The Senate honors Cornelio Balmaceda | Inquirer Opinion

The Senate honors Cornelio Balmaceda

Some 45 years after Manila became home to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Senate adopted a resolution sponsored by Sen. Franklin M. Drilon, recognizing the role of Cornelio Balmaceda, secretary of commerce and industry, in the establishment of the ADB headquarters in the Philippines.

In simple ceremonies held at the Senate session hall, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile presented to the members of the Balmaceda family—Virginia B. Castro, Gloria B. Gozum, and Rosemarie B. Lazaro, accompanied by spouses Antonio Gozum and Manuel Lazaro—Senate Resolution 85:


“WHEREAS, vested with the honor of hosting the ADB on their own soil, the Filipino People owe a debt of gratitude to former Secretary Balmaceda for his nationalistic efforts and impeccable diplomatic poise at that time and an even more profound debt for his services afterwards, including, but not limited to, his functions as Special Adviser to the President on ADB affairs, Chairman of the 14-Nation Committee on Preparatory Arrangements for the establishment of the ADB and the Philippines’ first Alternate Director of ADB. Now, therefore, be it:

“RESOLVED, by the Senate of the Philippines, to recognize former Commerce and Industry Secretary Cornelio Balmaceda, for his selfless and able representation of the Philippines in several important capacities leading to the establishment of the Asian Development Bank as well as his invaluable role in the location of the ADB headquarters in the Philippines.”


* * *

Still on the subject of ADB headquarters, last week, I received a letter from an old friend, Rodolfo Romero. He pointed out two items, saying they were “not in accord with my own recollection of the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Asian Development Bank and the choice of Manila as the location of the bank’s headquarters.

“The first is that the final candidates for the location of the regional financial institution’s headquarters were not Manila and Tokyo. Rather, the candidates were Manila and Teheran…. Thanks to the effective, all-out campaign of then-outgoing President Diosdado Macapagal… Manila narrowly edged out Teheran in the final vote. Thus it was Teheran, not Tokyo, that Manila triumphed over.

“The same review of the contemporary press reports and commentaries will yield the information that Tokyo was not in the running for the location of ADB headquarters.”

It is always a pleasure to hear from friends and I wish to thank Rod for his inputs on this issue.

Allow me to address the points he raised by a brief review of the patterns in the three votes that took place during the meetings held to decide ADB’s location.

There were 18 countries in the voting.


First ballot: Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore had one vote each. The Philippines had three votes (Philippines, China and Vietnam). Iran had four votes (Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Ceylon). Japan, the leading contender, had eight votes (Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal and Korea).

From these initial results, one could say that Japan was definitely interested in the site for ADB headquarters.

Prior to the second ballot, Iran’s chief delegate Dr. Alikhani suggested to Balmaceda, the Philippines’ head delegate, that whoever of the two would get a bigger vote in the second ballot would be supported by the other in the third. With this agreement, Balmaceda, assisted by men of the incoming Marcos administration (Ferdinand Marcos had just won the presidential elections and was the president-elect), went to work on three countries Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, that had only one vote each.

Thailand was the first to move to the Philippine side. Balmaceda now went to see the chief delegate of Singapore who was staying at the Filipinas Hotel.

Jess Bustamante, a reporter with the Philippine Herald, wrote an interesting and amusing article on this meeting. It was titled, “Here’s the True ADB Story.”

“Close Guarding.

“The following morning at 8 a.m., November 30, Balmaceda went to see the head delegate of Singapore who was then booked at the Filipinas Hotel. The secretary had to cool his heels at the hotel’s dining room for 45 minutes before the official finally sent word that he was ready to see him. On his way up, the secretary, accompanied by Manuel Collantes, knocked at the wrong door. It was that of the Thailand chief delegate.

“Afterwards, they proceeded to the hotel’s old wing where at Room 510 the Singapore chief delegate was waiting for them.”

The secretary’s line of argument was that since the first ballot showed that Singapore had only one vote, he then asked for support of the Philippine bid. After some discussion, the Singapore delegate said, “I’ll give my vote but don’t tell Malaysia.”

Balmaceda “next worked on the Malaysian chief delegate at the Bayview Hotel. (In those days, Filipinas and Bayview were the best hotels in Manila.—RGF) The delegate said that he would give the Philippine request serious thought. The following Wednesday, he sent word that he would help the Philippines.”

As a result of Balmaceda’s personal, face-to-face diplomatic efforts, the second ballot had the following results:  Philippines—six (Philippines, China, South Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore); Iran continued to have the same four votes, and Japan kept its eight votes.

At the third balloting, the Philippines, bolstered by the Iran bloc of votes as provided for in the earlier agreement, got nine votes. (Philippines, China, South Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ceylon, Malaysia, and Thailand.) Japan continued to hold onto its eight votes. Surprisingly, Singapore abstained. The final candidates were the Philippines and Japan, with the Philippines winning by a margin of one vote: 9 to 8.

To my mind, the key maneuver that led to the eventual victory of the Philippines over Japan was the agreement between Iran and the Philippines to support each other after the second balloting. Had Singapore voted for Japan in the third and final balloting, a deadlock would have resulted with the Philippines and Japan holding nine votes each. Anything could have happened after that.

* * *

One last word.

In a feature article on Cornelio Balmaceda, “The Seeds of Progress He Sowed,” columnist Ricardo Malay wrote in the Manila Chronicle on Sept. 13, 1996: The younger generations may not know that once in the past, there were gentle souls like Cornelio Balmaceda who gave public service an irreproachable meaning…. A gentleman of the old school, his life is a constant reminder that few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.

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