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Philippine central bank’s top guns

/ 12:24 AM September 26, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is “fortunate” to be perceived fairly positively by financial communities here and abroad at a time when central banks elsewhere are having difficulty pleasing their respective citizens.

As the global economy remains sluggish, some central banks are being questioned about the effectiveness of the stimulus measures they have implemented to boost their domestic economies. The BSP, meantime, often receives a pat on the back by observers who believe it is doing a relatively good job.

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But the term “fortunate” may not really be an accurate description of the BSP. If it enjoys a good image, it is mostly because of the high-caliber and hardworking men steering the country’s monetary authority.

In May, we featured the head of the country’s central bank, BSP Governor Amando Tetangco, to give a picture of what the leadership of the BSP is like. Now, we turn the spotlight on the three deputy governors of the BSP who are helping Tetangco ensure that the institution continues to do its job well.

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Diwa Guinigundo

Diwa Guinigundo

Diwa Guinigundo is the deputy governor for the “monetary stability” sector. Included in his job description are the various complex tasks that a layman would normally find difficulty comprehending. These include providing advice to the central bank’s Monetary Board on matters related to the setting of interest rates, policies related with the exchange rate, measures ensuring ample amount of money within the economy, etc.

A big part of his job is helping the BSP fulfill its mandate of maintaining relatively stable prices of consumer goods and services, particularly by the implementation of policies that ensure liquidity within the economy does not become insufficient nor excessive.

Guinigundo, who holds a Master of Science degree in Economics from the London School of Economics and who graduated cum laude from the UP School of Economics for his bachelor’s degree, says there are a lot of things he likes about his job. One of these is the fact that it entails a wide range of tasks that make his work at the BSP anything but boring.

“My job is not homogenous; it offers multiple challenges and never boring,” he says. Besides the sophisticated tasks of conducting monetary policy, he also is given the opportunity to share knowledge and experiences with foreign monetary officials and to do advocacy work related with financial education.

Since one of the advocacies of the BSP is to promote financial literacy, Guinigundo is hands-on in the conduct of seminars on money management and investments for Overseas Filipino Workers and their families.

“[In the seminars], we talk about the more pedestrian issue of achieving financial independence,” he says.

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Guinigundo also headed the committee in charge of the “new generation” peso banknotes that the BSP recently launched. He says the BSP hopes the new Philippine banknotes will gather top honors in a currency competition to be held in Singapore in October.

Guinigundo says a challenging part of his job is the need to constantly monitor developments here and abroad that would have an impact on inflation and the overall economy. Unlike any regular 8 to 5 jobs, his job requires monitoring of markets even beyond office hours. This challenge, he says, is something he embraces.

But while Guinigundo is passionate about his job at the BSP, he did not think of being a central banker as a child.

“I had wanted to be a lawyer and a writer like my father. I dreamt of speaking before groups of people and win their votes. As the youngest among nine children, I used to entertain the family by declaiming and reciting poems after dinner,” Guinigundo says.

He says he considered former presidents of the Philippines who were bar topnotchers as his idols; he would read their biographies as well as books on how they answered questions in the bar exams.

Guinigundo, who started as an economist at the BSP’s economic research department, says he took economics at UP initially to only aid in his involvement in labor-related advocacy. Later on, he realized that working for the central bank would help him do a lot of public service, something he loves doing.

Asked about the values he lives by, Guinigundo says these include hard work and teamwork.

“I believe in God’s law of sowing and reaping. I reap what I sow. If I sow hard work, I will reap some good reward in the future. I might sow in tears, but I might also reap in joy,” he says.

He also believes in the importance of having a heart to care and to carry for others so that a team becomes more efficient.

Guinigundo, who is blessed with two boys, says that he tries to live a balanced life even with the taxing job he has at the BSP.

On weekends, he and his wife go to the gym, chat for long hours over coffee about their boys, and do some church activities. “We can’t imagine Sundays without the church,” he says.

Although the BSP is perceived to be doing fairly well in conducting monetary policy, Guinigundo there are still a few things he wants the BSP, especially his sector, to accomplish under his supervision. Among those is the publication of a manual on the BSP’s operations and procedures for purposes of knowledge management and sharpening of the inflation-forecasting models of the BSP.

Lawyer Juan de Zuñiga Jr.

Juan de Zuñiga Jr.

De Zuñiga is the central bank’s general counsel and, recently, was tasked to be the deputy governor in charge of resource management and supervision of the BSP’s security plant (where money is printed).

De Zuñiga finds fulfillment in working for government and doing public service. He had been at the central bank when it was still called the “Central Bank of the Philippines.” He worked for short time in a private bank, but then went back to work for the BSP.

