Today’s generation may have only heard or encountered his name in passing from their parents or the media. But Filipinos who well remember the exciting times of the Ramos administration will also know him as the financial whiz the country critically needed in the post of Finance Secretary from 1994 to 1998.
To friends, he is an exceptional golfer, taekwondo blackbelter and splendid classical guitar player. Peers admire him as an eloquent extemporaneous speaker, with personnel and students of the Asian Institute of Management regarding him as the amiable president of the prestigious institution.
And amassing countless accolades from his economic expertise, no less than the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex) named their headquarters after him.
To his family and community, however, Roberto de Ocampo is in every way the quintessential renaissance Filipino. He is smart, disciplined, upright, patient and humble; a loving husband, father and grandfather; and the epitome of a devout follower of Christian beliefs and principles.
Currently the chairman of the Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB), de Ocampo was recently invested the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, as officiated by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila. Recognized since 1113 as the Roman Catholic Order of Knighthood, de Ocampo is now one of 30,000 knights and dames in 60 Lieutenancies around the world, which includes monarchs, heads of states and their consorts, whose primary mission is “to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.”
Moreover, for his contribution to the development of relations between the United Kingdom and the Philippines for over four decades, de Ocampo also received from Queen Elizabeth 2nd the Order of the British Empire (OBE). He is therefore recognized as an Honorary Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He is also a Chevalier (knight) of the Legion d’Honneur of France, making him the only Filipino civilian (except for former Presidents) conferred three knighthoods.
The Sunday Times Magazine had the privilege to visit the distinguished Roberto de Ocampo at his residence in Greenhills, San Juan and join him around the 18-hole Wack Wack Golf and Country Club in Mandaluyong City, to experience first-hand this exemplary man’s good-naturedness amid the pinnacle of success.
De Ocampo was the chairman of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) when President Fidel Ramos summoned him to be Finance Secretary in 1994, replacing Ramon del Rosario. At that time, with the slogan “Philippines 2000,” Ramos needed the skills of this economic genius to lead the country in becoming the “Tiger Cub Economy in Asia.” He returned to the Philippines from his World Bank post soon after the Edsa People Power Revolution at the request of newly installed President Cory Aquino.
Just as he was taking on the newest challenge of his illustrious career, de Ocampo also had his eye on a young golfer by the name of Tiger Woods who was then the most sensational player of the sporting world’s top fairways.
As someone who became fascinated with golf early at the age of 15, de Ocampo prided himself to be the best golf player in the Ramos administration, winning a great many competitions to this day. In fact, he was the President’s favorite golf buddy, earning him the moniker “Tiger Bobby” just like that young whiz of a pro from America.
Recalling the good old days, de Ocampo said of Ramos, who is a civil engineer and military officer by profession, “He listened to suggestions and recommendations when it came to fiscal issues. At that time, the country was reeling from huge fiscal deficit, power crisis and discontentment in the military. The task to rebuild was huge ahead, but as history may now show, we were able to get through it because of [President Ramos’] political will and strong leadership.”
The Philippines’ impressive leap as Asia’s new tiger economy, however, was largely credited to de Ocampo for his highly effective fiscal reform measures that led to the country’s fiscal surplus and tax efficiency ratios that have remained unequalled to date.
As such, just a year after assuming the country’s finance portfolio, the Ateneo de Manila University Bachelor of Arts Major in Economics [with a Master in Business Administration from the University of Michigan and a Fellow of the London School of Economics]was named “Global Finance Minister of the Year” by Euromoney Magazine. He was the first Filipino and first Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) finance secretary as well to be accorded the title “Asian Finance Minister of the Year” from Asiamoney Magazine for two consecutive years in 1996 and 1997.
In his own words, Ramos said he coined the nickname “Tiger Bobby” because de Ocampo “was by far the best golfer in my Cabinet, and during that time the best golfer in the world was Tiger Woods. Because of his golf prowess, I often invited him to be my partner for rounds of golf with visiting dignitaries to better ensure our winning friendly bets against our visiting friends from abroad.”
