obituary

Retail billionaire Nedy Tantoco of Rustan’s dies at 77

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Retail billionaire Nedy Tantoco of Rustan’s dies at 77

MATRIARCH. Rustan's Zenaida Tantoco, the matriarch of the Tantoco family, has died.

Store Specialists Group Inc.'s website

(5th UPDATE) Tantoco was chairman and CEO of Rustan's and the eldest daughter of the late ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., founder of Rustan's

MANILA, Philippines – The matriarch of the Tantoco family, Zenaida “Nedy” Tantoco, died on Thursday, February 8, at the age of 77, Rappler learned from a close family friend. 

Tantoco was the chairman and CEO of the Rustan Commercial Corporation (Rustan’s) and Rustan Marketing Corporation, as well as Stores Specialists Incorporated (SSI), the Philippines’ leading specialty retailer that markets at least 80 high-end brands such as Lacoste, Marks & Spencer, Salvatore Ferragamo, Anne Klein, Polo Ralph Lauren, Prada, Armani Exchange, Hugo Boss, and Zara. 

Nedy, who would have been 78 on July 20 this year, was the eldest daughter of the late Ambassador Bienvenido “Benny” Tantoco Sr., founder of the Rustan Group of Companies, who passed away on July 6, 2021, at the age of 100. 

“It is with profound sadness that SSI Group, Inc. announces the passing of Zenaida “Nedy” R. Tantoco. The retailer, philanthropist, patroness of the arts, loving mother, and grandmother passed away on February 8, 2024,” the publicly listed SSI said in a disclosure.

“The Rustan Commercial Corporation, SSI Group, Inc., and Rustan Marketing Corporation Chairwoman leaves an enduring legacy of excellence in the luxury retail sphere founded by her parents, Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr. and Gliceria Rustia-Tantoco in 1952,” the company added.

Rustan’s said Nedy and her siblings “uncompromisingly upheld the sacred values taught by their parents in running a family enterprise.” 

“Although known in the industry for her astute professionalism, Nedy will always be better remembered as a nurturing force in fostering family empowerment and unity. These, she believed, were key for their family’s future generations to thrive,” Rustan’s said.  

Her parents started a gift shop in their home in Manila in 1952, the beginning of Rustan’s department store. There are five major Rustan’s Department Stores in the Philippines, of which Rustan’s Makati, which opened in 1971, is the most memorable. This flagship store’s original facade, with blue, black, and yellow panes, was described to be like a “jewelry box” that glimmered under the sun.  

Other major department stores are: Rustan’s Shangri-La Plaza Mall in Mandaluyong City; Rustan’s Gateway Mall in Cubao, Quezon City; Rustan’s Ayala Alabang in Muntinlupa City; and Rustan’s Cebu in Cebu City.

Nedy headed Rustan’s starting in 2008, and applied the lessons she learned from her parents in growing the retail business.

“I have worked in Rustan’s all my life, from my high school and college days when I assisted my mother in the store and accompanied her on buying trips abroad. I experienced working from the bottom up, from display and merchandising, to buying and marketing. Understanding the business from top to bottom, I believe, makes a person a good leader,” she once told lifestyle magazine People Asia.

As chair and CEO of SSI, Tantoco oversaw a retail network of 524 stores in around 80 major malls in the Philippines. 

SSI had 85 brands in a wide range of categories such as: 

  • Hermès, Cartier, and Salvatore Ferragamo for premium luxury apparel and accessories; 
  • Zara, Bershka, Stradivarius, Pull&Bear, and Old Navy for popular fast fashion; 
  • Lacoste and Gap for casual wear; 
  • SaladStop! and Shake Shack for food and beverage selections; 
  • Samsonite for stylish travel and luggage offerings; 
  • MUJI, Pottery Barn and West Elm for modern home furnishings and accessories. 

Most of SSI’s luxury brand stores are found in upscale malls in central business districts such as in Ayala Commercial Center. 

SSI also developed its own store brands including “Beauty Bar” in personal care, and “MakeRoom & More” in home solutions.  

Rustan’s and SSI now compete with international retailers such as Uniqlo, H&M, Ben Chan’s Suyen Corporation, and the Gokongweis’ Robinsons Specialty Stores Incorporated. 

As of third quarter of 2023, SSI had a net income of P1.5 billion, up from P918 million in the same period the year prior. 

