Away from PNB
by Augusto E. Orosa (written in 1996)
Chairman, PNB-Republic Bank
There are ingenious ways of entering the service of the Philippine
National Bank. Before December 8, 1941, also known as "peace time' or
"pre-war" times, two standard means were available to college
graduates specially those with Bachelor of Science in Commerce degree: (1)
apprenticeship, starting, P30 per month, and, (2) pass the examination given by
the Committee of Examinations periodically to fill up vacancies, starting pay,
P40 per month.
To those who were unsure of their capability to hurdle the written exams
but courageous enough to brave the far-flung places of assignment, say in
Mindanao, exotic wind-swept islands, or the alien north, apprenticeship was the
easy route, to hopefully become permanent in a year. For the literate ones who
passed the exams, a permanent job was guaranteed pronto in the Escolta or
When I applied in 1940, a vacancy was immediately available in Zamboanga
for an apprentice. Afraid of the sea voyage, I risked the fateful examinations.
A written advice requested me to report for work, which I did on April 18, 1940.
Seventy five per cent was then the passing mark. Rumor had it that I topped the
exams but in those days officers were tight lipped, bank records were
sacrosanct, and leaks occurred only in the washrooms, two in every floor. Thus
over 56 years ago I started as a market collector in the small Loans Department,
and I am still PNB away from the PNB.
One habit, suggesting improvements and with it working beyond office
hours, earned me recognition at the top of the organization. By revising the
system of receipts thereby saving money by its simplicity, Mr. Manotok, VP for
Credit and Loans, requested me to work after Mass (Saturday then was a regular
working day up to 1PM) preparing analytical reports on sugar accounts for the
President, who made use of my dexterity (stenographer at 60 words per minute) to
prepare replies to his correspondents. Believe it or not, overtime pay was P2 a
day if you worked up to 8PM. Anyway, I flourished at the new extra assignment
because I had no girlfriend yet. Little did I know at the time that I was being
prepared by fate for tasks with the Bank away from the Bank.
The extra work paid off when the PNB decided to send five trainees abroad
in 1954. I landed one of the slots, the other four were C. Bautista, L. Aragon,
P. Garcia and D. Paulino. We were partitioned in different banks like Bank of
America, SF Manufacturer's Bank, Chemical Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank and Irving
Trust. Also we were made to enroll at the American Institute of Banking in New
York. Grades were sent to Mr. Azanza, VP of PNB New York. Mr. Bautista and I
made the honor roll. I also posted a "first" by getting married in New
York to a PNB New York employee, Lourdes Cristobal. After coming home, the PNB
sent a batch of officers to Baguio to attend the two-and-a-half months
Harvard-sponsored Advanced Management Seminar in the Far East: lucky me again.
Away from home, and my wife pregnant, I footed the bill of her incessant long
distance calls, making PLDT beneficiary of the lion's share of my allowance.
Then in the late 60s some banks began to fail. Banks were established by
the rich realtors and other experts in speculation. The Overseas Bank of Manila
went under but the Central Bank rushed to its rescue. Since CB was prohibited
from operating a Bank, PNB and DBP were called upon to help. DBP limited itself
to contributing members of the board of directors.
PNB was tagged. Our President "lent" me as Acting President of
OBM for, so he told, one month. "On detail" at the time meant I was
also SVP for Credit, Cash and General Services of PNB. Six years passed before I
got out. My resignation and our President's efforts to retrieve me were turned
down by the Monetary Board. I felt stowed away from PNB. But what challenge!
Innovations in CB regulations, new culture on DOSRI accounts, legal battles in
the Supreme Court which quoted my lengthy memo to the CB in toto, new and
stricter reserve requirements, CB controllerships, loan limits, accounting
strictures all came in my way. And all these away from the PNB yet as blue as
PNB can possibly get. I was in and out of three Central Bank Governors Office in
the process and in the future to meet two more. Appearances at Monetary Board
meetings made me appreciate the workings of this "Holy of Holies" of
our financial system. Correspondence with the CB can be frustrating but always
intellectually stimulating inasmuch as new trails were being hewed through the
wilderness and holocaust of financial disasters. At last the CB bowed before the
legalities of the Supreme Court's decision and allowed the bank to operate under
new owners and new name. Back to the PNB comfortable with my Credit, Cash and
Trust Departments. But not for long.
