Central bank governor Espenilla dies after cancer battle

February 25, 2019 - 8:49 AM
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Philippine Central Bank governor Espenilla gestures during an interview with Reuters at the central bank headquarter in Pasay, metro Manila
FILE PHOTO: Philippine Central Bank governor Nestor Espenilla gestures during an interview with Reuters at the central bank headquarter in Pasay, metro Manila, Philippines October 4, 2017. (REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao/File Photo)

Central bank governor Nestor Espenilla died on Saturday after a battle with cancer, the bank said. He was 60.

Espenilla, a veteran on more than three decades at the central bank when he took over as governor in July 2017, is credited for leading a move to digitise retail payments to broaden financial inclusively in a country where a fifth of the 105 million population live in poverty.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said it was deeply saddened by the death of Espenilla, who was diagnosed with tongue cancer in late 2017 and was on leave intermittently last year. He passed away peacefully in the presence of family members, the central bank added.

The BSP Monetary Board named Deputy Governor Almasara Cyd Tuano-Amador as the interim officer-in-charge, until President Rodrigo Duterte names his own caretaker or appoints a new governor to complete the rest of Espenilla’s six-year term.

Espenilla was known for his monetary policy clout and expertise in banking supervision, driving reforms in the sector that included improving financial transparency and overhauling mismanaged lenders.

Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said Espenilla’s death was untimely.

“We express our gratitude to the man once in charge of disciplining banks for his complete devotion to his work and great service to the nation,” Panelo said in a statement.

Despite reporting initial success of treatment a year ago, Espenilla was rarely seen in public in recent months. He had received medical treatment overseas in January.

He joined the BSP in 1981 as a debt analyst while still at university before moving into the bank supervision area. He was named assistant governor in 2002 and deputy governor in 2005.

“His legacy in BSP of sound banking policies for the protection of our financial system and the economy shall live on,” Senator Richard Gordon said of Espenilla.

Another legislator, JV Ejercito, said it was a big loss of “a very competent and a level-headed government official”.

The Philippines remains one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, but policymakers had to grapple with soaring inflation last year that pushed the BSP to raise its benchmark interest rate by a total 175 basis points to 4.75 percent.

Inflation is projected to return to the central bank’s target of between 2 and 4 percent this year. The government is targeting 2019 economic growth of between 7 and 8 percent. —Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales, Karen Lema and Martin Petty; Editing by David Holmes and Himani Sarkar