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Don Albino, The Elder SyCip, A Profile of a Filipino-Chinese
Ek-ek
post Aug 6 2004, 01:10 AM
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Don Albino, The Elder SyCip
by Ricardo Liong


It is not often that I have a chance to write about a prisoner in the Muntinlupa Penitentiary. In 1942, the Japanese Imperial Army imprisoned Don Albino Z. SyCip, together with George Dee Sekiat and others, for anti-Japanese activities under the American's Commonwealth Government. I learned later that T.S. Wang, his subordinate who studied in Japan and was fluent in Japanese, worked for SyCip's release.
One of the earliest Filipino-Chinese admitted to the Bar in 1913, he started his career as a lawyer. In recognition for his effort in winning a U.S. Supreme Court case, SyCip was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by his alma mater, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The case involved the controversial Bookkeeping Act passed by the Commonwealth Government requiring all businessmen to keep their books of accounts in either Spanish or English -- languages that the Chinese then were unfamiliar.

While his friends and contemporaries addressed him as Don Albino, other called him as Dr. SyCip. His close Chinese friends fondly referred him by his Chinese name as "Bin-lo" or "Bino". As chairman of the bank, SyCip was serious and formal. He expressed his joy only with a simple smile and I had not heard him laugh audibly in public. His friends said he operated his bank in the same manner as he walked -- carefully and steadily.

I first met Don Albino in his mid-60s in 1953 when fresh from high school I joined China Banking Corporation as an apprentice. He personally met all the new staff and interviewed other higher-ranking recruits. SyCip with Dee C. Chuan, the lumber magnate, founded the bank in the 1920s. No taller than five feet or heavier than 100 pounds, he sported a crew cut and wore a pair of tortoise-shell glasses. Because of his stature he favored Western suit more than barong (the Filipino formal attire). When working in his air-conditioned office, he wore a simple light woolen sweater. Ironically, it was easy to mistake him for a pre-war Japanese. Every time I saw picture of Deng Xiao Ping, I am reminded of Don Albino for they shared much physical similarity.

Aside from the janitors, he was the first to arrive in the office after finishing his daily golf session. I had the misfortune of working in the mezzanine floor of the Chairman's office because my colleagues and I were on a daily eight-hour alert -- no horse playing, no loafing, and no fun. After four years and a commendation from my immediate superior L.L. Pan, Don Albino finally remembered me by my family name. Once he congratulated me for an outstanding task and I replied that I was only doing my duty. "I know, Liong," he said, "but not everyone is doing his duty." This showed that in spite of being confined in his room, he knew everything going on.

As he was delegating more responsibilities towards his later years, on some occasions he had the spare time to pass on to me nuggets of his wisdom. "To know people is better than to know money," he reminded me constantly in Chinese. Evidently he valued friendship more than wealth. Translating this advice into banking, he warned me to look into a person's character first before his assets. This is also an advice to curb one's greed for wealth without showing concern and compassion for others.

At a Chinese wedding dinner, the host arranged my wife and I seated next to Dr. SyCip and I learned another lesson. Carefully selecting his food in tiny portion, he explained, "Eat less so that you can eat more." By being careful with our diet, we can live longer and therefore can "eat more". In deference to his advice, that was the only full course Chinese dinner that had left me starving.

"I have never borrow a single centavo from my own bank," he proudly said to me after reviewing some past due loans. Besides being in the board of a few prestigious companies like Lepanto Mining, Don Albino dedicated his career solely to the bank. His other involvements included serving the Liberty Wells, a private foundation to provide safe drinking water for the poor, and other non-political institutions for the upliftment of the masses.

"Not one of my children is working in my bank," was his reminder to me that in his institution professionals need not compete with the boss's children. His eldest son Alexander founded his law office, David operated the Northern Motors and Washington -- the only surviving son -- started his SGV auditing firm. All were educated in public schools.

The bank staff often wondered whether it was just a coincidence that nearing election time Don Albino usually would visit correspondent banks abroad. Publicly, he did not take side on political issues but fulfilled his civic duties diligently. At all times he upheld the fiduciary nature of his profession and protected the institution from scandals while maintaining his clients' trust.

Setting an example, he demanded upright moral character and decency from his staff. There was an unwritten rule against gambling, womanizing, nightclubbing, and seeking favors from the bank's clients. It was so strict that some colleagues resorted to asking friends in placing Jai-alai and horseracing bets. Banking then was a boring profession but it provided a lifetime job if one could remain honest.

A major "vice" in Dr. SyCip's life was golf and the minor one being smoking. He had the distinction of accumulating three "hole-in-one" at his favorite Wack-Wack Golf Club. The last was during his late seventies and the clubhouse's joke referred to it as the compliment of his life-long caddy.

Dr. SyCip studied under the American "Thomasites" when students caught speaking in any dialect other than English were disciplined. His education in America was another barrier to his proficiency in Tagalog. To improve his Filipino grammar and to update his vocabulary, he hired a tutor. A few senior officers initially joined him but after a month he remained as the lone student. He was then over 75.

In his twilight years, he was promoting the Golden Rule -- "Do not do to others what you would not like done to yourself." He distributed wooden rulers printed with the Golden Rule and its equivalent teachings from the Koran, Confucius' Analects, and other philosophers. As a man who followed his own teachings, Dr. Albino Zarate SyCip had truly lived up to the "Golden Rule."
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poknat
post Aug 6 2004, 02:22 AM
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So he was the founder of the famous Accounting firm!
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Ek-ek
post Aug 6 2004, 03:12 AM
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I see , that is why his name is kind of famous?
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