“In-between my career in central banking, I worked in a commercial bank, and during those years I longed for my work in the central bank,” he says.

“I experienced both working for a company and working for the country. To me, deciding which one was preferable was an easy choice,” De Zuñiga added.

He also did not plan working for the central bank. De Zuñiga says he first worked as a lawyer in the private sector, but later on got an unexpected invitation to join the legal team of the BSP.

“That started my career in central banking and I am really thankful for that break,” says De Zuñiga, who is a law graduate from Far Eastern University and who placed fifth in the bar examinations.

He says one of his objectives as deputy governor for resource management is to maintain high-quality human resources for the BSP. Achieving this goal entails programs that instill in them proper work-related values and an enabling work environment, De Zuñiga says.

“Our institution is already an employer of choice for young professionals, and this should speak well of the respect and trust they have on the institution.

De Zuñiga says honesty, integrity and fairness are the basic principles he live by.

“I think these principles helped me a lot in my career advancement. My superiors can be comfortable with me because I can assure them that I am trustworthy,” De Zuñiga says.

De Zuñiga says he also avoids living beyond his means.

“My contentment level is commensurate also with my financial standing. We [he and his family] can live very simply and be content with basic comforts. Except for social engagements and Sunday family lunches, we rarely go out,” De Zuñiga says.

He says another work ethic he possesses is the habit of confronting problems with decisiveness.

“To overcome, there should be resoluteness to decide and to confront the issues. The problems would be there and will not disappear by themselves so you might as well eliminate them by having a resolution. I also impose deadlines on myself so as not to protract,” he says.

De Zuñiga, who has one son, says he spends his weekends watching TV and listening to music with his wife, who is also a lawyer. Although the two are lawyers, the couple avoid talking about law when at home.

“My wife is also a lawyer but we rarely talk about law in the house. We talk about many other things but not law,” he says.

Nestor Espenilla Jr.

Nestor Espenilla Jr.

Nestor Espenilla Jr. is the deputy governor for supervision and examination sector. His job helps the BSP fulfill its mandate of regulating banks and helping ensure a stable banking system.

His job is perceived to be very challenging, especially since it involves closing errant banks. Such task, of course, becomes extra difficult when banks ordered closed challenges the BSP in court.

Nonetheless, Espenilla says his job gives him fulfillment.

“It’s a strategic vantage point where you can do a lot of good. It’s not easy. Actually, it’s very tough, but the psychic rewards are huge and very fulfilling if you do your job well,” Espenilla says.

He also says his job has earned him several threats on his safety. To be undeterred, he says, “humor helps.” Espenilla says taking a job too seriously would only prove to dampen one’s spirit at the end of the day.

Espenilla, who graduated cum laude from the UP School of Economics and holds a master’s degree in policy science from the Graduate Institute of Policy in Tokyo, says one of the things he is proud of is the fact that the country’s banking sector has made a significant progress since the Asian financial crisis of the late ’90s.

Industry members credit this fact not only to reforms that the individual banks undertook, but also the prudent regulations imposed by the BSP.

Currently, the country’s banking sector enjoys high profitability, low exposure to bad debts, adequate capitalization, and huge resources. All this allows the sector to aid in the growth of the economy through higher lending to individuals and businesses.

The strong fundamentals of the banking sector are also credited for its resiliency even amid the problems confronting the financial sectors of Western economies.

Nonetheless, Espenilla says there are still things he wants the BSP to accomplish under his leadership of the supervision and examination sector. One is the institutionalization of good governance practices in all banks. Although the banking sector in general is healthy, he says, some individual banks are weak partly due to poor governance.

“The primary challenge is establishing good governance in every financial institution. It really begins there and managing the overall stability of the financial system follows naturally,” Espenilla says.

Another thing he still wants the BSP to accomplish is further expanding accessibility of banking services. While the baking sector has grown substantially since the crisis over a decade ago, there are still remote areas of the country that do not have access to banks.

“The other great challenge is to make our financial system truly serve and be relevant to all levels of our society through innovative and responsible financial services. This is our financial inclusion agenda,” he says.

Besides humor, exercise and relaxing activities help Espenilla maintains his composure amid the pressures of his job.

“During his free time, he enjoys either playing golf, bowling, or badminton, or simply going to the gym. He also finds it pleasurable walking his dog, watching TV or movies, and cooking for his family on Sundays.

Espenilla, who has three children, says he believes in the principles of caring, a keen sense of fairness and justice, personal integrity and moral courage.

“Wrapping all these with humor,” he says, helps him avoid too much stress and disappointment.

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TAGS: Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Diwa Guinigundo, features, Juan de Zuñiga Jr., Nestor Espenilla Jr., People
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