President BS Aquino 3rd, or his sidekick Mar Roxas, went too far in their attempts to take Vice President Jejomar Binay out of the presidential race. Maybe too early, and that smear campaign will prove to be this Administration’s unraveling.

The man got fed up, or perhaps as a veteran politician simply had a good sense of timing. He resigned from Aquino’s student-council government, and has come out fighting. It could mark the start of Aquino’s free-fall, as a similar incident did for Estrada in 2000.

Going by Filipinos’ political psychology and the country’s political dynamics, Aquino is in big trouble, that he might not even be able to finish his term.

If I were a mythmaker, I’d even say that a vice president’s resignation has been the letters on the wall for a President’s fall. Then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – saying to hell with then President Estrada’s popularity – resigned her Cabinet post in October 2000.

Three months later, he fled Malacañang.

Estrada tried desperately to downplay Arroyo’s resignation that I think his operators managed to get the Social Weather Station (SWS) to report that her satisfaction ratings had plunged to negative 4 in December from 63 the month before – a statistical impossibility, but a fallacy believed by many political strategists. (By March, it was 24.)

There are, of course, counter-examples. Vice Presidents Fernando Lopez, Salvador Laurel and Teofisto Guingona all had become antagonistic to their Presidents and resigned their Cabinet posts. Their Presidents, though, (Marcos, Aquino and Arroyo, respectively) all finished their terms, except, of course, for Marcos who was ousted from power in a revolution, but a decade later.

Vice President Jejomar Binay

Vice President Jejomar Binay

However, what makes Binay’s resignation explosive, and potentially fatal to Aquino, is that unlike his predecessors, he is the leading candidate for presidential elections in a year’s time. More importantly, it is a time when Aquino’s incompetence and corruption have started to unravel.

The narrative is perfect, as well as the timing: Binay tried to work with Aquino, who instead unleashed his attack dogs to eat him and his family alive, while the government rotted in corruption. Enough is enough, “tama na sobra na,” as Binay himself said in his speech the other day: these are narratives that spark a revolution, as they did both in EDSA I and II.

It was, in fact, only when Arroyo resigned from Estrada’s cabinet that the international press started to publish the unfolding political convulsion. For the deputy president to resign is a political earthquake, in parliamentary systems even triggering calls for elections.

We columnists might write well-researched columns day in and day out showing incontrovertibly that Aquino has proven to be psychologically and morally unfit to be President. Congressman Toby Tiangco and his colleague J.V. Bautista, or Bayan Muna’s Neri Colmenares might call press conferences everyday exposing corruption under this Administration, while Facebook posts such as those on MRT-3 corruption and the BIR’s refusal to touch a billion-peso tax case of an Aquino sympathizer could go viral.

But these accusations amount to almost nothing if a respected political leader does not make them. And who can beat Jejomar Binay as the most credible, if the Pulse Asia survey is accurate in showing that he is the most trusted official of the land, with a 57 percent rating from the May 30 to June 5 poll, a 15-percentage point increase from 42 percent in March?

Church hegemony

We forget that just a hundred years ago, what the Catholic Church said was what the masses believed. I even dare say that without Cardinal Sin asking people to go out to EDSA to defend the mutineers led by Ramos and Enrile, there wouldn’t be an EDSA.

Church hegemony obviously has receded, challenged and replaced by local political bosses and elites in local areas, and by media. But the entity in the modern period – even in advanced countries in the world – that determines what the masses would believe in what is going on in the nation is a country’s President or Prime Minister, and their main deputies, i.e., the Vice President or the Deputy Prime Minister.

Former President George W. Bush told Americans Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that would be used against them. His Vice President Dick Cheney even said the US should strike first before Iraq does.

Americans believed what was to be proven later as a total lie, and invaded an independent country, setting off a terrible chain reaction that led to the rise of that most despicable jihadist group, the ISIS. The scion of a haciendero clan says he will eradicate corruption, remove a corrupt Chief Justice and embark on a Tuwid na Daan reform program. From the track record, psychological profile and wealth of this man he didn’t really earn, you might think he’s sniffed too much. But because he is President, many Filipinos believe him.

