Press Release
March 8, 2023

Pia honors her former 'boss': the late Roberto 'Bobby' V. Ongpin
Co-sponsorship speech of Senator Pia S. Cayetano on the resolution honoring the late business leader and trade minister, Roberto V. Ongpin

Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. President, I rise to co-sponsor Senate Resolution No. 468, which considers Senate Resolution No. 523 that I filed along with Senate President Zubiri, Majority Floor Leader Joel Villanueva, and Sen. Chiz Escudero, expressing the profound sympathy and sincere condolences of the Senate of the Philippines on Roberto "Bobby" Velayo Ongpin, the former Minister of Commerce and Industry's passing.

I'd like to acknowledge the presence of RVO's family who are with us in the Senate today: Michelle Ongpin-Callaghan, along with her husband, Frank; Luis Ongpin, his brother; and Maribel Ongpin, his sister-in-law.

Today, I join the nation as we mourn the passing of a man with many talents - a business icon, management expert, public servant, entrepreneur, and an overall visionary who left his mark in finance, business, and the Philippine economy.

On the 5th of February 2023, Sunday, Bobby Ongpin, also known as RVO, passed away peacefully in his sleep while on Balesin Island, at the age of 86.

As a certified public accountant, RVO worked at Sycip, Gorres, Velayo, and Company (SGV) in 1964, where he became the firm's youngest managing partner and substantially contributed in making it Asia's largest accounting firm in the 1970s. During his years working in the firm, more than 80% of the Philippines' largest corporations had SGV as their auditor.

From 1979 to 1986, at the age of 42, RVO became the country's youngest Minister of Commerce and Industry during the term of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr., where he made invaluable contributions that led to the country's flourishing development.

I must add, dear colleagues, that he had asked my father to be his Deputy Minister, and that's how I first met RVO when I believe I was in college. So that was my first encounter with RVO.

After his years as a public servant, RVO embarked on building his business empire which is highlighted by: bringing the Shangri-la Group of hotels and malls into the Philippines; founding Tagaytay Highlands, Alphaland Baguio Mountain Lodges, Alphaland Makati's The City Club, and PhilWeb Corporation, among others.

Let me take time to talk about Tagaytay Highlands. One day, I visited Tagaytay Highlands with my father, with my family. Actually, as I said, my father had worked with RVO so they were friends. And we visited Tagaytay Highlands, and my brother, Lino, was marveling...we were all marveling at the beauty of Tagaytay Highlands, and my brother, Lino, said to me, 'this is the kind of job you want.' You want to be a lawyer in this kind of place. And I said to him, 'I am the lawyer of this place, I had just been hired by RVO.' I was about to start in a week or two.

RVO and my dad had a meeting a few weeks before that, and RVO told my dad, Rene, 'I need a lawyer.' And dad said, 'I have the best lawyer for you.' And that, my dear colleagues, was me. It has yet to be seen if RVO agreed that I was the best lawyer for him. It was a dream job because of the amazing projects that were already ongoing, some of which I got to work on. But it wasn't an easy job. RVO was a tough and demanding boss. You could hear his booming voice across the hall with your door closed.

RVO is renowned for expressing his disappointment and his loud booming voice. Sa Tagalog, sisigawan ka talaga. I am proud to say never niya ako nasigawan. But I can say that I did disappoint him one time when I failed to get a government approval that he was looking for. I explained to him that there is just no way that we can get it. And he was mad, he was mad at me on the phone. That then prompted me to write him a letter wherein I offered to resign. I said, if I am not able to do the work, I will resign. Then I get a call in my room, and it's RVO telling me, 'Pia, you know I love you, don't send me those kinds of letters.' So as was mentioned repeatedly during the tribute to him last week, he was a tough boss, but inside, he was a softie.

In the mid 1990s, owning a cellphone was still a luxury. Using e-mails was not even a norm, especially if there is an attachment. Because it became too heavy and you will sit there for an hour sending that attachment. So the mode was fax. When RVO left for Europe, I just assumed my deadlines were extended. Lo and behold, shortly after noontime, his personal assistant, Jojo Manalo, would start sending me notes RVO dictated to her. She would also send me documents with his scribbled handwriting. And I said to her, 'di ba wala siya?' And Jojo says, 'wala but he's already awake in Europe and he is sending you all these corrections on the document that he already worked on.'

Thus, my training in always being ready was solidified under him. There is no such thing as a time difference, there is no such thing as a different time zone, work is work if you're with RVO. I also learned from him never to say no. That phone call that I mentioned was really just one of the many discussions we had, wherein I learned from him to keep on trying, to never leave any stone unturned, to keep on exploring how you can get the job done.

So to my dear staff, some of whom are here, if you think I am harsh sometimes, take time to talk to the family of RVO, because aside from my father, he was another man in my life who really taught me that there is no such thing as saying no. You have to always try and never give up. Thus, ends my short sharing on my experiences with RVO.

In 1993, RVO established the Jaime V. Ongpin Scholarship Fund, a scholarship endowment in memory of his late brother, which has grown to fund 200 scholarships in 7 Ateneo high schools nationwide and Xavier School Nuvali. To date, 2,207 students have graduated from high school due to this scholarship fund, which enabled them to pursue further studies and establish careers in nursing, engineering, banking, accounting, and international organizations.

The nation mourns the loss of RVO, whose enormous contributions to government service, business, and industry have left indelible marks on the country's economic landscape.

The last thing I want to say is this. I never really knew RVO as a sporty man, correct? Not really a sporty man. I can't even say he ate healthy, although I do know for a fact that he would always have a sandwich for lunch, and not a healthy sandwich, like a bacon sandwich, something like that. But interestingly, he always built amazing sports facilities in all his establishments. So in Tagaytay Highlands, I had the benefit of working with him there and being able to take time off in between our meetings to work out in the amazing, top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art sports facilities. And although I have not been to the Alphaland facility, just when I was there for the tribute and I saw the listing of the facilities - squash court, badminton court, and so on and so forth - I was like, oh so typical RVO, always state-of-the-art, always the best, and though he was not a sportsman, always fitness and health facilities.

On that note, I join my colleagues in expressing our deepest sympathies to the family. Thank you, Mr. President.

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