PNB 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 nearby.

        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 the infidel.

        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 "golden parachute."

        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.