Inquirer owners were Marcos cronies

Profits from crony deal: P4B

SHOCKING? It certainly is, especially for a paper that had been the loudest megaphone of the anti-Marcos uprising in 1986, and which to this day has reeked with vitriol against the dictator and anybody identified with him.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) in fact continues to abhor the Marcoses so much that the paper’s “Person of the Year” for 2016 was what it called the “Antirevisionists,” or those who continued to demand Marcos’ total demonization. The two honorable mentions were the Supreme Court justices who voted against Marcos burial at the military cemetery and “martial-law victims.”

Imelda Marcos in 1980 when she leased for 21 years prime Makati land to the owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which to this day continues to demonize her and her husband.

Ironic, but the facts are incontrovertible: The dictator’s wife Imelda through the Technology Resource Center Foundation** (TRCF) she had founded and was the chair of, gave the Rufinos’ Sunvar Realty and Development Corp. the 22,900-sq.m. Makati prime commercial property known as Creekside/Mile Long in 1980, at the apex of the dictator’s power, to use as they pleased until 2002. The Rufinos own 67 percent of PDI, and its chair, Marixi Prieto, is one of the pillars of the Rufino clan, the other being Carlos.

Imelda’s largesse would certainly put the Rufinos in the crony club, using the PDI’s own definition (“In the Know: Oligarchs and cronies,” August 5, 2016): “Crony became the term used to refer to the new rich during martial law.

They were the ones awarded timber, mining and oil concessions and vast tracts of rich government agricultural and urban lands, by Marcos.”

How much did Imelda charge the Rufinos as lease?

A ridiculous P3 per square meter per month, according to government documents that showed that the payment for the whole life of the lease, from 1980 to 2002, was P15.7 million. There are no reports nor documents to show that the property was auctioned in order for TRCF to get the highest revenues for its projects. (If it did, the bigger property players then, the Ayalas and Sys among them, would have undoubtedly won over the then movie-house based Rufinos.)

‘Sweetheart deal’

To this day, Imelda lists the TRC as one of her achievements (from her official website, accessed yesterday).

It was this contract that President Duterte referred to, inaccurately though, as the “Inquirer’s sweetheart deal”. How sweet was the deal, in terms of how much the Rufinos earned from this contract?

• If the Rufinos through Sunvar sub-leased the property at a realistic average price of P200 per sq.m per month (which means a believable P4,000 rent for a 20-sq.m. store) in the 252 months from 1980 to 2002, when their lease officially ended, the Rufinos would have profited P1 billion (less the P15.7 million rent to government).

• If we assume that the average rent in Mile Long from 2002 to 2016 was P1,000 per sq. m. per month (P20,000 for a store), the Rufinos would have earned P3.6 billion, with their Sunvar not paying any rent to government during this period.

Our estimate of revenues from this crony deal therefore: a mammoth P4.6 billion in the 36 years they have controlled, and got rents from, the government’s Makati property.

Imelda was certainly right when she was asked while they were in power about cronies: “Some are just smarter than others.” Imelda’s nephew Philip Romualdez (son of her late brother Benjamin “Kokoy”) is married to PDI’s president, Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez.* (The wedding strangely though was so under the press radar, that I couldn’t find out even when it was held.)

The Mile Long property had been actually owned by the National Power Corp. Imelda reportedly had even threatened to sack its head Geronimo Velasco, when he initially resisted her demand made in 1978 for the firm to lease it to TRCF, so she could sub-lease it to the Rufinos.

Read who else were the beneficiaries of Imelda’s largesse through TRCF, and tell me the Rufinos weren’t cronies at all: Ricardo Silverio who leased a much smaller property from the foundation to become the Ecology Village in Makati and who also bought from TRCF a 10-hectare land in Carmona, Cavite; the Remullas of Cavite; and a firm connected to the Enriquez-Panlilio clan that got a P6 million loan from the outfit.

Yet even with her many other cronies, the jewel in TRCF’s collection of properties subleased from other government entities, the Mile Long prime real estate, was given to the Rufinos.

Mile-Long boon

The Mile Long property was a boon to the Rufinos since much of their wealth had been in downtown Manila, especially in movie houses. These had declined in value though ever the since the 1980s, after the metropolis’ business center migrated to Makati and huge malls like SM and Robinsons with their dozens of cinemas standing side by side practically emptied the stand-alone movie houses in Manila.

The Sunvar revenues energized the Rufinos so much that it bought the local Shakey’s chain from San Miguel in 1987 (and sold it only this year to the tuna Po clan) and set up the Dunkin’ Donuts stores in 1991, with government alleging that the latter evaded taxes of P1.5 billion. Forbes listed in 2007 the Rufino family as the Philippines’ 39th richest, although it subsequently disappeared in the magazine’s lists.

Isn’t it such a demonstration of the awesome power of the press, that, after generating a billion pesos from the property, the Rufinos had the audacity to refuse to vacate the property when the lease expired in 2002, and instead filed delaying suits in the courts so that even the Supreme Court admonished them to rule already?

If Sunvar wasn’t owned by the PDI’s owners, would it have the spunk to continue to defy government, 13 years after their lease ended?

It is also astonishing how the Rufinos had kept their crony deal under wraps for more than three decades since they got it. Did the Rufinos’ control of the PDI, one of the two largest newspapers in the country which made them a force to be feared, help in keeping their crony deal secret? Such is the awesome power of the Press.
And to think that PDI chair Marixi Rufino-Prieto at the newspaper’s 30th anniversary celebration said in her speech: “For 30 years, we mustered the courage to expose the ills of society, courage to be the voice of the powerless, courage to stand our ground, no matter how unpopular it is.”

It is unclear, and never reported by the PDI, how the Rufinos got to be the paper’s biggest owner, although this occurred during the fight for the paper’s shares between founder Eugenia Apostol and former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile in the early 1990s.

In an interview posted in the worldwide web, Apostol said she sold it to the Rufinos to prevent Enrile, who had secretly invested in PDI even before Marcos fell, from getting control of the newspaper. Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim—through layers of firms that end with the pension of fund of PLDT which he controls—is the newspaper’s second biggest stockholder with 25 percent. Salim’s initial stake was through a P10 million loan his Filipino agent, Manuel Pangilinan, gave PDI, which saved the newspaper in its early years from financial collapse.

What a country! One of its two biggest newspapers is controlled by two cronies, a crony during strongman Marcos’ regime and the other—probably worse—a crony of the Indonesian dictator Suharto dictatorship. And the other biggest paper, the Philippine Star, is 70 percent owned by Salim’s firm.

And the Press is supposed to be the embodiment of the nation, as well its savior when the three other branches of government fail?

*NOTE: I emailed Mrs. Romualdez as well as another Rufino scion, JV Rufino three days ago to ask their family to reply to this claim that it was a Marcos crony. As of my deadline for this column, I had not received any reply, and I’m sure I got their email addresses right. It was JV Rufino, the clan’s techie, who replied to questions on his clan’s tax case in PDI’s Facebook page. At least he was bold enough to respond to the allegations, even if he gave false information.

**TRCF raised funds for the Technology Resource Center whose task was to to disseminate existing and new technology to small producers. After Marcos fell, it was renamed Philippine Development Alternatives Foundation.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

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