Benny Tantoco, Rustan’s Co-Founder and Proud Bulakenyo, dies at 100

July 6, 2021 – Rustan’s patriarch, Bienvenido R. Tantoco Sr., has passed away, a family member confirmed. The former ambassador to the Vatican, known to many simply as Lolo Benny, was 100 years old. Lolo Benny is a proud Bulakenyo and an alumnus of Marcelo H. Del Pilar National High School.

Lolo Benny leaves behind six children—Bienvenido Jr., Nedy, Menchu Lopez, Marilen Tantoco, Merl Pineda, and Tokie Enriquez—and 21 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

Our deepest sympathies go out to Lolo Benny’s family. He will be missed.

Who is Benny Tantoco?

Bienvenido “Benny” Rufino Tantoco Sr. was born on April 7, 1921, in Malolos, Bulacan. After high school, he went to Jose Rizal University (JRU) on a full scholarship to study Bachelor of Science in Commerce Major in Accounting. He finished his degree in 1941. What’s more impressive is that he was a working student and the family’s breadwinner while he was in JRU.

Read The 20 Brave Women of Malolos

According to reports, Benny Tantoco worked in movie theaters owned by his uncle, Ernesto Rufino. The Rufino family was into the movie theater business at that time. Lolo Benny was said to be a hard worker, honest, and passionate about his endeavor.

In 1930s pre-war Manila, they also established a chain of art deco movie theaters and cinemas in Manila, including Avenue and State on Avenida Rizal, Lyric and Capitol on Escolta, Gaiety on M.H. del Pilar. The siblings (Ernesto, Vicente, Ester, and Rafael) soon became the country’s biggest film distributors with Rufino earning the title, “The Cinema King.” In the 1960s, they built Rizal Theater and the QUAD in Ayala.

Sunio, P. (2019, October 1). 11 Dashing Debonaires of Old Manila. Esquiremag.ph. https://www.esquiremag.ph/the-good-life/what-she-wants/old-manila-debonaires-a1868-20191001-lfrm3?ref=feed_1.

Bienvenido Tantoco Sr. and his wife Gliceria Rustia-Tantoco opened a small gift shop in 1952 in San Marcelino Street in Ermita, Manila. Thinking of a good name for their business, he and his wife combined the first syllables of their last name and came up with “Rustan.” The said gift shop used to be the living room of their family’s home, according to Nedy Tantoco during her interview with Yvette Fernandez of Esquire Magazine.

Benny Tantoco
The photo was originally published in Town & Country Magazine by Wig Tysmans

Over time, their small business grew. Lolo Benny had to resign from the Rufino Group of Companies and took over the financial and business operations of Rustan’s. It was said that the Tantocos dreamed big and wanted Rustan’s to be at the same level as the world’s most famous department stores, the likes of Harrod’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. 

Dreams do come true. Rustan’s became the premier luxury retails store in the Philippines. Today, the Rustan’s family has grown into the RUSTAN GROUP OF COMPANIES (RGOC). Rustan Group includes listed firm Stores Specialists Incorporated (SSI), Santa Elena Realty, Royal Duty-Free Stores, Rustan Coffee (Starbucks Philippines), and Adora.

Rustan’s business flourished in the 1960s and beyond. By 1970, the flagship store opened in Makati. They were well-connected with influential business and political people in the country. It was said that during the height of Marcos’ regime, Lolo Benny and his wife were close with the former First Lady Imelda Marcos.

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In 1983, Lolo Benny was appointed as the Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican by former President Ferdinand Marcos. He remained in the post until 1986 when the EDSA People Power Revolution broke out and the Marcoses fled to the US.

Benny Tantoco and Bulacan High School Batch 1937

Lolo Benny Tantoco was born and raised in Malolos. He is an alumnus of Bulacan High School, now known as Marcelo H. Del Pilar National High School (MHPNHS). It is one of the largest secondary schools in Central Luzon in terms of population and one of the oldest secondary schools in the Philippines, established in 1905.

Read KAMESTIZUHAN DISTRICT: Journey through Historic Malolos

One of Lolo Benny’s classmates is Felipe F. Cruz, who would later become one of the county’s construction magnate and founder of F.F. Cruz & Co. Inc. They would conduct yearly get-togethers or class reunions back in the day. And guess what, F.F. Cruz and Lolo Benny Tantoco were generous sponsors.

My wife, Irene Tantoco Pineda, and her family are relatives of Lolo Benny Tantoco. Her grandfather, Arturo F.W. Tantoco, is a second cousin and a classmate of Benny Tantoco. When she was little, she and her siblings would sing and perform during batch 1937’s class reunions as requested by their beloved Lolo Arturo or Daddy.

Benny Tantoco and Starbucks Tikay

August 17, 2018 – Lolo Benny Tantoco attended the blessing of Starbucks’ branch in Tikay, which apparently is the highest-grossing Starbucks in the Philippines. This proves Bulakenyos love good coffee and embraced cool hangout places.

Benny Tantoco, Rustan's Co-Founder and Proud Bulakenyo, dies at 100 1
Denmark Dolores and Lolo Benny Tantoco (Photo courtesy of FB/Racky Tantoco Pineda-Dolores)

My brother-in-law, Denmark Dolores, was there and lucky to meet and speak with Lolo Benny in person. In Denmark’s Facebook post, he candidly said, “Akala ko nga iingleshin ako eh, buti na lang! Tunay na Bulakenyo, tagalog na tagalog!”

Lolo Benny Tantoco is a proud Bulakenyo. He will be missed.

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