Expert in Export
With such an illustrious career, PHILEXPORT President Sergio Ortiz-Luis has made a name for himself as an export advocate and an instrumental figure in advancements of the Philippines.
BY LOUISE NICHOLE LOGARTA
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO PERALTA, JR.
Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis Jr., president of Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PHILEXPORT), is renowned in the world of business as a key player in the trade industry. With such an illustrious career, he has made a name for himself as an export advocate and an instrumental figure in advancements of the Philippines with respect to the field.
FROM LAW TO TRADE
The son of landlords, Ortiz-Luis spent his formative years in his hometown of Cabiao in the landlocked province of Nueva Ecija. Upon finishing elementary school, he was sent to Manila to continue his studies, as was the practice at the time. Ortiz-Luis aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps, who was also a lawyer. However, the future executive ultimately thought better of it since he found the extra years of study were too long.
Among the experiences that influenced Ortiz- Luis to join the workforce instead was his first taste of employment: a part-time job in the collection department of his father’s friend’s motor company that sold a Japanese brand no longer on the market today. In college, the would-be businessman went the LIA-COM (Liberal Arts-Commerce) path, a program that afforded students a chance of graduating with two degrees. In the case of Ortiz-Luis, he took up a bachelor of science in liberal arts and a bachelor of science in business administration.
Although this resulted in an additional year to his overall stay at De La Salle University (formerly known as De La Salle College), he felt it was most suited to his decision to keep his path open to law, should he change his mind again. Eventually however, he ended up going for a Master’s in Business Administration at his alma mater as well.
He had initially wanted to join Operation Brotherhood, an overseas assistance program headed by the Philippine Junior Chamber of Commerce, but was discouraged from doing so due to the war in Southeast Asia between the early ‘60s and ‘70s. So, Ortiz-Luis was recruited as an office manager and accountant by his uncle who was operating businesses in Palawan.
“My uncle pioneered the Puerto Princesa Electric Company (now replaced by the Palawan Electric Cooperative),” he explains. “We also operated a sawmill and had logging concessions—logging was a decent livelihood at that time.” He adds that they also owned a hacienda and a ranch as well as a construction company that built many of the roads that led north and south.
Though this was far from what he studied in college, he worked his way up to general manager, years before his 30th birthday. “At night I would teach at Trinity College, a branch of [the University of Santo Tomas] run by nuns,” he reveals. “I taught apologetics (a subject melding Christian theology and philosophy) and commercial law, [particularly] obligations and contracts.” His stint at his uncle’s company came to an end when insect bites due to exposure at logging sites led him to develop an allergy that ultimately infected his kidneys. Ortiz-Luis was bedridden for some months and went back to Manila to recuperate.
“[When I was better], my uncle called on me again to manage [their latest acquisition], a textile mill in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur,” he continue. This, he says, was originally established by former president Elpidio Quirino to create additional livelihood opportunities for Ilocanos.
“I stayed [with the mill] for three years,” he says. “It was fun and I learned a lot, as much as I did in Palawan.” When Martial Law was declared, Ortiz-Luis opted to return home to Manila and joined manufacturing company Silva Pipes shortly thereafter. He later served as its vice president for administration and stayed on for eight years. In the late ‘70s, he joined his sister and brother-inlaw’s business, ERMA Industries, exporting Filipino foods, particularly kakanin (rice cake) and other sweets. They eventually branched out to export shrimp and prawns, becoming the sole supplier for Japan’s Mitsui Trading Co. “At that point in [my life], I was happy with what I was doing,” he notes.
RISING TO THE TOP
They ventured further out and he later served as president of an enterprise that produced agricultural machinery (TOA Industries), which jump-started his life in various trade associations, such as the Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers and Distributors Association (AMMDA). He had a hand in establishing Philippine Food Exporters (PHILFOODEX)—of which he is chairman— together with Clara Reyes-Lapus of Aristocrat and Mama Sita’s fame, among others. Ortiz-Luis rose to become president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) in the early 2000’s and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP).
During those years, PHILEXPORT and the Confederation of Philippine Exporters (COPE) were the two main competitors in the export arena. The government decided that the country should have a single unified export organization, under the newlycrafted Export Development Act of 1994 (EDA), which mandated the government to undertake efforts for export development.
“The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) compelled COPE and PHILEXPORT to join together,” he narrates.
Today, PHILEXPORT is the umbrella organization for the country’s exporters, whose goal it was to cultivate “sustainable export-led national growth and development.”
In the late 1980s, the country’s main challenges were the exchange rate, as the Philippines was under dollar control, and certain export policies were inefficient, such as expensive shipping tariffs and packaging materials.
The EDA gave rise to the Export Development Council, composed of nine Cabinet members and nine private sector members nominated by PHILEXPORT, to address these shortcomings. The body was empowered to implement the Philippine Export Development Plan and craft reforms in aid of it. According to Ortiz-Luis, PHILEXPORT was instrumental in the ratification of the Philippines as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO); the passage of mining laws in the country; and the introduction of the barcoding system. He added that they received help from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in the form of facilities that enabled them to conduct economic studies and provide grants.
He also reported that they supported the franchise sector, undertaking studies and employing experts in the industry to build a national franchise association. Ortiz-Luis was involved as well in the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) initiative that aimed to invigorate trade, investments and tourism within the region and to utilize clean energy technologies in various economic activities. He related that they too had hosted the first Exporter’s Congress in Davao City, where incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte was the newly-elected mayor. About 2,000 participants were welcomed in from all over the world, quickly filling all available accommodations in the city. Ortiz-Luis recalled that Duterte had even opened up some houses and eyed bringing in two boats from Australia to house export officials.
Apart from his firm entrenchment in PHILEXPORT, Ortiz-Luis has numerous other affiliations that impact trade, among them the Philippine Bamboo Council, Industry Development Council and the National Competitiveness Council.
He also serves as Honorary Consul General in the Consulate of Romania in the Philippines, Dean of the Consular Corps of the Philippines and Honorary Adviser of the International Association of Educators for World Peace.
Among his civic roles include Captain of the Philippine Coastguard Auxiliary, Director of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Phils., and Chairman of the Rotary Club of Green Meadows Foundation.
Unsurprisingly, Ortiz-Luis has garnered many accolades. Most recently, he received Manager of the Year Award from the Oxford-based Europe Assembly. In 2019, he received the Sino Phil Asia International Peace Award. Years before, he had received the Gawad Parangal ng Rizal in Entrepreneurship, the ICCP Global Excellence Award and Business Leadership Award. Asked what principles he lived by that guided him throughout his life’s work, he said: “The important thing is to gain the people’s confidence, [that of] your peers and people working under you. You need to let them know you are not working against them, instead you are working for their interest. You must also be reliable and trustworthy especially if you are given access to money.”
As the world enters its third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ortiz-Luis remains somewhat optimistic.
“There is no way but up when you are really this down,” he says. He believes that the government should refrain from implementing lockdowns to avoid further losses. “It will get better, medyo mabagal nga lang (but it’s just a little slow),” he added. At present, Ortiz-Luis plans to back current laws that will help the export industry and ensure that the country takes steps to evolve into an exporting nation. “[Gusto kong] makatulong sa ([I want to] help with the) development ng country as well as employment,” he shares. Asked what his goal in life is, he declares: “I want to be sure whatever legacy I have built ay huwag lang masira (is not destroyed).” “I want to preserve that for my children to be proud of.”