I always wondered how the Asian Development Bank (ADB) got to be located in Manila until I read this article. Incidentally, the person responsible for this, Cornelio Balmaceda is a distant uncle of mine from my mother side as well as the writer.
One of the biggest events to be hosted by the Aquino administration is the 45th annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) from May 2 to May 5 this year. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima has dubbed the event as the country’s “coming out opportunity to showcase the dividends of good governance and its role in building an economy.”
Perhaps this is an appropriate time to look back and ask some questions: Why was Manila chosen over Tokyo as the permanent site for ADB headquarters? The principal international financial institutions in the world, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, not surprisingly, are located in the United States.
One would think that the ADB would be located in Tokyo in recognition of Japan’s leading economic role in Asia. But it was Manila that got the nod as the site for ADB headquarters.
Who brought about this amazing development that saw the capital of a developing nation chosen as the home of the leading financial institution in this part of the world?
Cornelio Balmaceda was commerce and industry secretary during the administration of President Diosdado Macapagal. In December 1963 at the First Ministerial Conference on Asian Economic Cooperation, Balmaceda was elected chairman of the gathering. On the fourth day of deliberations, the conference adopted a resolution putting forth the principles and objectives of Asian cooperation. The resolution called for the establishment of an Asian Development Bank.
In March 1965, the 31st Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) session held in Wellington, New Zealand, approved a resolution “to set up a high level consultative committee of experts designated by nine regional member governments, to advise and assist in the formulation of measures for the establishment of the Bank.”
A month later, the Philippine government designated Secretary Balmaceda as the Philippine representative to this nine-nation Consultative Committee. At the opening meeting of the group, he was elected chairman and declared, “It is the considered view of my government that the establishment of a regional bank for Asia and the Far East is one of the most significant and important, if not the most significant and important undertaking, that ECAFE has ever launched during its 18 years of existence. My government is giving its full support and is prepared to cooperate to the fullest extent in bringing about the successful establishment of the proposed Asian Development Bank.”
C.S. Krishna Moorthi, representative of India in the Consultative Committee, had this to say about Balmaceda: “The proposed bank when it comes into being will owe a lot to Mr. Cornelio Balmaceda who has served its cause over the last three years, with zest and with confidence despite earlier hesitation from some countries; we would like to record our warm appreciation of his services to the cause.”
U Nyun, executive secretary of ECAFE, spoke on the work of the Consultative Committee under “the able and distinguished leadership of his Excellency, Secretary Cornelio Balmaceda of the Philippines.” He said, “We are most grateful to the Chairman and members of the Consultative Committee for performing this difficult task and carrying the work forward to the present stage of completion.”
In an article before the voting was conducted for the site of ADB, Balmaceda explained why he believed that it should be Manila:
“The selection of the location of the headquarters of ADB will be based on the conditions obtaining in the proposed site that are most conducive to the smooth and successful operation of the Bank and the attainment of its objectives.
“This is what the Consultative Committee had in mind when it approved the recommendation of the committee of experts, that the location must meet certain requirements, namely, accessibility, availability of financial institutions, convertibility of local currency, acceptable living conditions, willingness of the host country, and existence of other UN agencies.
“It is not therefore, the amount of subscription that a country can put in that will be considered in determining the location of the Bank, nor the extent of economic development that it has already attained.
“The primary objective of the Bank is to help accelerate the economic development of the developing countries in Asia. To accomplish this, the Bank must not only know the hardships, problems and dreams of these countries, but must also look at these hardships, problems and dreams through the eyes of these countries. The Bank must therefore be located in a developing country.”
The Philippines, led by Balmaceda, waged a relentless campaign among Asian countries to have Manila chosen as the ADB site and was able to get the pledge of support from eight countries: China, Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ceylon, Malaysia and Thailand.
On Dec. 2, 1965, in the third and final balloting, Manila won by one vote over Tokyo as the permanent site of the Asian Development Bank.
Balmaceda received congratulatory messages from local and foreign government leaders for the work he had done that led to the establishment of the ADB and consequent selection of Manila as the site of the ADB headquarters.
Eugene Black, former president of the World Bank, wrote Balmaceda to express his appreciation “for all that you did to make the Asian Development Bank conference a success.”
Former Justice Roman Ozaeta of the Philippine Bar Association also sent a similar message: “I congratulate you for your excellent performance as Chairman of the Ministerial Conference on Asian Economic Cooperation, and for your signal achievement in securing Manila as the site of the Asian Development Bank. . . . the entire nation owes you a profound debt of gratitude.”
On Dec. 28, 1965, Balmaceda was awarded the Presidential Award of Merit by President Macapagal. In a handwritten note before leaving the presidency, Macapagal paid tribute to his former Cabinet member, saying: “Your crowning achievement was the establishment of the Asian Development Bank in the Philippines. Posterity will remember you as one of the great administrators in our government and as one of our greatest citizens.”
In May 1966, Takeshi Watanabe, representative of Japan in the Consultative Committee (later elected president of ADB) said: “It is impossible to pay tribute to all who worked very hard on this common endeavor. But I don’t think you have any objection to mention particularly the name of Mr. Cornelio Balmaceda.”
In 1966 under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, Balmaceda was appointed special adviser to the president on ADB affairs. He was also elected chairman of the 14-nation Committee on Preparatory Arrangements for the establishment of the ADB. When the ADB went into operation, he was named the Philippines’ first alternate director of the bank.
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Balmaceda passed away 30 years ago in April 1982. Several years later, my cousin Gloria Balmaceda-Gozum published a book “Cornelio Balmaceda—A Legacy of Honor and Integrity.” It contains memoirs, articles and speeches of her father, including accounts of events that led to the establishment of the ADB. She saw her father as “a man who never forgot his beginnings and who treasured his parents and his family. He was a brilliant man, but a humble one who preferred to keep his pride and joy in his achievements to himself.”
Each time I pass by the ADB building in the Ortigas Center, I am reminded of Tata Cornelio and how easily we forget the work of a few good men who place service to country above personal glory.