Bizman, Ex-Cabinet exec Bobby Ongpin dies at 86

Businessman and former Minister of Commerce and Industry Roberto “Bobby” V. Ongpin (Photo from Alphaland Corp. website)

ROBERTO V. “Bobby” Ongpin, a businessman who was one of the most colorful members of the cabinet of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., has died in his sleep in Balesin Island on Saturday night, his family announced on Sunday. He was 86 years old. 

The former Minister of Commerce and Industry was born on January 6, 1937, the second of seven children of Luis Ongpin and Lourdes Velayo.

He was the great grandson of Roman T. Ongpin, a Filipino-Chinese businessman who aided Filipino revolutionaries against the Spanish and American colonial administration in the Philippines.

In 2021, Forbes Magazine still named Ongpin as one of the top 10 richest in the country, worth about $1.2 billion. Before his death, he was the country’s 23rd richest man, according to recent rankings of the magazine. 

He is survived by his wife, Monica Arellano, his children, Stephen, Anna, Michelle, and Julian, and four grandchildren, two of whom he got to play with before he went to sleep Saturday night, according to the Facebook post of his nephew Apa Ongpin. 

“He never retired, and remained sharp and undiminished by age, all the way to his last day,” Apa said.

Ongpin, along with his brother Jaime, was able to attend school through a scholarship. After graduating from Ateneo High School, he went on to finish cum laude at Ateneo de Manila, earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree.

He later earned a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard Business School. He subsequently led SyCip Gorres and Velayo to become Asia’s largest accounting firm. 

Since 1988, Ongpin has funded thousands of full scholarships to Ateneo de Manila University, in the name of his brother, Jaime, who served as Finance secretary in the post-Marcos administration of Corazon C. Aquino, and passed away in 1987. 

The brothers had attended both Ateneo and Harvard on scholarships from anonymous donors, Apa said.

He was the youngest Minister for Trade and Industry at age 42. It was a position he held from 1979 to 1986, when the strongman’s two-decade presidency was ended by the EDSA Revolution.

During his seven years as Minister, Ongpin had to help steer a deteriorating economy as political instability made funding from international agencies and banks difficult for the government.

Apa wrote: “After leaving government, he built and rebuilt empires, including making the deals that brought the Shangri-La Group into the Philippines, Tagaytay Highlands, PhilWeb, and culminating in Alphaland Corp., where he built his crown jewel, Alphaland Balesin Island Club. He has been expanding to the neighboring island of Patnanungan, which he planned to formally open this year.” 

Apa said his uncle’s remains will be brought to Manila. 

“The family will make an official announcement when wake details have been decided,” Apa said.

Image credits: Alphaland Corp.


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