Obituaries : Jaime Ongpin; Former Aide to Aquino

From Times Wire Services

Former Finance Secretary Jaime Ongpin, a controversial architect of President Corazon Aquino’s economic policy, was found shot dead Monday.

His son, Rafael Ongpin, said it was a suicide and added that his 49-year-old father, found with a bullet in his head, was depressed over being forced out of the Cabinet post in a September shake-up.

The elder Ongpin, a widely respected Harvard-educated businessman, played a major role in rallying business groups to Aquino during her 1986 election campaign against former President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

But he frequently was at odds with others in the Cabinet who opposed his pro-business views and insistence that the government honor financial obligations incurred under Marcos.


Rafael Ongpin, 22, said his father “had been unhappy for some time following his end of tenure from the government when he resigned,” he said.

Irreconcilable Differences

Ongpin had told Reuters news agency after he was dropped by Aquino that he had told her as early as May to replace him because of “irreconcilable philosophical and personal differences” with other ministers.

“There was no point in being there, engaged in a war of attrition. My approvals and recommendations were not moving through the presidential office with any kind of responsiveness,” he said.


On Monday, Aquino called Ongpin “an outstanding Filipino who had the courage of his convictions.”

“He fought the dictatorship during the martial law years when few would do so,” she said.

Ongpin’s former government allies expressed shock at his death and questioned whether, as a Catholic, he would have taken his life.

“It is hard to believe that Jimmy committed suicide,” said Trade Secretary Jose Concepcion. “He does not carry a gun. He is a fighter. . . . It is really very difficult for me to understand that suicide was a possibility.”


No Depression Seen

Ongpin’s successor and ally, Vicente Jayme, told reporters that he met with Ongpin last week and saw no evidence of depression.

Ongpin’s removal as finance secretary followed months of often bitter policy disputes, especially with former Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo.

A failed Aug. 28 coup attempt had led to charges from numerous business, church and civic groups that the government lacked cohesion and policy direction.


Both Ongpin and Arroyo were ousted Sept. 16 in what government officials said was an attempt to restore teamwork.

Ongpin and Central Bank Gov. Jose Fernandez had come under fire for a debt repayment package that critics said made it impossible for the financially strapped government to finance economic development.

The agreement, concluded in July, stretches payments of $10.3 billion in foreign debts over 17 years and includes a 7 1/2-year grace period.

Ongpin had frequently said that the Aquino government was unable to formulate a clear economic policy to meet its foreign financial obligations and establish a climate conducive to foreign investment.


University Background

Ongpin graduated from Ateneo de Manila University in 1958 and from the Harvard University Graduate School of Business in 1962.

He was advertising manager for the Philippines subsidiary of Procter & Gamble Co. until 1962, when he joined the giant Benguet Corp., a major gold and copper mining firm of which he became president in 1974.

After the 1983 assassination of Aquino’s husband, Benigno Aquino Jr., Ongpin became one of the most outspoken voices in the business community demanding economic reform in the Marcos regime.