‘Looking back, I have no regrets. ‘I’ve lived a life that’s full…I did what I had to do… the record shows…I did it my way’,” starts Bienvenido Chy borrowing some words from the iconic song “My Way”.
Bienvenido or Benjie, as he opts to be called, is currently the general manager of the Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA), an attached agency of the Department of Tourism, the main task of which is to attract retirees from abroad to consider the Philippines as their retirement destination, as well as investors’ paradise. He said he was appointed at the PRA on November 4, 2016, after 23 years of colorful career in another government agency, the Bureau of Immigration (BI).
In this piece, Chy traces down memory lane his enviable strides when he hit the quarter-of-a-century mark; tilting the windmills of lawyering for the poor or “less in life”; a dashing basketball varsity player in his college days (and, matter of fact, acclaimed three times as most valuable player [MVP]); and having rose from the ranks to become the Chief of BI’s Law and Investigation Division until his new appointment with the PRA.
BusinessMirror (BM): What have you been doing at age 25?
My teenage years were the best years of my life. I was young and I could do anything I like. I played basketball, which is my favorite sport. And so I was varsity player and won three times as MVP. Those were happy days where I could be around with my friends hopping from one place to another.
After hurdling my Liberal Arts degree, I pursued law at San Beda College. One of my classmates was Rodrigo Duterte, the current president of the Republic of the Philippines. That was 1972 and martial law was about to be declared. Things were hard then, as our study was badly affected by various protests against the government at that time. So the only thing we had in mind was to finish law and pass the bar exam.
Fortunately, I passed the bar and immediately worked as a lawyer at 25. During my practice, I was faced with many challenges because, during that time, the period of the First Quarter Storm, uncertainties were happening, student activism was raging, and human-rights violations have seen or witnessed many persons being detained. They do not have any money to pay their attorneys, and most of the time I was assigned as counsel de officio for these detained individuals. I’ve visited places of the accused and their families. I have seen and rightly reckoned that, indeed, justice can only be dispensed through the assistance of a lawyer.
Was becoming a lawyer your ultimate goal in life?
From the very start, it has already been my ambition to become a lawyer because I’ve been meeting several lawyers. Although my parents are businessman and they have a successful business, all my friends’ parents are almost lawyers. That is why I have the ambition to become one. Then I have seen how they worked—the father of Secretary Bello and other good lawyers—and I really admired their job as lawyers.
But while I was enjoying my job as a lawyer, I tried to indulge into some business in order to cope up with the hard times. There was a time when Ilagan, Isabela, Mayor Ricardo Paguirigan, having heard about what I have been doing as a lawyer for indigent clients, came to me one day and offered me a position of councilor. But I declined because I then thought I was not adept in politics. And when Edsa Revolution happened, I had a meeting with Deputy Minister Silvestre Bello who offered me to become a fiscal or prosecutor. However, while waiting for my appointment, I incidentally dropped by the Bureau of Immigration…I then thought that the BI was a much better place where I could practice my profession because I would be dealing with foreigners and, thus, be able to make use of my experience as a practicing lawyer. And the rest is history. From legal officer II, I rose from the ranks until I was appointed as chief of the BI’s law and investigation division, during which, on several occasions, I was concurrently designated as associate commissioner.
What do you consider to be your remarkable achievement during your BI stint?
As chief of BI’s law and investigation division, I was able to decongest our immigration detention cells because, at the time, there were more than 700 inmates. I was able to reduce the number to less than 200. I immediately applied those foreign detainees for their visas, and as for their tickets, I contacted their embassies so they could already leave the Philippines and go home to their respective countries.
As the head of that division, I could say I was already successful because I was able to help people from all walks of life—those with immigration problems, and also our employees at the BI whom I would always advise to avoid or shun any occasion for corruption. I stayed with the BI for 23 years and after my tenure, I put up a law office where I practiced law again, and most of my clients were in need of immigration assistance.
