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RPT-Philippines' Duterte picks central bank 'co-pilot' for smooth economic take-off
May 9, 2017 / 12:32 AM / 7 months ago

RPT-Philippines' Duterte picks central bank 'co-pilot' for smooth economic take-off

(Repeats for Asian timezone. No change to text.)

By Karen Lema

MANILA, May 8 (Reuters) - New Philippines central bank chief Nestor Espenilla will bring monetary policy clout and a background in banking supervision to help steady a fast-growing economy that faces big changes.

Appointed on Monday by President Rodrigo Duterte, the 58-year-old known as “Nesting” is a 36-year veteran of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. He is regarded as the driving force behind many of the reforms that have helped make the Philippines banking sector among the region’s healthiest.

Espenilla’s promotion caps a steady climb through the BSP ranks, starting in the 1980s as a debt analyst while still at university before moving into banking supervision. He became assistant governor in 2002, then deputy governor in 2005.

Current governor Amando Tetangco will step down in July after having served the maximum two six-year terms.

In Espenilla, the Philippines gets an inside man to keep prices in check and manage growth while the president embarks on a multi-billion-dollar “Dutertenomics” infrastructure splurge to drive the economy amid an uncertain global outlook.

“One could say that Espenilla has served as co-pilot of governor Tetangco as he helped the country navigate through the different financial crises faced by the country and the region,” Duterte’s spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.

As deputy governor in charge of banking supervision, Espenilla has steered through initiatives to raise minimum capital requirements, boost financial transparency and overhaul mismanaged banks.

Co-workers describe him as intuitive, humble and a team player who learns fast and is willing to compromise.

“He’s not after personal glory, he’s low-key and very results-oriented,” said Felipe Medalla, a member of the monetary board. “He has unquestionable integrity, he’s a great leader and he’s unflappable.”

Espenilla, who counts 10-pin bowling and golf among his hobbies, told Reuters in March that his main priority would be to ensure inflation stayed low, while speeding up “equitable growth”.

“If inflation is low but the impact is limited because of various structural roadblocks, then I don’t think our work is anywhere near complete, so we need to constantly focus on this,” said the father of three.

Espenilla joined the central bank shortly after graduating magna cum laude in business economics from the University of the Philippines. He studied for a Masters degree in business administration while working full-time in his first job.

He is a member of various central bank committees, including the high-level BSP Advisory Committee on Monetary Policy, which helps shape economic policy and, internationally, chairs the Basel Consultative Group Workstream on Financial Inclusion. He is also the central bank’s representative to the global policy forum for financial inclusion of the G-20.

In his book “Central banking for Every Juan and Maria”, Ignacio Bunye, a former monetary board member, described Espenilla as “bold and innovative” and someone who “pushes himself to the limit”.

“While he is known to be a good speaker, he prefers to be low-key and enjoys cooking for his family more than doing public speaking engagements,” he wrote. (Editing by Martin Petty and Catherine Evans)

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