Julian Ongpin and dad

"The matter is now up to the court to decide."


Julian Roberto S. Ongpin, 29, the son of a good friend of mine, Bobby Ongpin, is in the crosshairs of the law because of an unfortunate incident and a love affair.

On Sept. 18, 2021, Julian and his girlfriend, local artist Breanna “Bree” Jonson Agunod, had a date.  They checked into Flotsam & Jetsam Hostel in La Union.  Unfortunately, apparently high on drugs, the girl hanged herself inside their hotel room’s bathroom.  Julian tried to revive her but to no avail.

The police came, inspected the room where Julian and Bree stayed, and apparently found no reason to charge Ongpin with homicide.  The room had two beds.    On the second bed, the police found two pouches containing cocaine.

The Department of Justice conducted a preliminary investigation.  It concluded that Ongpin was in possession of the illegal drugs although these were, it admitted, “not in his actual possession.”  Ongpin has denied owning or using the drugs.  The drugs apparently belonged to the deceased Bree who carried a certification she was allowed to use drugs because of her medical condition.  The matter is now up to the court to decide.

I have known Bobby Ongpin since 1971 when I began covering the Ayala, Makati business beat. He was the young, brash, Harvard-trained management whiz kid of SGV, then the largest accounting and professional services firm west of the Mississippi.  

Later, Bobby quit SGV and became Ferdinand Marcos’s longest-serving trade and industry minister.

Though he has a few faults, I consider Bobby a good man and a great tycoon.  He saved the Philippines from financial ruin while managing the country’s precious foreign reserves in the economic crisis that engulfed the nation in 1983-85 following the Aquino assassination.  

Bobby’s younger brother, Jaime V. Ongpin, was President Corazon Aquino’s first finance minister.  Jimmy tried to restore order in Cory’s chaotic government which was riven by discord between the left and the right. Frustrated, he killed himself after 21 months in the cabinet.

I have known Julian Ongpin for the past six years.  He is what I call a good boy.  Genial and gentle of manners, he, however, sometimes could be easily beguiled and thus could get into trouble.

Young Julian Ongpin dabbles in paintings.   He has held a number of art exhibits at Ongpin’s Alphaland Tower in bustling Makati to promote young but creative artists.  The effort has not been, well, as profitable as he wished, but then something ennobling for the soul often has no price.  

The Ongpins are bearers of a proud heritage.   They have made their mark in the arts – painting, movies, literature, including writing encyclopedias, in Spanish.

Aside from love of the arts and their business savvy, the Ongpins come from generations of worthy public servants

The original Ongpin was Roman T. Ongpin, after whom the street in Binondo, in Manila was named, in 1915.  

Roman became rich, a prominent citizen, a civic leader, and was appointed Teniente General de Mestizos. He led other associations in Binondo, charitable ones, including one for disabled war veterans and another for indigent children.   He helped fund the Philippine revolution against Spain.

Roman was the great grandfather of Bobby Ongpin.  He is Julian’s great, great grandfather.

In the late 19th century, candlemaker Roman T. Ongpin, opened what is possibly Manila’s first art supplies store—El 82.   Roman (1847-1912) hobnobbed with the century’s and today’s great Filipino painters.

Julian’s great grandfather, Alfonso, a son of Roman, was an avid art collector, art historian, and art gallery (the first) owner, “Arte”.  Alfonso was the father of Roberto Ongpin’s dad, Luis.

The last time I interviewed Julian Ongpin, last January 2021, he talked with passion about his new love—entrepreneurship.  

He had put up an angel investors’ fund with a whopping P1 billion funding to incubate, accelerate, and finance startups. 

Julian Ongpin’s Angel Investors Corp. has tied up with StartUp Village, “an incubator/accelerator that enables startups to bring their unique ideas and business concepts to reality.  The goal is to help startups build disruptive technology that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or introduces a groundbreaking product that creates a completely new industry.”

Julian and dad Bobby handle the money side for the startups. The youngest head and longest serving head of Asia’s largest professional services firm SGV, Bobby can also provide fantastic advice and an awesome rolodex of contacts and network.

StartUp Village provides the technical expertise to screen qualified startups for funding and investment.

Venture capitalism, while tricky, can often yield big money. The idea is to look for an excellent product or service, a great management team, a good market, and a disruptive technology that people would die for. 

Fifteen brilliant and capable startups had been seeking funding from Julian Ongpin’s group.

If you ask Bobby Ongpin himself what to focus on, he will probably cite his favorites: High-end real estate, mining, and energy.

Bobby built Tagaytay Highlands, now the vacation and pleasure destination of the ultra rich and famous.  His Alphaland Corp. is, of course, the developer of the 494-hectare Balesin Island Club resort, described as “a private paradise for members” and “a destination of unmatched beauty” with 7.3-km of white beach.

It is so exclusive, on a busy day, you will find yourself, alone by the beach, shooting rainbows and surfing its pristine waters.

Up north, Ongpin has his Alphaland Baguio Mountain Lodges, the way the City of Pines used to be—aloft in the mountains, serene, rustic, the fragrance of pine trees wafting in the air, and breathtaking with vistas of unspoiled greenery.

Bobby is building another resort 1.5x the size of Balesin and just 25 minutes away, Patnanungan, an island and a town in Quezon province in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Called Balesin Gateway, Patnanungan will feature the best of Hong Kong, Macau and Boracay, complete with resorts, hotels, golf courses, casinos, a 24/7 international runway, and greatly expand the potential of Balesin.

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Topics: Tony Lopez , Julian Roberto S. Ongpin , Bobby Ongpin , Breanna “Bree” Jonson Agunod
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