This is because the age of God-anointed kings or even god-kings in the scale of mankind’s collective consciousness existed not too long ago. There is still the detritus belief – even among the most educated elites – that God whispers wisdom to a President.

Aquino’s unraveling

But this is the same mass psychology that will mean the unraveling of Aquino in the coming months, as it was for Estrada when Arroyo resigned her post. A vice president, because he or she is a vice president, has nearly as much credibility and influence over people’s minds as a president has.

For Binay in a single speech to say this Administration is a failure, and has allowed corruption around him go unchecked, is equivalent to all the anti-Aquino columns written in the past five years.

Over the past five years there have been governance atrocities such as the use of pork barrel funds and finances hijacked through the Disbursement Acceleration Plan scheme to remove a Chief Justice; the very selective prosecution of three (opposition) senators while many others involved in the scam remained unscathed; the corruption at the MRT-3 that for the first time in our history a foreign ambassador protested an extortion try by government officials; the massacre of 44 elite troops and the loss of Panatag Shoal because of Aquino’s bungling. (Compared with those atrocities, who the heck would be interested in an alleged overprice of a solid-looking building, and a spic-and-span science high-school?)

We will understand soon why these governance atrocities had not created a critical mass to topple this crazy and arrogant President.

As in the twilight years of the Marcos dictatorship until a Cory emerged, and in 1998-2000 until Arroyo decided to cast her lot with the people, there hadn’t been a leader to rally and galvanize opposition against this corrupt and incompetent President.

Until now. Binay has no choice but to play that role.

The smartest investors … or the most valuable puppets?

by Rigoberto Tiglao on June 23, 2015

Fourth of a Series

Part 1:The Indonesian billionaires behind the ‘MVP Group’

Part 2: Indonesian tycoon skirts Charter limits through corporate layers

Part 3: Closet billionaires . . . or corporate dummies?

I reported Monday the strangest thing about the Indonesian Salim-owned conglomerate in the Philippines, aka the “MVP Group,” after the initials of Manuel V. Pangilinan, the group’s top executive who many people had thought was its controlling stockholder: That is the fact that a firm, heretofore kept from public eye, Pacific Enterprise Management Holdings Inc. (PEMH), is the 60-40 partner of billionaire Anthoni Salim in a shell company, Enterprise Investment Holdings.

This firm is the first of several corporate layers that create the legal fiction that Salim’s investment vehicles in public utility firms – among them Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., Meralco, Maynilad Water Services and several others under his holding company Metro Pacific Investment Corp. – are Philippine firms. (See “Closet billionaires or corporate dummies ” June 22, 2015).

This is despite the fact that through the layering scheme, Salim’s effective ownership in the investing firms increases to 78 to 92 percent in the companies that control public utilities such as PLDT and Meralco, as well the holding firm, Metro Pacific Investment Corp.

That of the Filipino firm PEMH, on the other hand, is reduced to 21.6 percent in the investing corporate vehicle in Metro Pacific Investments, and 13 percent and 8 percent, respectively, in the two shell companies that hold the PLDT shares.

What is surprising is that instead of getting other Filipino tycoons – such as, for instance, John Gokongwei, who had helped Salim in a Singapore deal and in disposing of Fort Bonifacio; or the Ayalas, with whom he recently partnered for multi-billion infrastructure projects – Salim chose as his partners, other than Pangilinan, third-tier executives from his conglomerate, who don’t seem to be capitalists at all. If they are real owners of those shares, that is.

Above, Anthoni Salim, who now controls strategic Philippine public utility firms such as PLDT and Meralco, with his late father Soedono, the Indonesian strongman Suharto’s biggest crony. Below, a rare photo of Anthoni’s biggest partners together, if their corporate reports are to be believed: left, Victorico Vargas, Manuel V. Pangilinan and Alfred Panlilio. Lower photo from a philstar.com article that identified the two as Pangilinan’s “sports brain trusts.”

