Face of PNoy’s Sona

BY MIGUEL RAYMUNDO | JULY 26, 2012

Business mogul Manuel V. Pangilinan (aka MVP) may well best personify the third State-of-the-nation (Sona) address President Aquino will deliver today before Congress. Hated by business rivals, MVP has emerged as the single biggest issue nagging Aquino, given how the controversial corporate bigwig has dominated the economy over the past years. To critics, MVP is a picture-perfect dramatis personae in a country riled by a perpetual chasm between the rich and poor, the elite and the underprivileged and the opportunist and egocentric.

Bordering on corporate dictatorship, his multi-billion peso buy-and-sell forays raised questions on Aquino’s political will to crack down on big businesses bullying their way to earning profits in the midst of widespread, abject poverty. Himself and his family linked to business ventures, Aquino is unlikely to use his Sona as a platform to verbally assault the rich, famous, and powerful and instead, hasten more with ease and comfort their money-making sorties.

New oligarchs

From telecoms, MVP has spun off to other critical sectors, affording him life-and-death power and influence in a nation Aquino wants to bail out from the pangs of dispossession and corruption. Market capitalization of his growing number of companies listed and traded on the Philippine bourse now runs to billions of pesos, opening a window of opportunity to cash-rich investors but shutting the door to ordinary Filipinos. Shares of MVP companies are a bit pricey, beyond the reach of low-earning Pinoys.

As expected, Aquino’s Sona will harp on the gains his two-year-old regime has chalked up, but is likely to fall short on addressing the re-emergence of oligarchy, the bane of the past. As a force to reckon with, oligarchy comes in many forms, chief of which is the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, allowing them to dictate the power of politics. The likes of MVP, mall taipan Henry Sy and tobacco king Lucio Tan are only but a few of personalities whose commanding presence in business qualified them to be called “oligarchs.”

Altering corporate landscape

In MVP’s case, he has virtually steamrolled and drastically altered the corporate landscape, stirring a hornet’s nest among rivals and drawing a rebuke from no less than the Supreme Court. In a somewhat rare application of legal parameters in sheer business deals, the High Court ruled last year that MVP’s group breached the constitutionally mandated 40 percent foreign equity cap in blue chip Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) Company. Hidden through thick layers of “front” companies masquerading as Filipino-owned, MVP and his foreign principals led by Indonesia’s prominent Salim group exceeded the ceiling, enabling them to vote for majority of PLDT’s board directors.
Through a phalanx of lawyers, MVP is still locked in disputing the High Court decision, but warned it would drive away foreign investors from PLDT, the telecom industry’s crown jewel and a heavyweight in the trading index of the Philippine Stock Exchange. PLDT’s American Depository Receipts are traded on the New York Stock Exchange, a conduit for entry of foreign money in PLDT, the country’s largest and most profitable telco.

Undoubtedly, MVP’s much-vaunted corporate tentacles have gone far and wide, stretching from telecoms and power to toll roads, health care, media, water, mining, education, oil, ad nauseam – the same patterns of control Aquino has vowed to dismantle in an economy torn apart between the privileged few and the disadvantaged many. Surprisingly, MVP has escaped scrutiny from the prying eyes of corporate watchdogs such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Ironically, SEC even went to the extent of lawyering for MVP and his Jakarta and Hong Kong-based foreign group, justifying their equity infusion in PLDT as warranted in an investment-hungry economy.
For one, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee has even initiated a probe of some shady deals linking MVP, but in a sudden twist and turn, it stopped dead in its tracks.

The sale of listed Philex Mining shares by equally controversial businessman Roberto V. Ongpin to MVP is a case in point. As to why the Senate committee aborted its probe, one can speculate that some strange, powerful figures could be the unseen hands pulling strings behind MVP’s safe exit from any potential controversy.

Tax evader

They could be the movers, shakers, and influence peddlers in politics and business in the past, but still throwing their weight around with fat pay envelopes from high-flying clients like MVP. Amid controversies, MVP can still afford laughing all the way to the bank. His listed flagship, the Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), has raked in oodles and oodles of money.

In this year’s first quarter alone, MPIC -– a holding firm with diversified investments — booked the highest increase in after-tax profit among conglomerates with a hefty 91 percent to P1.57 billion. Despite wallowing in wealth, MVP hardly figures in the top 10 list of taxpayers of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, hinting suspicions of tax evasion to hide his true wealth.

Among telcos with cell stations in the rebel-infested hinterlands, MVP’s PLDT rarely figures in the “hit list” of the communist-led New People’s Army, implying that it has been regularly paying so-called “revolutionary taxes” to the underground movement. http://www.opinyon.com.ph/index.php/article/read/face-of-pnoy%E2%80%99s-sona

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