February 26, 2019 – Philippine Central Bank Governor Nestor Espenilla died last Saturday, February 23, 2019 after battling cancer. He was 60 years old.
In early 2018, Mr. Espenilla had an indefinite leave after disclosing his battle with tongue cancer. Sometime after, he sent a message to the press saying he was cancer-free. The cancer, however, has returned, prompting the BSP governor to take another medical leave as well as a trip to get treatment abroad.
Three Decades at the Central Bank
Mr. Espenilla started his career at the central bank (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas – BSP) as a debt analyst in 1981. He rose through the career ladder and in 2005, was appointed as Deputy Governor for Supervision and Examination Sector under then-BSP head Amando Tetangco Jr. Both Mr. Espenilla and Mr. Tetangco got reappointed in their posts in 2010 during then-President Benigno S. Aquino III’s term. Mr. Espenilla also sat at the Anti-Money Laundering Council on Mr. Tetangco’s behalf.
Financial Inclusion Initiatives
Mr. Espenilla led the establishment of the National Retail Payment System, a framework that will be used for the country’s gradual shift from cash payments to electronic cash payments. Finally, he was appointed as BSP governor in 2017 by President Rodrigo Duterte.
In an article about his passing, Bloomberg has noted Mr. Espenilla’s initiative to “champion financial inclusion programs, such as the use of electronic wallets and better credit access for farmers and rural entrepreneurs”.
Landmark Circular No. 944
It was during his tenure as governor when cryptocurrencies obtained mainstream discussion status, especially during its latest peak popularity in late 2017. The BSP issued Circular No. 944 in February 2017, a landmark circular even among the world’s central banks, which requires businesses engaged in the exchange of cryptocurrency for equivalent fiat money to register with the central bank as a remittance and transfer company.
Regulation That Does Not Stifle Innovation
In a speech last March 2018, Gov. Espenilla said that while the BSP does not endorse cryptocurrencies as mediums of exchange and as investment vehicles, its regulatory approach towards them are balanced, open, and flexible. In this way, the market is allowed to promote financial innovation and for the industry to take advantage of its benefits and efficiencies. (Read: BSP Director Describes the Myths and Truths about Cryptocurrencies)
Under his tenure, the BSP has approved 7 firms as licensed virtual currency exchange companies. (Read: (Updated Dec. 2018) List of Licensed Virtual Currency Exchanges in the Philippines)
A week before he passed away, President Duterte signed into a law an act strengthening the BSP’s capacity to pursue its price and financial stability mandate which it needs at this time of economic growth and increased sophistication of the financial system.
This article first appeared on BitPinas: Philippines Central Bank Governor Who Pushes For Financial Inclusion, Electronic Cash Initiatives, Dies at 60