Above, Anthoni Salim, who now controls strategic Philippine public utility firms such as PLDT and Meralco, with his late father Soedono, the Indonesian strongman Suharto’s biggest crony. Below, a rare photo of Anthoni’s biggest partners together, if their corporate reports are to be believed: left, Victorico Vargas, Manuel V. Pangilinan and Alfred Panlilio. Lower photo from a philstar.com article that identified the two as Pangilinan’s “sports brain trusts.”

Nearly as big as Pangilinan’s 29 percent holding in this firm are two equal stakes of 24.4 percent each held by Alfredo Panlilio, Meralco senior vice president for corporate communications, and one Victorico Vargas, president of Maynilad Water Services. Panlilio also happens to be president of the PEMH, which puts him in an awkward position, with his boss at Meralco technically being just his employee.

The minority investors in PEMH who have 11.1 percent each are Rene Bañez and Ma. Lourdes Rausa-Chan, ironically I would say, PLDT’s past and present chief governance officers.

Why them?

Why did Salim or Pangilinan choose these particular people as Filipino partners in a key corporate entity of the conglomerate’s ownership labyrinth?

Why not the group’s top executives since 1998, such as PLDT President Napoleon Nazareno, Ray Espinosa, the conglomerate’s legal brains in charge of Salim’s media empire and chair of the Philippine Star; Orlando Vea, who founded Smart, or even my old colleague, Smart PR Ramon Isberto, whose loyalty to the conglomerate borders on the religious.

Why not former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, who’s been a PLDT director ever since he retired from the High Court and gives the Salim-controlled firm a sheen of constitutional loyalty? Why not Foreign Affairs Secretary del Rosario, who had helped Pangilinan and Salim get into the Philippine business world in the 1980s, and who had even been First Pacific director for many years and resigned only when he was appointed to his current post?

I won’t be too surprised if it turns out Bañez is, indeed, a stockholder of PEMH. He was head of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in the administrations of both Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and until 2013 had been in charge of PLDT’s compliance with government laws and regulations. Is he with PEMH for his vast government connections?

I don’t wonder, though, why Rausa-Chan is a stockholder of PEMH, if she really is, that is. Since 1998 when Salim acquired the firm, she has been PLDT’s corporate secretary. In the Philippines, that is one of the most powerful corporate positions given its private, direct knowledge of all of a company’s secrets.

However, I can’t figure out why Panlilio and this Vargas should be the biggest stockholders, after Pangilinan, of PEMH, if that is really true. I hope readers of this column can enlighten me on this matter.

Both are known to be the athletic type, and are Pangilinan’s representatives in the Philippine sports world. The conglomerate has the country’s biggest patron of sports, a very clever move that has boosted Pangilinan’s prestige. No other tycoon has been as involved as a patron of sports as Pangilinan has been.

Sports writers refer to Panlilio and Vargas as Pangilinan’s “sports brain trusts.” They are the top officials of the MVP Sports Foundation, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, and the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Panlilio is also treasurer of the National Golf Association, while Vargas is president of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines and a member of the Philippine Olympic Commission, as well as the International Basketball Federation.

I don’t see, though, how involvement in sports enterprises could be a criterion for Salim’s choice of partners for his conglomerate.

I had been hoping that Pangilinan and his colleagues would respond to my column on Monday, June 22, with a logical explanation as to why they aren’t really merely dummies of the Indonesian tycoon, and that they really own the shares in PEMH as reported in their filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. If they, indeed, own the shares, they would be multi-billionaires and the country’s smartest investors ever.

Not a word, though, from them nor any of their representatives, especially from their corporate secretary, Alex Erlito Fider, who swore “under the penalty of perjury” that the General Information Sheet he submitted to the SEC, which lists the five as the firm’s stockholders, is “true and correct.”

Instead, a reader alerted me to the act that the filings of Salim’s Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd. to regulatory bodies in the region and in the US report that its economic interest in PLDT totals 25.6 percent and in Metro Pacific Investments, 55.8 percent. Hong Kong regulatory bodies strictly require accurate reports of ownership of a listed firm as First Pacific Co. Ltd.

But such equity holdings are on the assumption that PEMH is owned, not by the five Filipino stockholders, but by First Pacific. In that case, it would mean the Filipinos are merely dummies.