PNB-controlled companies under the wing of the ailing National Investment
Development Corporation (NIDC) started to financially decompose. A new title,
SVP for Congenerics, was given me. Away to Makati, but still PNB. Personnel
called it "on detail." Very few knew what "congenerics"
meant as sheafs of inquiries from managers testify. Proof that few read Fortune
magazine where the President snared the title. The paper work was terribly
dizzying. Eight companies manufactured letters and memos cascading into my
office. Had I not been a collegiate champion speed reader, my health would have
suffered. The companies were scattered all over the republic. But aha, I was in
charge of PNB Aviation also. Much later, after more than two years, the
companies were "spun off" and my work was divided among three VPs. My
guardian Angel did not forsake me, thanks.
But lady luck is fickle. A sugar mill was being established in Pili,
Camarines Sur. Tremendous past dues in TRs and the construction had bogged down.
Bicolanos who planted sugarcane were raising Cain at the PNB. "Toto, take
over." We worked 14 hours a day and sugar was produced. We even exported to
China. We prepared, a first, the manual, rather the steps taken in operating the
mill and the pamphlet is still a must reading for those who care to put up a
sugar mill. But I forget, the first department manuals were put out by my Credit
Departments covering Investigators, Appraisers and Credit Analysts manuals.
Others followed. Political upheavals started, and so, back to the Escolta for
Another sugar mill was abuilding in Matalum, North Cotabato. "Orosa
has the experience, send him." Amen. It had a long corporate handle, but
call it NOCOSI. We had belching white smoke in jig time and the English
engineers invited me to visit their plant in the U.K. The site, Nottingham
(remember Robin Hood and the Sherwood Forest?) Fortunately, London was on the
way, PNB too, not far from where the universal time begins. Not bad to be away,
PNB is on the way.
But another bank hit the financial dust. PNB gave a loan and with it
Orosa and a task force graced the premises of Pilipinas Bank. My "on
detail" status was cancelled in 1983 when I retired from the PNB, but I
became and continued to sit as EVP and Director. My middle name was, right
again, PNB. Some events proved unforgettable. Employees declared a strike. It
lasted for 45 days. But operations continued, we were never
"scratched" from clearing by using all sorts of tricks to get our
checks delivered to the clearing house. Loyal officers did lowly jobs, sometimes
meeting force with force. Our slogan: Business as usual. The union vented its
ire and my name was plastered on streamers calling me all sorts of names in the
animal kingdom, vegetables, organic and inorganic matter. I had fun. So did my
friends who gleefully phoned me of the union streamers as soon as they pass
Ayala. Fame can hurt.
Ever heard of the term, "turn around"? Simple. It means making
the Bank operations profitable to enable the Bank to override its distressed
status. The process took a little over two years, gallons of perspiration,
devotion, hard work and financial know how. We learned about "PR" and
marketing. Rising from the bottom entails more than kicking upwards as we do in
swimming. To make our lives interesting, we had to cope with recalcitrant
ex-owners and labyrinthine laws and regulations. The Bank became salable and
with new capital and credible ownership, I retired in good stead. To be placed
in a hostile environment whether in raw nature or in an organization needs deep
thinking. Thus, "Toto's Inn." Actually this invention was hatched by
me at NIDC to enable me to understand the culture prevalent at my take-over.
Every Friday, after office hours, 6 to 8PM, I gave cocktails in my office for
all managers and up, male and female. Drinks and canapes were served. All
conversations were "off the record," all opinions welcomed. Personal
issues were avoided and code of ethics-no cursing, no bad words, no violence -
were enforced. Vengeance is not mine, Machiavelli used poison, we used Black
Label, Remy Martin and Chablis. Asti was a favorite among the ladies. The Friday
affair caught hold, clients would filter in, but we refused gifts. My
representation allowance was saved when some managers brought their accustomed
meriendas. Bonds fastened in friendship are still strong. PNB sold out and so I
suffered my third retirement. Financial wizards had not yet devised the
My wanted foreign vacation was interrupted by my long-term buddy, EVP
Manny Soliven, who wanted me by his side in the PNB Republic Bank directorate.
Unable to refuse this old buddy, a member of the free thinkers "Peanut
Board" dominant years ago in the PNB Escolta 10th floor, here I am. The
"board" got its appellation from the post lunch dessert of peanuts and
ice cream dear to palates of a group of vice presidents meeting in the 10th
floor after lunch discussing matters of significance and trivia.
As Chairman of the Board of Directors of PNB Republic Bank, never have I been as close to PNB; close to her strength, close to her aspirations, closer to her people. PNB away from PNB? Never.