Washington SyCip: What I've Learned

IMAGE www.rmaf.org.ph

There’s a lot of exercise at the airport. The airports nowadays are so huge, you take a lot of time walking.

I left Manila on a Philippine Airlines flight at 8 a.m. on Monday for Hong Kong. But the meeting was in Nanjiao, an industrial estate outside of Ghangzhou. So a car picked me up, drove me straight across the border into China. Had a meeting there, followed by a dinner. Drove back to Hong Kong, stayed there overnight at the Marriott Hotel. Then caught the 8:35 a.m. flight back to Manila the following morning. I arrived in Manila at 10:35 a.m., arrived at my office at 10:55 a.m., had a meeting at 11 a.m. and on through to the evening. And I had dinner with a good friend, Butch Dalisay.

I always tell our partners here there’s no use to set rules. To ask the staff to be in the office at 8 a.m. if you are playing golf at 9 a.m. But if you are here at 7 a.m., then you don’t have to have any rules. In developing nations, the example of leadership is critical.

You know I enjoy my work because I learn a lot myself. So, to my mind, as long as you are improving your knowledge, it is interesting. So I don’t consider work as a bothersome and a worrisome thing.

In fact, recently, your mother taught me how to wear a pair of jeans and I was thinking how much money I could have saved from fifty years worth of traveling if I learned about jeans earlier in my life.


I am quite involved in microfinance, PinoyME (Micro Enterprise) and many other things. I’m trying to learn something more about rural health. Because I think that is the third item that will decrease the number of people who are poor.

In any emerging market, there is so much to do. So you can be relaxing if you want to and do nothing. But here (in the Philippines) you have a certain conscience because we haven’t solved the poverty problem yet, too much political democracy, when we needed more economic freedoms before political democracy.

I think when you have a nation where people are still poor, democracy is not necessarily the best form of government.

All those countries that have moved ahead had economic freedom ahead of political freedom. Then as the economy went up, income level rose, people didn’t have to sell their votes, democracy started.

The first year of Martial Law under Marcos, our growth rate jumped to 9.4 percent. It was higher than any other year in Philippine modern history. So it shows that once you have discipline, it works. I think people at that time began following traffic rules.

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To me, the critical thing is, how do we change the declining rate per capita spending and spend more on basic education so that no one will be illiterate in the country.

Anybody who comes to UP in a car should be paying more tuition than what he is paying now.

If, after elections, the politicians kiss and make up, then businessmen will not be concerned about endorsing a particular politician. But if the businessmen know that there will be a continuous division, then they are afraid to do anything.

We have many businessmen who could make good presidential candidates, but they don’t want to be because it may affect their business.

There are people from the poor families, when they work abroad they send the money in. So the upper income (families) are not contributing as much as they should. They get from the society but they don’t give.

My father insisted that the whole family go to public school because public schools could compete. I went to Mapa High School and Burgos Elementary School. I could compete with any La Salle or Ateneo graduate. Nowadays, you cannot. So the emphasis on a good public education so that the poor can use education as an equalizer, that’s essential. And that’s why I’m spending a lot of time on basic education. And on improving the public school system.

I remember that my father brought a constitutional case that he had lost in the Philippines to the U.S. at the time when we were still a colony. My father won the case in America— and that is the reason why my name is Washington.


When he got the cable that I was born, he was in Washington. I remember my father telling me that when he came back, having won the case, the following day (President Manuel) Quezon was at his house to congratulate him on winning the only case that Quezon had lost. At that time, people were gentlemen.

What is next for me in the next 80 years? Many more things. Maybe I will learn how to play guitar.

This article originally appeared in the January to February 2012 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.


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RJ Ledesma
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