Before joining Metrobank Foundation, Inc. (MBFI) in 1995, Aniceto ''Chito'' Sobrepeña was in public service for 22 years, 16 of which were spent working at the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). He served as President Corazon Aquino's Cabinet Secretary, where, among other functions, he administered the President's Social Fund, a $1 million-a-month facility of Malacañang in support of small infrastructure and livelihood projects of NGOs and people's organizations. He served as Deputy Director-General of NEDA until 1995, under the term of Pres. Fidel Ramos. He has been with MBFI for over 16 years now. Under his stewardship, the Foundation has implemented a wide array of CSR programs in the key sectors of education, visual arts, healthcare, the judiciary, police and military, and grant-making to various socio-civic and charitable institutions in the country and the Asia-Pacific Region. Since 1995, MBFI has garnered three international awards and more than 40 awards from public affairs organizations and government bodies.
Chito Sobrepeña graduated cum laude with a degree in Political Science from the Ateneo de Manila University, has a Certificate in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines, and a Masters in Development Economics from Williams College in Massachusetts, USA. In this interview with Business Agenda, the energetic private sector leader, all of 59 years old, talks about his achievements, his drive, and his thoughts on the country and the current government.
Business Agenda: You have been serving the country and the private sector for more almost four decades now. What would you consider your top three achievements thus far?
Chito Sobrepeña: One is serving the government, especially as the youngest Cabinet member of Tita Cory, helping in policy-making and program implementation, serving in the Office of the President during that time of transition and restoration of democracy. Two is pushing the Metrobank Foundation to where it is now-from a two-program foundation in 1995 to one with more than 10 major programs now, working with an annual budget of P100 million. We have made MBFI one of the most visible and respected CSR institutions in the country. Three is being able to maintain work-life balance-maintaining a happy marriage with three successful children and serving my Catholic Christian covenant community.
BA: Which among your awards do you value most and why?
CS: I'll name three. The first two are the back-to-back Grand Anvil awards from the PR Society of the Philippines for Metrobank Foundation, in 2008 and 2009. No other corporate foundation has done that. The third is having been the first NGO winner of the Agora Award from the Philippine Marketing Association, this time for advocacy marketing. Our awards have always been trailblazing.
BA: For Metrobank Foundation, what was your main goal coming in as president in 2005?
CS: The main goal has always been implementing the vision of Metrobank Group Chairman and Founder George S.K.Ty. He's the vision, I'm the implementation, the deepening. Mr. Ty is the main funder-he'd like to make good money as a banker, but he wants to share it with the community. On the bank's 50th year this year, I was made overall Chairman of the Metrobank Golden Anniversary Committee. We have three groups to celebrate and thank: our clients, our employees, and the country and community.
BA: What drives your service/CSR bent or orientation?
CS: I had been an activist in college. And I grew up in a farming community, in San Jose, Nueva Ecija; I also come from a land-owning family. In Ateneo, I was exposed to the teachings of Dean Jeremias Montemayor, whose Christian social philosophy teaches that God's blessings are ours to share, and who was an exponent of agrarian reform. I am an adherent of sharing property. After graduation, I wanted to work in government, so I joined NEDA doing developmental work. In Malacañang, we were handling the President's Social Fund. And when I moved to the private sector, I obviously wanted to continue helping the poor and the marginalized sector.
BA: How would you assess the government's economic policies in general? Any praises or frustrations?
CS: The present administration is providing a policy environment that allows businesses to grow. It has a very clear macroeconomic framework. The Metrobank Group will continue to invest and assist in this critical period. I'm also very happy that the government is focused on the poorest of the poor through the CCT, the Conditional Cash Transfer. Also, the educational reform of K to 12 is very strategic in making our workers globally competitive. This time is a great window of opportunity-we have a very credible president, a working cabinet. I haven't seen in all my years in government such optimism coming from foreign companies and ratings agencies, giving the country a very rosy projection that we will be joining the world's richest nations in 2015, according to an HSBC report. We should not lose this opportunity.
BA: What is a national concern or issue you currently feel strongly about and why?
CS: We need to address the problems of Metro Manila in terms of making this center of our country more livable. That covers everyday concerns we have-traffic, sprouting of too many buildings, flooding and drainage...these are important concerns that the private sector and government should focus on. There needs to be somebody in charge of coordinating. As Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala said, we have to make our metropolis breathe.
BA: What stamp or legacy do you see yourself leaving behind when you retire?
CS: I think this is my retirement job. I want to leave the idea of being a leader...Be a leader in mobilizing people to be socially responsible, enjoining the movers and shakers to be responsible citizens.
BA: What's in store for Metrobank Foundation in the next few years?
CS: Mr. Ty has given a new endowment of P1 billion to the GT-Metro Foundation, to cover five years. The challenge is to find worthy projects to finance, to make it cost-effective. The challenge is to have focus, to find the right beneficiaries, to spend the money wisely so we can stretch the peso. Some of the Foundation's future directions are engaging in financial literacy programs for Metrobank's employees and overseas Filipino workers and their dependents. MBFI is very active in addressing the nation's problems. It is not just a philanthropic organization, it's a development organization. We want the donation of George Ty to really help this nation.