, the predecessor of the National Economic and Development Authority. It is said that Roxas was handpicked for the post by President Diosdado Macapagal’s top economic adviser, Dr. Armand V. Fabella. True or not, the fact is that the Fabella-Roxas partnership produced some of the best days in the history of Philippine economic policymaking.

But Ting Roxas’ finest hour was yet to come. He organized Bancom Development Corp., which proceeded to establish what the Philippines’ financial structure had long needed: a money market. On the basis of the manual that Ting Roxas wrote, “A Short-term Treasury Bills Market for the Philippines,” Bancom developed a market for trading in government and commercial paper of all maturities and tenors. In no time at all, under Bancom’s leadership, a market came into being in the Philippines.

Ting Roxas became the man of the hour and Bancom the institution of the hour. With the financial talent and creativity that it was able to put together, Bancom became something of an icon. Indeed, a ranking company official was heard to make reference at a conference to the “Bancom Man.”

As word of Bancom’s success spread, Ting Roxas was accorded the honor that no Filipino finance man had ever received. He was invited by one of the largest US investment banks, New York-based American Express International Banking Corp., to join its board of directors. It was a signal honor for the Ateneo-trained economist.

Ting Roxas believed that Bancom’s structure had become such that he could safely spend several months of the year away from the company’s Makati headquarters. He was wrong. The key officers that he placed in charge during his absences made a series of bad decisions that placed Bancom’s continued financial stability in jeopardy. What was once this country’s premier private financial institution gradually lost operational steam and eventually closed its doors.

But the system that Sixto K. Roxas put in place is still there, and the Philippine money market remains one of East Asia’s most vibrant. For that achievement, Ting Roxas deserves kudos and the nation’s abundant thanks. Ting Roxas is still quite able to appreciate tributes like this column. Which is how it should be.

 

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