GABRIEL C. SINGSON: A MAN OF MANY GIFTS

By PERRY PE

As a banker, Gabby was the first governor of the Banko Sentral (BSP) under its amended charter.  He joined the Central Bank in 1955 and continuously served it until he became the BSP governor in July 1993, with a brief stint as the president of the then government-owned Philippine National Bank (PNB) in 1992-1993,  He retired in 1999 but not after leaving behind a legacy of honest and respected public service.  Despite a measly  P10 Billion capital given to the BSP by Congress, Gabby was able to rehabilitate and reorganize the old and rigid Central Bank by practically eliminating all of its bad assets.  This augured well for the Philippine economy, which at the time was just recovering from decades of martial rule and abuse.

His reign as BSP governor was not without challenge.  Each time that there was a bank closure, he knew that a lot of depositors would be affected.  It was a credit therefore to his leadership and to his legal skills that he was able to negotiate a settlement and terminate all the court litigation, and eventually opened up the bankrupt Banco Filipino.  This bank hurt so many depositors in 1970s, and was a poster-child for everything that was wrong in a bank.

It was, however, in 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, that Gabby showed his true mettle.  In spite of the daunting economic turbulence, Gabby kept the country afloat by maintaining monetary stability.  He knew when to call for a savings interest rate increase so that depositors would keep their money within the banking system.  He also knew when to lower bank lending interest rates so that businessmen could borrow and establish their businesses and in the long run spur the local economy.  He continued the liberalized foreign exchange policy adopted by the BSP’s Monetary Board.  Gabby allowed the peso to fluctuate at a wider bank range, without BSP intervention.  He scoffed at any idea of fixing the peso-dollar rate to avoid the wide currency fluctuation.  And by doing so, he let market forces dictate the true value of the peso and left both the importers and exporters of goods to fend for themselves, in effect instituting market discipline.

While Gabby was doing these things, he decided to raise the BSP capital and went to the international bond market.  He issued the country’s first, and perhaps only, century.bond at US$500 million.  He launched the bond in June 1997.  Despite the crisis, he was able to get a reasonable price for the century bond.  This proved to be a  trailblazer for without this bond the BSP might have found itself in financial doldrums in the years to come.

His century bond increased the BSP’s foreign exchange reserves which at that time stood at around US$10 billion.  As of end –May 2010, the BSP’s foreign exchange reserves were reported to be at $47.6 billion, a true sign of external liquidity and a true sign to the international credit community that the country could meet its debt of obligations.

There was no doubt that Gabby Singson was the right man for the job.  In an unprecedented move, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted House Resolution No. 49, as a recognition of Gabby’s achievement and outstanding work in improving the country’s economy.  Gabby was also selected by Asiamoney as Central Governor of the Year.  He was given the Golden Heart Presidential Award by then President Fidel V. Ramos in appreciation of his outstanding contribution to the Philippines’ economic development, most especially for his sound handling of the country’s financial sector.  The Management Association of the Philippines also selected him as 1998 Management Man of the Year.  In December, 1999, he was recognized as one of the two top central bankers in Asia by the banking magazine, Institutional Investor.
 
When he was about to leave the BSP, President Ramos’s successor, then President Joseph Estrada, beseeched him to continue his governorship even after the end of his term.  However, Gabby simply answered: “I think I have done enough.”  Honest, forthright, and not one to cling to power, Gabby brought decency to public service.

As a lawyer, Gabby was a legal scholar, a brilliant professor, and a top practitioner.  Always the brightest in his batch, Gabby graduated as the valedictorian  and magna cum laude from Ateneo de Manila University, College of Liberal Arts in 1948.  He obtained his LLB degree as a cum laude from Ateneo Law School in 1952.  He placed second in the 1952 Philippine Bar Examinations.  Gabby then returned to the Ateneo Law School as a professor of Law, teaching Commercial and Civil Law from 1956-1972.  He taught a generation of practitioners, prosecutors, judges, justices and law deans.  In 1960, he received the Master of Laws degree from the University of Michigan Law School as a Dewitt Fellow and Fullbright Scholar.

Now in his 80’s and in the twilight of his career, Gabby has become the ultimate corporate governance counsel, most sought after by practically  all of the taipans in the country.  Gabby managed as well to influence corporate social responsibility in several large family-owned corporations where he served either as director or adviser.

Gabriel Singson is indeed a man of many gifts, and it is not his gifts alone that make him truly outstanding; rather, it is the inspiration he gives to lawyers, bankers, and all other professionals that makes him an Ateneo hero.
Dean Perry Pe is a member of the Ateneo Law School Board of Advisers. He is a partner at Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc and De los Angeles Law Offices. He is the Dean of the Palawan State University Law School, and President of the Philippine Association of Law Schools.
 
Source: “Ateneans Inspiring Ateneans” 1859 – 2009 by Ateneo de Manila University Press.