Ramos said of a very memorable match with then US Vice President Dan Quayle who played in the Ramos Peace and Development Foundation, Inc. (RPDEV) golf tournament, “Not only did Tiger Bobby beat the much vaunted Dan Quayle but he has also won the tournament championship trophy.” Former President George W. Bush’s vice president by the way was an NCAA golfing star in his younger days.
Ramos also related the following anecdote on the occasion of de Ocampo’s 70th birthday, as well as the book “Vision Matters,” a collection of the former finance secretary’s speeches, articles and insights published in 2015: “Tiger Bobby was a key figure in my Cabinet for helping restore our economy and realizing my Administration’s efforts to make the Philippines a Tiger economy. He had both technocratic and communication skills that allowed him to convince even the most difficult legislators to go along with him. And he was an effective and eloquent spokesman for our economy particularly to the international community… I am glad to see that even at the young age of 70 Tiger Bobby continues to be involved in the issues of our country and still contributes to advancing our people’s aspirations and well-being.”
Coming from one of the pioneering families of the posh Greenhills subdivisions, de Ocampo graduated from elementary and high school at La Salle before pursing his college degree at Ateneo de Manila University. As such, de Ocampo is deemed by most as someone who hardly encountered hardships growing up.
But he related that as an infant, he already gave his parents the biggest scare as he was mistaken for dead. His mother and father thanked the heavens that soon enough, the newborn baby regained consciousness and breathed again.
As the youngest of two brothers, de Ocampo nevertheless became the padre de familia early on when his father died, since his older sibling was sickly and needed special attention.
“I did not have to be the breadwinner but I became the padre de familia when my father passed away at 59 years old. So the responsibility to take care of my mother and brother came early,” he said, fate setting the stage perhaps for bigger responsibilities in his future.
He clarified that his family started poor, living on Trabajo Street in Sta. Mesa, and as his father worked his way up to success it enabled them to move to the newly established Greenhills when he was starting college.
Eventually marrying the love of his life, Maria Carolina la O’, the de Ocampos are blessed with four children with the eldest, Ramon Martin, working in Hollywood as an actor.
“He has appeared in such TV shows like ‘CSI’ and he’s doing well in his career, so I’m very proud of him,” the doting dad remarked.
Asked who among his brood inherited his financial genius, de Ocampo cited his second child Anna Monica (married to Marc Leon Casperino) who is a sales director of Robinson’s Land. But nowadays, de Ocampo believes his daughter’s greatest achievements are giving him three happy and healthy grandchildren—Rocco (Roberto Aloysius), Raffi (Raphael Leon) and Giada (Giada Annemarie). The loving grandfather plays basketball and badminton with the two boys, with occasional rounds of jabs at the boxing punching bag in the garden.
His other two children—Jaime Ignacio (Migo) and Regina Cristina (Rica)—each have careers not related to the financial sector but de Ocampo is just as proud of them and their achievements.
As for his wife, the devoted husband is quick to brag to houseguests that she personally co-designed their home—a modern take on a traditional Filipino ancestral house with windows made of capiz shells. He also credits his wife with playing the major role in bringing up their children due to his being often busy with the demands of his career and multi-jobs.
He will also say that after going into government service at the age of 24 as one of the pioneers of the rural electrification program, then deputy administrator of the National Electrification Administration – which he was awarded a TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men) at age 29 –he will never return to a cabinet position because, “My wife will kill me!”
As his laughter subsided, de Ocampo shared that even as he refuses to accept a full-time position in government, he still contributes his fiscal know-how as much as he can through the foundations he heads, such as the Foundation for Economic Freedom of which he is chairman, while continuing to mentor younger technocrats, even outside AIM.
Meanwhile, de Ocampo animatedly spoke of his appointment as chairman of Philippine Veterans Bank in 2013 as some sort of providence. For at that time, he was already sitting in the board of 35 corporations and foundations.
Nevertheless, with the coaxing of his peers, he acknowledged a connection to the veterans’ financial institution and finally accepted the position. To start with, his father Jose de Ocampo was a guerrilla and the very person who instigated the establishment of the bank in the 1960s as a tribute to the heroism of Filipinos during the war. His uncle, World War 2 veteran Col. Emmanuel de Ocampo was also a former PVB chairman.
