New FINEX president Benedicta Du-Baladad on financial management and pursuing her creative passions
If there is one character trait that best befits Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) president Benedicta Du- Baladad, it is none other than determination. Whether culled from her childhood or steeled because of life’s challenges, her adult life is a testament to this very handy tool to success.
Baladad’s first unmistakable manifestation of grit was when she decided to go to law school. She told The Sunday Times Magazine that her father had wanted all his children to pursue Accountancy since he dreamt of establishing a CPA office run by his children. A dutiful daughter as well, the young lady obliged and even went as far as getting a Masters degree but only as a way to get out of her household chores.
With a chuckle Baladad recalled, “I was already working at the time, but I really didn’t want to go home early to cook and wash the dishes. Then again, I didn’t feel challenged enough by my Masters because l felt I knew the material already.
“That was when I decided to switch to Law, which was what my mother had already wanted me to take up long before. Besides, Law school, I thought, would take longer to finish,” she smiled craftily, and yes, determinedly.
At that time, Baladad would work during the day then go to school from 6 to 9 in the evening and whole days on Saturdays.
A will and a way
Baladad completed Law school at University of Santo Tomas despite her schedule as a working student, but when it was time to take the Bar Exams, she suddenly hesitated.
“By then, I was already married, with two children, and I was also still working. I really didn’t want to be a lawyer in the first place, so I was thinking twice if I still needed to take the exams. But then, I also thought about the impression it would give to people–that I wasn’t smart enough to pass the Bar.”
Blessed with a supportive husband, who took over the household and their children while she took review classes, Baladad fondly recalled the new challenges that nonetheless came her way.
“One time, my house help couldn’t make it back from her vacation on schedule. What I did was to bring my two kids in the car, go to the review center and drop off a recorder to one of my classmates. After classes, I would do the same thing and pick up the recording. I listened to these at night, with a warm glass of milk provided by my husband.”
Determined as ever, Baladad passed the Bar on her first try.
When she set up Du-Baladad and Associates (BDB Law), it was a story in the same vein. After eight years of working with Punongbayan and Associates, she resigned from her position as Head Partner of the Tax Department to go into semi-retirement.
“I was already getting bored with my work, I was no longer happy and felt that I needed to do something about it immediately. So I started a small office with the belief that having three regular clients on retainer would be able to sustain me. When people found out, though, they started to approach me to help them with their businesses. In a matter of one month, I was already overloaded and needed to get a partner. Napapanaginipan ko na kasi [I dreamt] that I was missing deadlines – and this is something I never want to happen because I am the type of person who follows through when I promise something done.”
Sitting as BDB Law’s Managing Partner and CEO, Baladad’s firm now handles big ticket clients comprised of local conglomerates and multinational companies. They provide assistance with legal paperwork, along with other services such as managing their financials with the basics in bookkeeping and filing of taxes.
“When clients are assessed by the BIR, we also handle their cases and advise them on the best way to proceed.”
Prior to building her private practice, Baladad also worked at the BIR. When asked about the state of the taxation system in the Philippines and common complaints by ordinary citizens, she calls it a “chicken and egg situation.”
“When we talk about taxes I would like to see it as more of an act of patriotism. It is an act of love for country. Everybody wants to have a good economic environment and a good government that is looked up to by everybody–but you have to contribute. The problem comes in when the contributions are not spent well. There may be leakages, or the funds are not spent well on where they should go. People begin to feel that whatever they are contributing to the nation goes to someone’s pockets so they start looking at angles on how they can reduce their taxes. In other countries, they simply pay what is demanded of them.”
The taxation situation is one that they are currently trying to address in the private sector through FINEX. “We feel the tax system is not fair when you earn this much, and that much is taken in taxes. Sometimes, you pay even more than what you make. There are studies that have been made which found that there is a certain level wherein people can tolerate the tax. Higher than that results in tax evasion and all these other things.”
She also cites the difficulty in paying taxes when one is already there at the BIR office and they refuse to accept payment for varied reasons.
“Fixing issues like these are part of our advocacy where we work with the Department of Finance.”
