Remembering Roberto “Bobby” Ongpin’s Life and Legacy

We look back at the successful life and career of billionaire businessman Roberto “Bobby” Ongpin, who passed away at the age of 86 on February 4, 2023.

Roberto Ongpin, the billionaire businessman who founded Alphaland, has passed away at the age of 86. According to the Facebook post of his nephew, Rafael, he died in his sleep on Balesin Island, which he also owns.

The Alphaland chairman is survived by his wife, Monica, his children, Stephen, Anna, Michelle, and Julian, and four grandchildren. “Two of whom he got to play with before he went to sleep last night,” Rafael’s Facebook post notes. His nephew notes that his Facebook post is not the official family statement.

According to a report by Inquirer Business, Alphaland President Rodolfo Ma. Ponferada told members of Balesin in an email, “It is with profound sadness that I provide this update, something I wished I would never have had to do.” 

“I’m Thinking About How Long It Will Take For Me to Sit There”

Born on January 6, 1937, Roberto Ongpin graduated cum laude with a business degree from Ateneo De Manila University before he went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University. 

He started his professional career in 1964 as an employee of the auditing firm Sycip Gorres Velayo and Co., otherwise known as SGV. According to the Inquirer, the Washington Sycip asked Bobby Ongpin what was on his mind during an interview. 

Ongpin’s reply? “I’m thinking about how long it will take for me to sit there,” he said while gesturing to the chair that Sycip was seated on. 

His career eventually took a different turn in 1979 when he got a phone call, asking him to attend a job interview in Malacañang Palace for a job interview with then-President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. He eventually became the Minister of Trade and Industry—the youngest ever to hold the post.

Building and Rebuilding Empires

Roberto Ongpin “built and rebuilt empires,” according to his nephew’s Facebook post, after serving in the government. The Business Inquirer report notes that he was the one who convinced Malaysian businessman Robert Kuok to invest in the Philippines, which came in the form of EDSA Shangri-la Hotel and a shopping mall. 

He is arguably best known as the chairman of Alphaland, which he took control of after it was delisted from the Philippine Stock Exchange in 2014, according to Forbes. Aside from developing office and residential projects, Alphaland is known for developing Balesin Island Club. In fact, as of press time, Balesin is in the middle of an expansion to the neighboring island of Patnanungan. 

“He worked his whole life, and never retired,” Rafael Ongpin says in his Facebook post. “He remained sharp and undiminished by age, all the way to his last day.” 

Forbes notes that Roberto Ongpin owns Tabacalera cigar maker and is believed to have a net worth of $830 million. He is also part of Forbes’ most recent list of the Philippines’ Richest, which was published in August.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Ongpin.