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Monday, December 20, 2010

Jaime Ongpin the Enigma by Nick Joaquin

         Jaime Ongpin, the enigma: A profile of the Filipino as manager

           The book chronicles the life of Jaime V. Ongpin from his humble beginnings to the pinnacle of his achievements as a technocrat and finally to his tragic demise.
           The book opens with the story of Ongpin’s first brush with the political scene via a scathing letter sent to the Asian Wall Street Journal that came out on June 6, 1981. In that letter he heatedly denounced the cronyism of the Marcos administration. He lamented that this was severely damaging the Philippine economy by hurting legitimate businesses and placing government financial institutions in unfathomable debt. At the time, Jamie Ongpin was the president of Benguet Corporation, a multinational mining conglomerate that was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. He was the first Filipino president of the company. Already a wonder in the private sector as one of the successes of the Philippine’s “Managerial Revolution” that had Filipinos ascending to the highest positions in private businesses where only foreigners were previously allowed, Jaime Ongpin was all the more a marvel for being one of the first Filipinos to be the president of a multinational conglomerate.  However, little did Jaime Ongpin know that his letter in 1981 would be the beginning of his transition from being a manager with a place in business history to a manager with a place in Philippine history. His letter was the start of his unwitting foray as an eminent driver in the downfall of the Marcos administration and the subsequent rise of the Aquino administration. It would also eventually lead him to move from being a manager in the private sector to a manager in government as President Cory Aquino’s Finance Minister.
            Throughout the book one will be able to surmise how Jaime Ongpin developed and used his skills as an effective manager, unwavering ethics and irrepressible convictions included, to carve his successes as a family man, business executive, and political reformer. However, these same skills and convictions that have allowed him all these achievements may have also been the same ones to steadily contribute to his supreme difficulty in being in government. And although he was set to collect a Euromoney magazine World’s Finance Minister of the Year award for his efforts, the experience wrecked havoc on his mental state. His purposeful managerial style could not seem to mesh with the showmanship style that being a Philippine government official dictated. His struggles here climax in his being let go from his post by President Aquino in a manner that insulted and humiliated. And unfortunately, a few months after that incident, Jaime Ongpin’s story ends in his heartbreaking suicide.
              This book aptly bespeaks its title. Jaime Ongpin was for the world a man so worthy of so many superlatives: effective, accomplished, rational, brave, tough, and bursting with promise. So why did he come to such an end? That said, perhaps the world really did not know the man for who he truly was. He was and continuous to be an enigma.