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Obituary

Philippine central bank chief Espenilla dies from cancer

Governor raised interest rates five times in 2018 to fight inflation

Philippine Central Bank governor Nestor Espenilla died Saturday after undergoing treatment for cancer for more than a year, the bank announced.      © Reuters

MANILA -- The Philippine central bank governor, Nestor Espenilla, a career banker who rose through the ranks to reach the top, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 60.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) in a statement early Sunday morning said Espenilla died peacefully surrounded by his family on Saturday after battling cancer for over a year. President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Espenilla BSP governor in July 2017 and he would have served until 2023. He is survived by his wife, Maria Teresita, and two sons.

As central bank governor, he raised the Philippines’ interest rates to their highest levels in 10 years after disruptions on the supply side raised inflation to nearly a decade high, breaching the central bank’s 2-4% target range. The BSP carried out five straight rate hikes in 2018 to 4.75%, or an increase of 150 basis points, after keeping monetary policy steady for nearly four years.

In a special meeting, the BSP’s monetary board appointed Deputy Governor Almasara Cyd Tuano-Amador as the central bank’s officer-in-charge until Duterte appoints a successor.  

Espenilla joined the BSP in 1981, a year after completing a business economics degree at the University of the Philippines. He later finished a master’s degree at the Graduate Institute of Policy Studies in Tokyo in 1988. He built a career around banking supervision and regulation and is widely credited for introducing reforms to the financial sector such as allowing the entry of foreign lenders.

Espenilla vowed continuity in the BSP’s key mandates of keeping inflation under control and maintaining the soundness of Philippine banks. He succeeded Amado Tetangco, also a career central banker who served out two six-year terms.

Espenilla championed financial inclusion in a country where only a tenth of the population has bank accounts and 52.8 million adults do not maintain formal accounts with financial institutions. The BSP said last year only 22.6% of Filipino adults maintained a formal account with banks and other lenders.

He also led the digitization of the country’s retail payment system to make the country’s financial system more efficient. Over 90% of Filipinos still pay in cash.

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