Ben Punongbayan was born and raised in Tondo, Manila by poor parents. Both his parents attended only an elementary level of education. His father worked on his own and engaged in contracting work for sewing and installing canvass roofing for jeepneys and building seats for jeepneys and calesas. It was a hand-to-mouth existence and it was always a struggle to feed and cloth eight children. Necessarily, Ben, the first-born, and the other older children helped whenever his father was able to get a job. To augment the family income, Ben, until he was in second year high school, and his second-born brother, hawked newspapers and Tagalog magazines and comics in the streets of Tondo.
Ben finished high school, with honorable mention, at Torres High in Gagalangin, Tondo. He very much wanted to enroll at the University of the Philippines where many of his classmates went for higher education. But because of inadequate resources, he went instead to an affordable school, Philippine College of Commerce (PCC; now Polytechnic University of the Philippines) for a two-year associate in commercial science course. After one year, at age 17, he found a job as a cable clerk and later as a teletype operator in a telegraph company. While working, he finished his course at PCC and graduated with Highest Honors. He continued his college education as a working student at Far Eastern University (FEU), where he was a consistent scholar. After two years, he obtained his bachelor’s degree and soon after he took the CPA examinations. He obtained the third highest grade and became a CPA in 1959.
Right after graduation from FEU in 1958, and before taking the CPA examinations, he changed job and moved to SGV to apply his accounting knowledge. That was the start of his long career in public accounting.
Ben did very well at SGV and, as a result, he was chosen as an SGV scholar for Master of Business Administration (MBA) studies in the U.S. He studied at the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his MBA in 1969, he worked for a year with an international accounting firm in New York and then went back to Manila in 1970 to resume his work with SGV.
While in the United States, Ben met his future wife, Evelyn, and married her in 1971 in Manila.
Shortly after Ben returned to Manila, he was assigned to go to Malaysia to assist in the development of SGV’s affiliate in that country. Ben was successful in helping develop the Malaysian practice and the Malaysian firm became one of the leading accounting firms in that country. But Ben thought that his future lies in the Philippines and he decided to return to the country in 1976.
From Ben’s point of view, that period in early 1970’s (and before that in the 1960’s) was the golden years of Filipinos abroad. Ben and his other Filipino colleagues at SGV who fanned out in other countries in Asia, and other Filipinos who were similarly situated, held management roles and taught the local personnel in developing their own skills. These Filipinos were very much respected in their places of assignment and wherever they travel around Asia. These Filipino professionals were proud to carry their Philippine label. Unfortunately, the Filipinos today have lost that respect and prestige.
True to his expectation, Ben’s return to the Philippines was very much rewarding. His abilities were quickly recognized and he rose to head SGV’s Audit Division, the major operating unit. Then came SGV’s merger with Arthur Andersen in late 1985 which brought substantial changes at SGV; and the EDSA Revolution of 1986 which changed substantially the political climate in the Philippines.
In early 1988, Ben decided to leave SGV and founded his own accounting practice, Punongbayan & Araullo (P&A), which grew quite rapidly. It started with 8 personnel and it has now grown to over 600 people. That achievement will appear much more remarkable when related to an auditing market during that period of growth that had a number of much larger competitors, particularly SGV which was huge and dominating. Also, P&A’s growth would have been much higher if not for a setback it experienced in 2002 when P&A separated from its then international affiliate, Ernst & Young, which SGV decided to join, over another alternative, when Arthur Andersen collapsed. On its part, P&A had the option to merge with SGV, but Ben and his partners eventually thought that the proposed merger was not to their interest.
P&A regained its path to high growth since 2005 and is again doing very well and has become stronger than when it left Ernst & Young. With P&A at such a strong position today, Ben decided that it is the appropriate moment to leave the accounting practice to the other partners and engage in what he had been wanting to do for some time.
Throughout his long career, Ben has been active in professional, business and civic organizations. He took a leadership role in a number of professional and civic organizations where in almost all cases he provided innovation and improvements in the delivery of service to the members of these entities. At one time, he took over the leadership of a dying professional association and brought it back to life and vigour and renewed growth. In addition, he also was elected at various times into the Board of Directors of a number of business organizations where he participated in the deliberation of many national issues.
For some time now, Ben had been wanting to get involved in the pursuit of the goals of the Filipino nation and in providing solutions to its seemingly insurmountable problems. But because he was not then ready to make a full commitment, he did not make a move. At one time, the day after Marcos left during the EDSA Revolution, he was offered the position of deputy minister in one of the government departments with an assurance that he will become the minister (secretary) of that department after several months. He wanted to take the responsibility as it would give him the opportunity to help the country. But he eventually turned down the offer because his family feared the financial dislocation that it would bring.
True to Filipino tradition, Ben became the surrogate father to his siblings when his father passed away at age 59 in 1969. Like most Filipinos in his situation, Ben extended assistance to his siblings who were less fortunate and other relatives as he considered it an obligation. He also wanted his two children to reach the educational attainment that he was able to achieve. For this reason, he encouraged his children to pursue graduate studies and both acquired MBA degrees in the U.S. in recent years.
Ben thought he is now ready, and with the consent of Evelyn and their two children, Jay and Michelle, Ben finally decided to establish Buklod in April 2009 and devote full time to the Party’s development.
Ben is convinced that the present government leadership, under existing political practices and values, can not possibly lead the nation to a path of sustained economic development, more particularly in the eradication of the long persisting poverty in the country. He is also convinced that the existing political practices and values which hinder the sustained successful development of the economy and continuously degrade the country’s important institutions will continue and persist. For this reason, any subsequent government leadership under the same circumstances will also fail. On the other hand, he also believes that an armed conflict or military take-over of the Government will not provide the solutions that the country needs.
In view of these two considerations, he believes that there is only one way, a very difficult and almost impossible way, to put the right leadership in the Philippine Government. This way is to organize a group of well-meaning Filipinos, without any previous Government involvement, into a cohesive and well-disciplined political movement and party and try to gain political power under existing rules.
If successful, this new breed of leaders will govern the Philippines in the right way, and the highest priority in their political agenda is to provide direct state intervention in the eradication of poverty in which many millions of Filipinos continue to be deeply mired. This new breed of leaders will also make changes in the political practices and values to give the future generations of Filipinos the right kind of government that they deserve.
Ben does not harbor any illusion about the extreme difficulty of achieving a successful realization of the goals of Buklod. He recognizes this reality and is prepared to work very hard to make Buklod a successful quest. He is willingly putting to test in a much bigger arena his proven organizational and leadership abilities. He also strongly believes that given the right message and the effective way of communicating it, the majority of Filipinos can be convinced about the nobleness and sincerity of the goals of Buklod and they themselves will join Buklod in the pursuit of the great cause of putting in place the right and proper government for the Filipino nation.
With due perseverance, Ben strongly feels he will be proven right.