Besides tax reforms, they are also pushing towards other finance-related concerns in government, which she says includes changes in the constitution to help make the country more appealing towards the growth of the business sector.
“Expect changes in rules, laws, in the practices, in the way they do business in capital market, brought by both the changes that the President wants to institute, along with the impact of the ASEAN integration.”
Education is another aspect that she personally looks into as an advocacy in nation building. She once established a socialized school brought about by the needs of one of her sons. Now, her firm has a foundation where they set aside some of their earnings and put them towards a foundation that supports scholars.
“Education is important, as it gives a family a better future. Kahit isang anak lang makapag aral sa pamilya, lahat yan aangat ang kabuhayan. [Even if just one child in a family is able to study, the entire family’s life will be better].
“Having educated voters is also good for the country. It is time to elevate the poor from being poor,” she explained.
FINEX further has a program that teaches financial literacy to small business operators, showing them how to keep their books and where to invest their extra money.
She observes that Filipinos today are more financially literate, with college-aged youths starting early in the stock market or investing in mutual funds.
“This is brought about by the knowledge that is more easily available these days. In my time, you would have to be in your forties before you think about making investments.”
That said, Baladad would like to advice OFWs in particular to look into other investments besides buying condominiums, with an eye on starting their own businesses.
“The government should build a platform to make the economy robust and make it attractive to businesses too,” she added. “This will nurture the appetite of people to grow in business and invest in things that the government cannot do, where the private sectors can build businesses on. The youth today, particularly, are very good at social entrepreneurship, where they make a profit but also find a way to give back. I wish that I was like them in my time, but I was still busy building a family and keeping my funds for things like the education of my children.”
The way Baladad sees money, now that she has achieved so much in her life, has changed. She is the best person to tell you that keeping one’s finances sound is vital, but she also finds truth in the old adage that one cannot buy happiness.
She will not be a hypocrite to say that she does not enjoy the benefits of working hard. She has been able to buy a rest house in Tagaytay, which she jokingly told her late husband Benny is her gift to herself.
“Wala kasing nagbibigay sa akin, kaya binili ko para sa sarili ko. [No one was giving me one so I had to buy it for myself],” she joked. She spends time there on Sundays when she makes it a point to bond with her children Bryan, Benedict, Benjamin and Berton. The getaway has also become the venue for her art studio.
One day, Baladad picked up a paintbrush as an answer to another challenge. “My friend gifted me with her painting, and I gave her some pointers on it. She said, ‘Why don’t you make your own painting?’ and that is what I did. I bought art supplies and made my first nude. It didn’t turn out so well, because I used cheaper materials. After my son joked that my painting needed moisturizer, kasi bukol-bukol siya [because it had bumps all over], I headed out and invested in more expensive materials.”
To offset the fact that she was only a beginner, she had them framed professionally all the same. “I told the frame shop to do it well and when I displayed it at the office, someone bought it! So I started painting more,” she chuckled.
Baladad’s painting themes are mostly flowers, because she loves color and flowers fascinated her even as a child.
Her love for color is also expressed in her outfits, which she makes herself. “There was a time when I couldn’t buy off store racks anymore, so I got a seamstress to make my attire for me. She got sick, and couldn’t work anymore, so I cajoled her to create a simple pattern for me. I studied how to do it with the help of another seamstress. Now, I can sew my own suits,” she said with a measure of pride.
Buying textiles at Divisoria is another stress-relieving activity for this lady of many talents. She enthused, “I go there with all these swatches and just buy, because everything is so cheap!”
Yet another pursuit is writing, and she has already authored three books on taxation: Taxation of Financial Institutions in the Philippines (2006), which won an Anvil Award; Taxation of Banks and Non-Bank Financial Intermediaries (2010); and Taxation of Insurance Companies in the Philippines (2014).
For all her expertise in the finance sector, she has this to say about money: “Self-fulfillment is more important. When you are done with your obligations in the family, when the children are finished with school and become independent, you may find that there is no enjoyment in money anymore. Especially if your lifestyle is very simple and your money is in the bank and you don’t feel it. Then it would be good to channel what you have to help others and find other means of happiness through pursuing your life passions.”