As the newly appointed GM for PRA, what is your vision and direction for agency?
Now that I am with the PRA, I’ve seen that we have a big potential to attract foreigners to come and retire in our country. With a retirement visa (Special Resident Retiree’s Visa or SRRV), they can permanently stay in our country with multiple exit and reentry permit. We could really promote the Philippines as a retirement haven and as investors’ paradise. When I went to Japan in November 2016 for a speaking engagement, I told my audience that it is best to retire in the Philippines for various reasons: It is more economical to retire here because of the low cost of living; at the same time, because our crime rate has drastically dropped under the Duterte administration; also because of our topnotch medical practitioners (doctors and nurses) who are admired worldwide to attend to them (retirees); we have a warm tropical climate and the best golf courses in the country; and, most important, our economy is good and our GDP keeps going up.
During my first flag ceremony as PRA chief, I announced to my staff the marching order of the President to streamline the processing time of SSRV to one week only. The processing of the retirees’ papers should be within the week of their visit so they don’t have to come back for it. So I have been encouraging our employees to work very hard to be able to stop red tape to shorten the processing period of the SSRV.
Can you please tell us more how PRA works and the benefits it gives to the country?
There are two types of retirees who are coming to our country. First, those who want to retire because of their age; and, second, are the young breed of foreigners, 35 years old and above, who, aside from retiring, want to do business in the country—they are the investors.
So, if you ask me what are the benefits, by far, the PRA has given to our government and to our country? We have two of the most successful personalities who enrolled with our retirement program. One is Huang Rulun, a 65-year-old Chinese real-estate tycoon who has donated 10,000 beds for the drug treatment and rehabilitation center in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija. The other one is Japanese casino billionaire Kazuo Okada who is behind the new Okada Manila in Parañaque. Okada would be employing some sort and 20,000 to 30,000 Filipino workers for his $2.4-billion integrated resort and casino. So, I believe the PRA can really work for the benefit not only for foreign retirees but for our countrymen, as well.
Are there challenges in your new role and how do you take them?
It’s very challenging! The mandate of the PRA is for us to showcase the Philippines as a retirement haven, that in the year 2020 we hope to become No. 1 as a retirement destination. So, my vision for PRA is to double our present membership of over 48,000 retirees or enrollees to 100,000 by year 2020. I know this is a hard task, but we would try our very best to achieve this.
Our retirees are coming from China, South Korea, Japan, India and then the rest of the world from America and the European countries. I would like to volunteer the information that the PRA, being a GOCC (government-owned and -controlled corporation), is not receiving funding from the government. But we are giving the government a part of our dividends. We intend to give a sufficient amount to help the President in his quest against corruption and criminality.
Given such gargantuan task, what made you decide to accept your appointment with the PRA?
When my classmate decided to run for the presidency, I readily volunteered to help him because, personally, I have observed that the Philippines was already quite unsuitable for living due to criminality and illegal drugs. I wanted to support Duterte’s well-meaning campaign to stop illegal drugs and graft and corruption. So when he asked me to join the PRA, I willingly agreed.
I have always known my classmate for being a stern follower of the law and staunch defender of the oppressed. I nearly became a politician myself when I was offered to become a councilor in my hometown. Had I indulged in politics, I could have done more because I could have passed some laws that are truly beneficial for the common good. But still, I have no regrets because, all the same, I’ve reached the peak of my dream as a lawyer and as a public servant—only in another field.
What advice or words of wisdom can you share for today’s generation?
Our young people today are as good and hardworking as we were before. But, during our time, we were devoid of such modern communication technology—computer, Internet, cell phones, etc.—that young people are so adept at today. We were working doubly hard in the absence of these convenient gadgets. So the millennials should take advantage of this technology and make the best out of it.
They should listen to the older ones like me, because we have gone through not only by age but by experience. They have a lot to learn from our generation. Whatever our generation may have failed or found lacking, they can improve it in their life now.