Philippine tycoons

Tycoon, ex-trade chief Bobby Ongpin dies at 86

Bonz Magsambol
Tycoon, ex-trade chief Bobby Ongpin dies at 86

Photo from Alphaland website

(1st UPDATE) Roberto 'Bobby' Ongpin dies in his sleep on February 4 in Balesin island, his nephew Apa Ongpin says

MANILA, Philippines – Business tycoon and former trade secretary Roberto “Bobby” Ongpin has died, his nephew Apa Ongpin confirmed to Rappler on Sunday, February 5. He was 86 years old.

“Roberto Velayo Ongpin passed away in his sleep last night (February 4) in Balesin Island,” Apa said in a statement sent to Rappler.

“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 last night. His remains will be brought to Manila,” he added.

Apa said that an official statement will be released containing the wake details when the family decides on it.

Who is Bobby Ongpin?

Ongpin was one of the richest Filipinos according to Forbes Magazine. In 2022, Forbes Magazine named Ongpin as the 23rd richest Filipino with a net worth of $830 million (P44.5 billion).

Ongpin graduated cum laude in Business Administration from the Ateneo de Manila University. He was a Certified Public Accountant, and had an MBA from Harvard Business School.

During the administration of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Ongpin served as the minister of Commerce and Industry, now the Department of Trade and Industry. Because of his position, he was tagged as a Marcos “crony.”

In an interview with ANC in 2011, Ongpin said that he tried his “best to escape from being conscripted into the Cabinet.” 

“I never sought the position,” he said. 

“In fact, when he called me, I was in London. He called at 4 o’clock in the morning, well it was one of the assistants who called and said, ‘The President wants to talk to you.’ I said, ‘It’s 4 o’clock in the morning.’ So I hung up. Then he called again,” Ongpin recounted.

In the same interview, Ongpin said that the assasination of Ninoy Aquino was “probably the most difficult time for the Marcos government.”

“It was a very difficult time in the sense that the commercial banks that had lent us money, pulled out their money overnight. I remember that was around $770 million we lost overnight. For a time, the reserves of the Philippines were down to $14 million. The total international reserves now is $75 billion,” he added.

Ongpin said that he resented being part of Marcos Sr.’s administration, but then he didn’t walk away because he thought he was already making a difference that time. 

“The whole world believes he was a bad guy. But I think he was a simple man, he never coveted wealth for wealth’s sake,” he said. 

Ongpin said he was hurt by being tagged as a Marcos crony. 

Ongpin was known as the owner of the Balesin island, an “opulent, all-exclusive and members-only” resort located 21 kilometers southwest of Polillo, Quezon Province. He also chaired Alphaland, a high-end property developer that delisted in 2014 after a messy split with a UK investment group, according to a Forbes report.

In 2016, then President Rodrigo Duterte singled him out as an example of the oligarchs his administration wanted to do away with. Duterte described Ongpin as a businessman close to people in power and implied he used his political influence to strengthen his businesses.

In the same year, the Court of Appeals stopped the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from enforcing its en banc decision on Ongpin’s insider trading case involving Philex Mining Corporation shares in 2009.

The SEC had barred the businessman from joining the board of any publicly listed company, and fined him P174 million for insider trading. Ongpin was the chairman of two listed firms – PhilWeb Corporation and Atok Big Wedge Incorporated.

Ongpin also served as the director of San Miguel Corporation, PAL Holdings, Inc., and Petron Corporation. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.