Venture Capitalist Says Engineers Are Philippines’ Best Hope

by Joseph G. Lariosa

FREMONT, California (jGLi) – Philippine-born venture capitalist Dado Banatao believes engineers and entrepreneurs are the best hope of his fatherland.

The Filipino American computer chip innovator was speaking in terms of the dreams of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal and the early American Occupiers of the Philippines,  not in leading his adopted country, which has been ruled mostly by lawyers from Manuel L. Quezon up to Ferdinand E. Marcos.


At the break of the 20th century in 1903, the United States colonial government offered scholarships to students supposedly chosen by merit from each Philippine province in what was called “pensionado” program. But in reality, local prominence and connections played a major role in the selection process. Upon their return to the Philippines, the pensionados were given promotions or better job opportunities to prop up the fledging Philippine colonial democracy, according to the book, The Filipino Americans, written by Barbara Posadas (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1999).

Banatao, the Filipino American semiconductor king of the Silicon Valley, would like to take politics out of the selection process of the scholarship programs and introduce an honor system that he and the Philippine government are rolling out for Filipino and Filipino American scholars that he anticipates as the only hope that will transform the Philippines into a developed country that can rival India as a technology powerhouse.

“Only the best and the brightest of engineers can transform the Philippines if they are given the opportunity to practice their profession in the Philippines,” Mr. Banatao, described as the “Bill Gates” of the Philippines, told this reporter Oct. 18 in an interview in one of his groups of companies, Ikano’s Communications, Inc., in the heart of the Silicon Valley.


Never minding that the scholars could end up being a “brain drain” for the Philippines, the 65-year-old boyish-looking computer chip genius said, “We will lose some of them but majority will go back after they are properly trained and go beyond teaching by creating an economy and finally creating technology-based products and creating for economic development for the academe. That is the long-term thesis that we are doing.”

Banatao, who is reported to own two private jets that he pilots and drives a Porsche sports car and once earned and lost $350 millions in a single day at the U.S. stock market, describes himself as “a venture capitalist. We invest at a very risky stage of startup. I have been in this business for 16 years.” But in funding 22 to 25 scholars out of the Banatao (Family) Fil Am Education Fund, he believes investing in human capital is always a win-win proposition.

“These Fil Am scholars are studying in top engineering schools like the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Cal Tech (California Institute of Technology), his alma mater (in masters degree in Engineering, Stanford University), Berkeley (University of California in Berkley.” Banatao gushed, “These are very bright young Fil Ams going into engineering. We’ve been doing this for the last ten years. We bring in five new scholarship every year and we have quite few graduates after four years from engineering schools.”


He added that as part of his family’s philanthropic endeavors, he and his wife, Maria, funded the College of Engineering of UC Berkeley thru the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), dealing with the world’s technology problem for the last ten years.

Mr. Banatao, a native of Iguig, Cagayan in the Philippines and a cum laude engineering graduate of Mapua Institute of Technology, also has 40 scholars in the Philippines, mostly in engineering.

While there is “brain drain,” there is also going to be technology transfer in engineering in the Philippines. Mr. Banatao, whose full name is Diosdado but prefers to be called simply as “Dado,” was able to convince former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) to let the Philippine government sponsor engineering scholars attend graduate schools to become masters and Ph. D.’s by appropriating 5-billion pesos (US$116-M) for three years. “We have scholars all over the world, a lot of them in the U.S. and in Asia during the last five years.

“So, when the new president (Noynoy Aquino) took power, we discussed with him if he can continue the scholarship program of GMA and President Aquino came aboard by funding it another 5-billion pesos for the next five years.”


Some research institutes are going to be put in place in the Philippines so these engineers would have a place to put their knowledge to work and will be put into the university system to teach. We don’t have a lot of Ph. D’s teaching in the Philippines. Ideally, every professor must have a Ph. D. to teach science and engineering.” he said.

Out of the 15 Philippine presidents, nine of them were lawyers, one was a third year high school student (Emilio F. Aguinaldo), two economic graduates (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and incumbent President Noynoy Aquino), a bachelors degree holder major in French (Cory Aquino), a student in mechanical engineering ending up with a commerce degree (Ramon F. Magsaysay), a student of engineering but dropped out (Joseph E. Estrada) and a graduate of West Point Academy with masters in civil engineer (Fidel V. Ramos).

An article in the Economist in April 2009 said that while there was prevalence of lawyers in America’s ruling elite, the leaders of China are riddled with engineers, headed by President Hu, a hydraulic engineer, Hu’s predecessor, Jiang Zemin, an electrical engineer, the Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, geological engineering, and eight of the nine members of China’s Communist Party’s Politburo’s standing committee are eight engineers while the ninth is a lawyer.

In a survey of 5,000 politicians in “International Who’s Who,” Africa is full of presidents who won power as leaders of military coups or as guerilla chiefs.

The article said, “Different countries—because of their history, or cultural preferences, or stage of development—seem to like particular qualities, and these qualities are provided disproportionately by only a few professions. Lawyers and business executives are common; economists, academics and doctors do surprisingly well.” Engineers are at the bottom of the list. (Ronnie M. Estrada contributed to this report)

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