The deaths since Saturday of two of the Philippines’ most prominent entrepreneurs has left the country’s business community reeling and prompted speculation about the leadership at one of the major Filipino-Chinese family conglomerates. Tycoon John Gokongwei Jnr, 93, a Fujian-born businessman best known in recent years as the founder of budget airline Cebu Pacific, died on Saturday on the very same day that 53-year-old Lucio “Bong” Tan Jnr collapsed while playing basketball. Tan died on Monday after succumbing to a brain aneurysm. He had been named the successor to his billionaire father Lucio Tan’s PAL Holdings, the listed parent of Philippine Airlines. Gokongwei’s death leaves the elder Lucio Tan, 85, as the country’s lone surviving ethnic Chinese billionaire who migrated to the Philippines before World War Two. Two weeks ago Tan made his son Bong president of the listed PAL Holdings, but until then the Philippine business community had presumed the heir apparent to the entire conglomerate to be eldest son Michael, 53, who was in 2012 named president and chief operating officer of LT Group, the family holding company. But in June this year Michael sold off most of his shares in the firm and was left with an equal amount of equity to Bong. This came after his father, the chairman of the board, clipped his powers as president. The post no longer gave him the right to preside over board meetings. The elder Tan revived the post of vice-chairman and gave that power to its holder. Tan’s younger brother Harry now holds the post. A source familiar with the family who spoke on condition of anonymity said Bong was three months younger than Michael. The pair are half-brothers – Bong’s mother is the elder Tan’s wife Carmen, while Michael is Tan’s son by his common law partner, Letty. The duo are reportedly good friends after both attending Dunman High School in Singapore and then Peking University in Beijing to study Chinese history for two years. After that both went to North America – Michael to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to study civil engineering, and Bong to the University of California-Davis to study the same. Tycoon Tan reportedly sent them on similar paths in an effort to achieve harmony in the family. Chinese-born Philippine billionaire John Gokongwei Jnr, founder of Cebu Air, dies aged 93 Bong’s younger sister, Vivienne, announced his death in a statement on Monday. “Bong was a son, husband, father, friend and, most importantly, our elder brother whom we all relied on for advice, counsel, and leadership,” she said. Gokongwei meanwhile is survived by his wife Elizabeth, his six children, and his younger siblings, Lily, 88, and James, 80. His only son, Lance, 53, became CEO of the family’s flagship JG Summit Holdings last year. Two of his five daughters – Robina and Lisa – are also active in the business. Lance was groomed as the heir to the operation early on. When Robina, the eldest child, was kidnapped, Lance was whisked off as a teenager to a Singapore high school by his fearful parents, and then to the University of Pennsylvania in the United States. He completed two bachelor’s degrees – in economics and applied science – in the space of just three years and graduated summa cum laude in both. Lucio Tan Jnr, son of Philippine-Chinese billionaire, dies aged 53 However, all the six children at first worked in relatively lowly jobs in the conglomerate and spent their summers visiting factories in China with their father. When Gokongwei’s father died, his family moved back to Xiamen in east China but he stayed behind in the Philippines with an uncle to sell goods on the streets. Before the communists took power there in 1949, his mother Juanita relocated the family to Hong Kong before returning to Cebu. Today, JG Summit, which now has business interests across Asia, develops property in Hong Kong under the name Land Century Holdings. Fondly referred to as “Big John”, he built a business empire spanning banking and retail to aviation. Retired investment banker Leo Alejandrino, once the CEO of Peregrine Capital Philippines, in which Gokongwei’s business empire was a partner, said the tycoon had a “vision that Filipinos can create their own brand and successfully market internationally and locally”. Alejandrino said “he was a very tough businessman but very warm as a person. He was kind of endearing in a formal way. A very charming man.” “He was always very curious about everything. He was always reading, always busy. His mind was never idle.” Gokongwei’s 333.9 billion peso (US$6.6 billion) snacks, sweets and drinks empire today operates in six countries across Asia. “He went into traditional industries like property and manufacturing. But in terms of local food brands, he was one of the most successful ones in building up a good company from local manufacturing and marketing and branding,” Alejandrino said. Wilson Lee Flores, chairman of the Anvil Business Club, whose members are groomed as the next generation of Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs, said Gokongwei read every day – mostly history, biography and business books. “His great grandfather was very rich. His father was rich but died early and they then became poor. He was only 13,” Flores said. Unlike his five siblings who retained the surname Go, Gokongwei adopted his father’s Chinese surname when he became a Filipino citizen. For Flores, his biggest contribution to his adopted country was “industrialisation”. Flores said he was a pioneer in the petrochemical industry even though turning a profit had been difficult. A high school dropout, Gokongwei has donated over a billion pesos to seven schools across the Philippines. Last January the John Gokongwei Innovation Centre opened with a view to becoming the “major hub of the multimedia gaming revolution and interactive entertainment in the Asean region”, according to Manila’s De La Salle University, which in 1977 waived scholastic requirements to admit Gokongwei to an MBA course. Flores said Gokongwei broke the monopoly of Philippine Airlines on the country’s aviation industry by setting up Cebu Pacific. He also ended the duopoly of Globe Telecom and the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company with his mobile network operator Digital Telecommunications, he said. “He helped bring down consumer prices by competing in telecoms and air travel. He made air travel in the Philippines affordable to everyone and cheaper than sea travel,” Flores said. But he also encountered several major business challenges. A newspaper he bought, The Manila Times , was sued in 1999 for 101 million pesos by then president Joseph Estrada after it published an exclusive calling Estrada an “unwitting godfather” in a highly anomalous business contract. Estrada withdrew the suit after Gokongwei’s daughter Robina printed a public apology. The following year, a Cebu Pacific plane slammed into a mountainside, killing 131 people on board. The disaster brought his son Lance into the limelight when he faced the media and grieving relatives.