Born soon after the war, de Ocampo further knows the pain of those who offer their lives in defending the country, only to go home to a family strapped for cash, as all they bring home with them are words extolling their heroism. The same was true then as it is now, which is why the financial whiz made sure to turn the bank around from his first day in office.
Finding PVB in bad shape, de Ocampo’s immediate move was to shake up the organization that employs no less than 1,000 people. He then appointed professionals with proven expertise in their fields with impeccable integrity to the board, which until then was mostly comprised of World War 2 veterans.
Among those he reeled into his new mission were former Labor Secretary Nieves Confesor to be in charge of good governance and Willie Parayno of the Bureau of Customs.
From low ratings at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the PVB improved on de Ocampo’s third year, yielding profitability, a larger portfolio and a better image overall.
His initial goals achieved, de Ocampo is now bent on correcting the impression that the Philippine Veterans Bank is a small bank that caters only to World War 2 veterans, already in their twilight.
“Even as the PVB is a bank for World War 2 veterans, it is also the only commercial bank that by law is allowed to serve both public and private entities, on the local or national levels,” he clarified.
“We are neither just a bank for the purpose of making lots and lots of money, but we are concerned that we give the right financial assistance to customers, whether an individual or an entrepreneur, whether its a veteran’s pension, or to expand opportunities for local government projects,” he added.
Under de Ocampo’s chairmanship, the Philippine Veterans Bank now carries the tagline, “Bank with a heart for every Filipino,” differentiating it from all other banks, especially those that hire celebrity endorsers.
“We want to strike an image that is unique, so in our ads rather than having those beautiful faces, the message is that we are helpful, we take into account what your dreams are and that our role is to assist [you in]your dreams, [and]not get your money,” he averred.
Thus, in catering to all veterans, the PVB has expanded assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), acknowledging the valor of those who put their lives on the line or shed blood in defense of freedom.
“PVB is the only private commercial bank that can do business with local and national government entities. It provides financing for local government development projects and other worthy programs, and it has increased its lending to the private sector particularly in the areas of small and medium enterprise as well as agri- agra projects that larger banks are usually reluctant to support,” he further informed.
As de Ocampo continues to improve and innovate services at PVB, he said he cannot help but see the similarities of his chairmanship with his former post as Secretary of Finance. In both responsibilities, his mindset has been to make a difference rather than profit.
“I might say that it is a challenge to bring about economic development, helping the majority of our people toward better opportunities, and seeing our country progressed. With that you build a legacy that you can pass on to the next generation, which is a good name and a meaningful life here on earth,” he said.
As to his guiding principles in life, pursuit of excellence is paramount among others.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” he asserted, as like all of us humans, “I will pass this way but once,” he ended.
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Roberto de Ocampo, awards and distinctions
• Youngest administrator of the National Electrification Administration at age 24
• Youngest 1975 TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men) awardee; the first and still the only awardee in the field of National Economic Development
• First Filipino Senior Country Officer of the World Bank
• Youngest Chairman and CEO of the Development Bank of the Philippines at the time of appointment
• Youngest Secretary of the Department of Finance at the time of appointment
• First Filipino awarded as Global Finance Minister of the Year by Euromoney Magazine
• Only Filipino awarded as Asian Finance Minister of the Year in consecutive years by Asiamoney Magazine
• First recipient of the Man of the Year award from the Association of Development Finance Institutions of Asia Pacific (ADFIAP)
• Only Filipino awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honneur of France
• First Filipino elected as member of the Trilateral Commission
• First and thus far the only Filipino elected to the Board of Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
• Only Filipino to chair all three official government depository banks – Development Bank of the Philippines, Land Bank and Philippine Veterans Bank
• Newest Filipino to be invested the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (Catholic Knighthood)
• Holder of four Doctorates Honoris Causa
• Taekwondo blackbelter
• Classical guitar player
• Champion golfer with more than 80 trophies and five holes-in-one