If PEMH is what it claims to be, as owned by the five Filipinos, First Pacific would report its economic interests in PLDT to amount to only 23.4 percent (and not 25.6 percent), with the Filipino PEMH holding 2.2 percent.

In the case of MPIC, it would, instead, report that its equity interest was equivalent to 43.7 percent – not 55.8 percent – with the Filipino entity PEMH owning a 12.1 percent stake.

DISCREPANCIES IN FIRST PACIFIC’S REPORTS?
(IN PERCENT)

first-pacific20150624

I’m sure PEMH stockholders can explain that they haven’t really violated that old Anti-Dummy Law of 1936 (amended by Presidential Decree No.715), the monetary penalties for which are certainly small, but involve up to 15 years of imprisonment.

I can’t wait to hear their explanation.

It would also be helpful, if they want to prove that they are the real stockholders of PEMH, for them and for the corporate secretary to show us copies of their receipt of billions of pesos in dividends from such firms as PLDT and Meralco, being the companies’ indirect investors who should be receiving their share of profits.

On the other hand, if they aren’t really the stockholders of PEMH, they would be people actually representing another entity, or under the control of another entity, which is the definition of a “puppet.”

Unless they can prove otherwise, they would be Salim’s MVPs, his Most Valuable Puppets.

Part 1: The Indonesian billionaires behind the ‘MVP Group’

Part 2: Indonesian tycoon skirts Charter limits through corporate layers

Part 3: Closet billionaires . . . or corporate dummies?

Closet billionaires . . . or corporate dummies?

June 21, 2015

Part 1: The Indonesian billionaires behind the ‘MVP Group’ Part 2: Indonesian tycoon skirts Charter limits through corporate layers Part 4: The smartest investors … or the most valuable puppets? The Salim conglomerate in the Philippines, aka the “MVP” group, has five executives who are the Indonesian billionaire Anthoni Salim’s Filipino partners, their identities heretofore [...]

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MILF-decommissioned WW I and II rifles, retirees

June 18, 2015

I continue to be astonished at how gullible President Aquino is, and thinks the nation as gullible as he. In his speech the other day at the “ceremonial decommissioning of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants” during which they surrendered 75 firearms, Aquino said: “We are not speaking of just one, two, or a dozen [...]

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How Filipinos choose their leaders, in six images.

June 17, 2015

Second of Two Parts If our nation suffers the “Grace Poe” disease of our political system (as I discussed on Monday) by which celebrity power determines electoral results for national posts, it is because democracy itself has a gargantuan flaw. We fail to see this flaw because we suffer from the delusion that electoral democracy [...]

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‘Grace’ is a disease of our politics

June 14, 2015

First of Two Parts The meteoric rise in two years of Senator Grace Poe Llamanzares to a point where she is now believed to have a shot at the presidency next year is a symptom of our deepest malady as a republic. This malady is an affliction that has worsened since the fall of the [...]

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Drop this ‘Bangsamoro’ nonsense now

June 11, 2015

Whatever law Congress would pass as its version of the BBL, it must drop the term “Bangsamoro.” Senator Ferdinand Marcos is absolutely correct: Just amend, to incorporate the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s legitimate demands, the law on the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). That’s what President Ramos did in the case of the Moro [...]

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Indonesian tycoon skirts Charter limits through corporate layers

June 9, 2015

Second of a Series Our Constitution is quite categorical: “No form of authorization for the operation of a public utility shall be granted except to citizens of the Philippines or to corporations or associations organized under the laws of the Philippines, at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens.” So, [...]

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Generals, admirals oppose BBL

June 7, 2015

Hardly given media coverage was the position paper of the country’s Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO), a decades-old organization of retired generals with star rank. Retired Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan read out AGFO’s stand in a hearing of the Senate committee deliberating the Bangsamoro Basic Law. The position paper’s introduction partly answers the [...]

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Citizenship by convenience

June 4, 2015

What kind of country have we become, when we have to debate the fine legal issues of whether Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares remains a US citizen or how long she has lived in the country to be qualified to run for President or Vice President? For chrissakes, she renounced being Filipino when she became a US [...]

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