MANILA – Tycoon Roberto Ongpin shrugged off being tagged as an “oligarch” by President Rodrigo Duterte as he recounted his rise from a poor, unshod school boy to one of the country’s richest and most resilient businessmen.
Ongpin on Wednesday offered to sell his 53.76-percent stake in gaming café operator PhilWeb Corp. to give the company a better shot at securing a new operating license from regulators.
“Define an oligarch for me. If it means I have money, I do have money but I made it all honestly. I worked hard for it,” Ongpin told shareholders after the company announced it was suspending operations before midnight.
“But if the definition is something else, maybe I have a different answer,” he said.
THROWBACK: Who is Roberto Ongpin? Duterte’s oligarch target
Ongpin said one of his “proudest possessions” was a third grade class picture, which showed how he was born poor, with his office clerk father struggling to feed seven children.
“I was barefoot. My family simply couldn’t afford to buy shoes,” Ongpin said. “I was born poor. I worked hard. I graduated from public school, I graduated valedictorian.”
Ongpin is the country's 20th richest man with a net worth of $900 million according to Forbes Magazine with interests in mining and real estate.
He also served as trade minister under former president Ferdinand Marcos.
STRUCK BY LIGHTNING
Ongpin likened Duterte’s attack to being struck by lightning. The 71-year-old leader, who portrays himself as an anti-establishment hero, said oligarchs must be “destroyed” because they make money off the sufferings of the poor.
“I don’t know what the intention was. I have no clue why it happened. I don’t know who fed him with all of the falsehoods, but he did make the statement and he is the President of the country,” he said.
On the night of August 3, when Duterte singled him out as an oligarch, Ongpin he had just come out of a meeting with the PhilWeb board, wherein they agreed to build a rehabilitation center to support the President’s war on drugs.
The facility will be built in Quezon province, near Balesin Island where Ongpin owns an exclusive beach club. The PhilWeb Board agreed to allocate P100 million a year for rehabilitation centers, he said.
“I have been very supportive of the president's very serious drive against drug pushers, durg lords,” he said.
“I hope the PhilWeb board, if PhilWeb continues to exist, will continue this program,” he added.