Roberto Velayo Ongpin was born on January 6, 1937. He is the second of seven children by Luis Roa Ongpin and Lourdes Morales Velayo. He grew up in the neighborhood of Pinaglabanan in San Juan, which was then a suburb of the City of Manila. Roberto Ongpin is the great grandson of Román T. Ongpin, a Filipino-Chinese businessman and philanthropist who aided Filipino Revolutionaries against the Spanish and American colonial administration in the Philippine islands. The Ongpins have been named as among the "most influential and enduring families of the Philippines" for their contributions to the nation's growth.
Ongpin was able to attend school through a scholarship. After graduating from Ateneo High School, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (cum laude) from the Ateneo de Manila University in 1957. He became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in 1958, after which he briefly joined Procter & Gamble in Manila.
In 1961, Ongpin earned his Masters of Business Administration from Harvard University. It was during his time in Harvard that he met and married his wife of 55 years, Monica Arellano of Valparaiso, Chile. They have two children together, Stephen Arellano Ongpin and Anna Arellano Ongpin. He also has two other children from different mothers, Michelle Schroer Ongpin and Julian Stone Ongpin.
After moving back to the Philippines in 1963, Roberto V. Ongpin was recruited by his maternal uncle, Fred Velayo to work for "the Philippines' largest multidisciplinary professional services firm," Sycip Gorres Velayo & Company (SGV). According to SGV Chairman Emeritus Washington Sycip, Ongpin is "one of the most aggressive and effective managers" he has ever known. In 1966, two years after joining the firm, Ongpin - who was barely 30 years old at that time - was named a managing partner of SGV. He served the company from 1964 to 1979.
In 1979, Roberto V. Ongpin became the Philippines' youngest Trade and Industry Minister at age 42 when he accepted the invitation of former Philippine President, Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr., to join his cabinet.
In 1969, Ongpin established South Seas Oil and Mineral Exploration Co. Inc. a mining and exploration company incorporated on August 20 of that year. On March 29, 1984, the stockholders authorized the change in the Company’s name to South Seas Natural Resources, Inc., which was approved by the SEC.
In the early hours of February 22, 1986, as Roberto V. Ongpin was preparing to go to Malacañan Palace for a meeting with President Marcos, US Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, and Special Envoy Philip Habib, he noticed that his military escorts had been pulled out. Ongpin's subsequent calls to then-Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile inquiring about the whereabouts of his security detail inadvertently alerted Enrile that Marcos may have already been aware of his plans to stage a coup de'tat. This triggered Enrile's hasty break from the government, eventually leading to the People Power Revolution that installed Corazon C. Aquino as the new Philippine President.
On January 18, 2000, South Seas Natural Resources, Inc. became PhilWeb.Com, Inc., an internet company, upon the stockholders’ approval of a restructuring plan which involved changes in the Company’s name, and primary purpose, among others.
At the annual stockholders’ meeting on May 31, 2002, the stockholders approved the change in corporate name from PhilWeb.com, Inc. to PhilWeb Corporation. The stockholders also approved the inclusion of the Gaming Business as an additional secondary purpose of the Company. The SEC approved these changes on November 5, 2002.
Mr. Roberto V. Ongpin was also previously the Chairman by Philippine Bank of Communications, Inc., Eastern Telecommunications Philippines, Inc., (2006-2011), Belle Corporation, La Flor dela Isabela (1996), Sinophil Corporation, RVO Capital Ventures Corporation, Tabacalera Incorporada, Connectivity Unlimited Resource Enterprise, Inc. (2006), and Philippine Global Communications, Inc. (PHILCOM). He was vice chairman of Philex Mining Corporation (2007-2009).
He was Director for the following corporations Araneta Properties, Inc., (until 2009), Ginebra San Miguel Corporation (2010-2013), Petron Corporation (2008-2014), San Miguel Corporation (2009-2014), PAL Holdings, Inc. and Philippine Airlines, Inc. (2012-2014), and Makati Shangri-La Hotel & Resort, Inc. (2003-2014).
Ongpin has also beem affiliated with various foreign companies, including as Chairman of the Acentic GmbH (2010-2013), Developing Countries Investment Corp. (Until 2011), and Dragon Oil London, Plc. He was also Deputy Chairman of the South China Morning Post (1993-2005), Vice Chairman of AIA Capital Corporation (Hong Kong), Director E2-Capital (Holdings) Ltd (presently CIAM Group Ltd) (until 2008), and Non-Executive Director at Forum Energy Plc UK (2009-2015), and Shangri-la Asia Hong Kong, (2003-2014).
Ongpin owns 92% of the shares of Alphaland, and is chairman of Alphaland Balesin Island Club, Inc., and the City Club at Alphaland Makati Place, Inc.; the developers of the Balesin Island Club, a "world-class, members-only resort that has been described as a 500-hectare paradise with 7.3 kilometers of pristine white sand beaches, located 21 kilometers southwest of Polillo, Quezon Province," and the City Club, an Php 8 billion multi-use commercial residential complex that has three high-rise buildings, a shopping mall, and a "3-hectare leisure, entertainment and Business club." In 2015, Alphaland’s comprehensive net income rose 31% to P7.2 billion, from P5.5 billion in the previous year. In 2016 company profits rose 7.5% to Php 7.7 billion (from Php 7.2B in 2015).
In August 2016, Ongpin resigned his post as chairman of PhilWeb Corporation, after being tagged by President Rodrigo Duterte as being part of the oligarchy, which was followed by a subsequent order to halt the online gambling industry, which was the core Business of Philweb. Ongpin later clarified that Philweb is "not an online Gaming company," but is merely the "software providers of e-Games, which is actually owned by (the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation)."
In September 2017 Ongpin launched Alphaland Baguio Mountain Lodges, " a 78-hectare master-planned development of 300 lodge-style log homes" in Baguio City, Philippines.The project is being developed at a cost of P5 billion. The first 50 homes is expected to be finished by April 2018; the next 100 homes by April 2019 and the final 150 homes by April 2020.
In the 2018 ranking by Forbes Magazine of the world's richest, Ongpin was named as the Philippines' twelfth wealthiest Filipino (up from sixteenth in 2017), with a net worth US$ 1.22 billion. In response to the article, Ongpin wrote the magazine to correct inaccurate information published in their online version. In particular Ongpin referred to charges of alleged insider trading in a 2009 sale of Philex Mining shares, which Ongpin says he "not only denies," but the charges have also been dismissed by the courts in 2015. Ongpin also questioned Forbes' inclusion of a $3.4 million fine levied by the Philippines's Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and prohibition from holding office in public companies. Ongpin explained that in 2017 he had "appealed this to the Court of Appeals," which then sustained the appeal and "permanently enjoined the SEC from enforcing these penalties". Ongpin also clarified that, contrary to what was also published in the magazine, Alphaland is not a "$45.7 million property developer, but is "actually a $1.2 billion property developer." Ongpin's Business interests lie in real estate development, resort development, mining, Energy, and transportation.
During his six-years as Minister, Ongpin grappled with the deteriorating economy as political instability made funding from international agencies and banks difficult for the government. On occasion, he personally had to negotiate financing for the Philippines with other world Leaders, including Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and Iraq's President Saddam Hussein.