Other major companies of the Tantocos are: 

  • Sta. Elena Reality Inc., developer of the Sta. Elena Golf and Country Estate; 
  • Royal Duty Free Store – Royal Subic Mall – in Subic Freeport, Zambales; 
  • Rustan Coffee Corporation, which introduced the Philippines’ first Starbucks in December 1977 in Makati.
Controversial parents

Nedy’s parents, Bienvenido and Gliceria “Glecy” Rustia-Tantoco, were alleged “cronies” and friends of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and First Lady Imelda R. Marcos. 

POWER COUPLE. Gliceria “Glecy” Rustia-Tantoco and former Ambassador Bienvenido “Benny” Tantoco Sr. Photo courtesy of Rustan’s website

In the book, Some Are Smarter Than Others: The History of Marcos’ Crony Capitalism, by Ricardo Manapat, the Tantocos were alleged to be “Imelda’s fronts and associates” in Rustan’s. The store’s name is taken from the first three letters of the couple’s surnames, Rustia and Tantoco.

“The Tantocos have been Imelda’s partners as early as the 1960s during Marcos’ first presidential term. They have been among the closest and most loyal of the cronies,” Manapat wrote. “As a reward for their loyalty and service, they were named to choice positions and were showered with different forms of government assistance and Imelda’s generous patronage.” 

Bienvenido, for instance, was named ambassador to the Vatican from 1983 to 1986. Manapat said Imelda bought many goods from the Rustan chain of stores. 

“The Rustan’s Flower Shop, for example, was among the top suppliers for the First Couple, representing a bill of P5.8 million for purchases in a single year,” he wrote. 

“Most of these expenses were incurred without following the normal government procedures governing purchases. The purchases of flowers, for example, were carried out either through ordinary phone calls or simple order slips,” Manapat alleged. 

Not guilty

After the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, the Tantocos were among the cronies who were slapped with criminal cases. 

The Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) filed Civil Case No. 0008 against the Marcoses and the Tantocos, which alleged that the Tourist Duty Free Shops (TFDS) run by Mrs. Tantoco were used by the Marcoses to amass wealth. 

According to the first PCGG chief, the late former Senator Jovito Salonga, among the “smoking gun” documents found in Malacañang were letters and reports of Mrs. Tantoco which “confirmed” that the “flourishing” TFDS was actually owned by Imelda, “either solely or in partnership with the Tantoco family.”

In his book, Presidential Plunder: The Quest for the Marcos Ill-Gotten Wealth, Salonga said Marcos gave special favors to TFDS, such as duty and tax-free importations, and stores spaces in airports and hotels. Out of a 7% franchise tax collected from the TFDS, government got only 2% of net sales, while three private foundations of Mrs. Marcos got 5%, he said.

In his meetings with the Tantocos, Salonga also said that Mrs. Tantoco, whom he described as “one of the blue ladies of Imelda,” agreed to acknowledge that the Makiki Heights property occupied by the Marcoses in Honolulu after the EDSA revolution was “ill-gotten.”  

“It was she who organized the shell company, a Panamanian corporation, which held title to that property,” Salonga said, adding that Mrs. Tantoco also told him it was no longer hers. 

No compromise was reached between the PCGG and the Tantocos, however.

In 2019 or after more than 30 years of litigation, the Sandiganbayan acquitted the Marcoses, the Tantocos, and other defendants in Civil Case No. 0008 due to insufficient evidence. 

The PCGG had presented letters of the Tantocos to Marcos asking for favors. Some of the letters were excluded from the evidence as they were just photocopies. 

“Plaintiff Republic failed to prove by preponderance of evidence that the defendants by themselves, or in conspiracy with defendants Marcoses, obtained ill-gotten wealth,” the Sandiganbayan 2nd Division unanimously ruled in a decision promulgated on September 25, 2019. 

The decision was penned by then-Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi, Oscar Herrera, and Lorifel Lacap Pahimna.

Nedy is survived by her partner Patrick Jacinto, and her three children: Anton with wife Nina and daughters Nikki and Isabelle; Michael with wife Kathy and children Kenzie and Kameron; and Catherine with husband David Endriga; her siblings: Rico and wife Nena Tantoco; Menchu and husband Jun Lopez; Marilou and husband Eddie; Marlien Tantoco; and, Maritess and husband Renato Enriquez. 

A private wake is scheduled from February 10 to 12 in her home in Forbes Park, followed by a public wake at Heritage Park in Taguig City from February 13 to 15. Her funeral is on February 15 at Santuario de San Antonio Parish in Makati City. – Rappler.com

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.