Former BSP chief dies
- Des Ferriols () - December 1, 2006 - 12:00am
After a long bout with cancer, renowned banker and former Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor Rafael Carlos Buenaventura died yesterday at 3:30 p.m. at the Asian Hospital and Medical Center (AHMC). He was 68 years old.

Paeng, as he was fondly called by friends and colleagues, was surrounded by close family members led by his wife Maria Victoria Rufino when he died.

Early yesterday morning, Rufino sent text messages to Buenaventura’s friends and colleagues, with a plea for prayers and alerting them that the former governor had slipped into a coma.

At the time of his death, Buenaventura had been writing his memoirs detailing the six years that he served as governor of the BSP.

Malacañang mourned Buenaventura’s death and Palace officials hailed Buenaventura as a man who helped steer the country out of crises.

"The nation mourns the loss of a widely admired architect of the country’s robust monetary fundamentals and sound banking policies," Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo said in a statement.

"In his years at the Bangko Sentral, Gov. Rafael Buenaventura navigated through multiple crises while building the business confidence now buoying the economy and the markets," he said.

The BSP said in a brief statement to the press that "friends are requested not to send flowers, but those who want to honor (Buenaventura’s) memory may send donations to the Cancer Institute of the Philippine General Hospital to support indigent cancer patients."

BSP Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr. said: "We salute a great man who served his country well. He was a man of vision who introduced bold and far-reaching reforms to raise our financial system to world-class standards, firm in his belief that our people deserve no less and that the Philippines can hold its own against the best."

Tetangco served as Buenaventura’s deputy in the BSP and took over when Buenaventura relinquished his post in 2005. He also said Buenaventura "will be remembered for having championed the development of microfinance as a means to alleviate poverty and uplift the lives of our entrepreneurial poor. In particular, his genuine concern for the welfare of the employees of the BSP will be long remembered. It was an honor to have worked with him."

Buenaventura was appointed as BSP governor in 1999 after a distinguished career in private commercial banking that culminated with his appointment as chief executive officer of the then Philippine Commercial Industrial Bank (PCIB).

Following the ouster of former President Joseph Estrada, Buenaventura faced intense pressure to resign as BSP governor but this was met with equal pressure in the international market for him to stay.

Buenaventura ultimately decided to stay on as BSP governor, declining to resign even as a matter of courtesy to the new president. "This office is bigger than whoever sits on the chair," he said later. "The stability of a fixed six-year term for a central bank governor was more important."

Henceforth, Buenaventura earned a reputation for independence, deliberately keeping himself outside the political loop to preserve the credibility of the BSP as an independent central monetary authority.

Buenaventura eventually led the campaign for Congress to pass two critical legislative measures to address the looming crisis in the financial sector: the Special Purpose Vehicles Act (SPVA) and the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).

The SPVA allowed banks to sell off their bad loans with some fiscal incentives from the government and the AMLA ultimately facilitated the removal of the country’s tag as a money-laundering haven.

To journalists, Buenaventura was known as a no-nonsense governor who adeptly managed public expectations with the careful and gradual turn of the BSP towards full transparency.

Buenaventura’s down-to-earth and college-boy temperament also endeared him to the normally cynical press corps covering the central bank beat.

Paeng’s favorite story was of his stint as a member of the Ateneo Glee Club, an accident that he admitted had nothing to do with his singing talent or the lack thereof.

"I was there because I was cute," he told reporters. "The choirmaster told me to just keep mouthing the words but to never, ever sing!"

Towards the end of his term as BSP governor, Buenaventura was diagnosed with cancer, which forced him to leave the country for the United States, where he underwent treatment.

Buenaventura and Rufino returned to the Philippines early this year with plans of starting a foundation that would undertake environmental projects.

The ardors of a long and difficult medical treatment, combined with the length of time spent away from home had changed the former BSP governor.

"I am ready to go," Buenaventura told a small group of reporters shortly before being confined at the AHMC. "I don’t want anyone to make a fuss."

Buenaventura’s passing, however, still reverberated in the business community, particularly the banking sector, which has long considered him a beacon for reforms.

"We’ve not seen the passing of a person but the passing of an institution," said BSP deputy governor Diwa Guinigundo.

Buenaventura’s "biggest legacy is bringing stability to financial markets," former finance secretary and Credit Suisse First Boston Asia vice president Jose Isidro Camacho said. "He brought a lot of credibility. He was a very steady hand, not prone to panic even when dealing with issues of crisis proportions like attacks on the peso. He made you feel more confident."

Buenaventura joined Citibank N.A. in 1965, holding top posts in Asia and Europe for more than 20 years. He was Citibank’s Philippine head when the nation defaulted in the early 1980s and played a key role in reorganizing the country’s debt because Citibank was one of the nation’s biggest creditors. Seventeen years later, he was BSP governor.

A year and a half into Buenaventura’s tenure as BSP governor, corruption allegations against Estrada dragged the peso to a record low. In one day in October 2000, Buenaventura raised the nation’s key interest rate four percentage points to stem the tide.

Within two months of the four-point increase, Buenaventura started cutting the key rate, bringing it in 2004 to its lowest in 11 years. That year, growth accelerated for a third year to 6.2 percent, the fastest in 15 years. Inflation climbed to a five-year high.

Estrada was ousted in 2001, paving the way for then Vice President Gloria Arroyo to take power.

Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines (RBAP) past president and Rural Bank of Pagbilao president Senen Clorioso said Buenaventura "spearheaded the propagation of reforms, governance and risk management by banks that led to stability and confidence in the rural and community banking system while pushing for microfinance... He will always be remembered and revered by the rural bankers, the countryside microentrepreneurs and depositors whose lives were improved by his advocacy at BSP."

United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) chief executive officer Jose Querubin said Buenaventura "was an inspiration to us who followed his footsteps in Citibank and later worked with him when he was BSP governor. He left a rich legacy that will continue to inspire the next generation of Filipino bankers."

Bank of Commerce president and CEO Raul de Mesa hailed Buenaventura as "one of the best bankers while in the private sector. He was an outstanding (BSP) governor and all the international awards he received attest to that. The financial and banking community will miss him."

Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Family Savings Bank president and CEO Alfonso Salcedo said "Buenaventura’s request to be immediately cremated with no wake reflects what kind of man he was. He wasn’t after pomp or glory. He was simply a man of excellence always committed to doing his job well. He leaves a benchmark we bankers should strive to achieve.

Security Bank president Albert Villarosa said "we lost a brilliant mind and great man."

Metrobank president Arthur Ty said Buenaventura’s tenure at the BSP "was based on reforms and preparing the (banking) industry to move to first world standards by initiating global banking and accounting standards, including risk weighing. As a banker, he was very capable and well-respected." - With Paolo Romero, Ted Torres, Bloomberg

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