POSTSCRIPT / February 17, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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How Tan suddenly won majority control of PNB

IF you still do not understand how and why taipan Lucio Tan suddenly gained control of the Philippine National Bank on the eve of its privatization, listen to reader Fred Esteban of Cubao:

“The government has been announcing its desire to privatize PNB. However, the board of directors (all appointed by the President) suddenly passed a resolution increasing the capital of the bank by giving current stockholders the option to exercise their pre-emptive right to subscribe to new shares of stock.

“However, the price o the new shares is slightly higher than the price of the PNB shares in the market.

“The government, which is the majority stockholder of PNB then waives its right to subscribe to new shares, and since the pre-emptive price is higher than the price in the stock market, even private stockholders of PNB waived their right to their stock option.

“Lucio Tan then buys these stock options, plus additional shares in the stock market and suddenly becomes the majority owner and gains control of PNB.

“The government suddenly drops to minority owner, retaining only 30 percent of the outstanding shares. The value of the government holdings will surely drop, because no bank whether local or foreign will bid for these shares since they will not gain control of the bank anyway

“This deal is clearly disadvantageous to the government, as well as to the many private stockholders of the PNB.

“Why did the PNB board (all presidential appointees) wish to increase the capital of the bank when it is about to be privatized? Why did the directors decide to increase the capitalization of the bank knowing fully well that the government has no money to exercise its option to purchase new shares?”

* * *

SOME readers are asking if their lives would take a turn for the better if President Estrada fires Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora for including a cannibal in the Christmas list of convicts gifted with presidential clemency.

They have a ready answer to their own question. It’s no.

Having grown cynical, some of them are even saying that whatever the President does or does not do with his official family is his own lookout.

“Erap swims or sinks with his team,” says reader Rpena using an aol address. “If he sinks with them, or if they drag him down, that’s his problem, not ours.”

(When a reader uses an aol or AmericaOnLine address, we presume that he is emailing us from North America.)

* * *

BIBIT Leaño of Laguna asks: “What’s the big deal about Zamora being blamed for the Manero scandal? Despite the fact that the messy staff work was done by Zamora and others down the administrative line, only the President makes the ultimate decision and must therefore bear the full responsibility for his action.”

Our correspondent is right, we have to concede. The constitutional power to grant clemency, such as the conditional pardon of Manero, rests solely on the President. He cannot blame others or signal, by firing one or several of his subordinates, that it’s not his fault.

The clumsy replacement of Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas, which the Palace unsuccessfully tried to pass off as a punishment for not screening out Manero from the clemency list, illustrates the point. The buck stops at the president’s stool at the bar.

* * *

FOR that matter, the political opposition should stop shedding crocodile tears that poor Erap Estrada is being pushed and pulled here and there by bum advice.

They should instead be happy that the actor playing the role of president is missing his cues and reciting the wrong lines.

(Or maybe it is precisely because he follows the miscues and recites the prepared lines supplied by his bungling handlers that he ends up with a bad performance.)

If he wants to fire Zamora, let him. Or if he wants to keep him, bahala rin siya. That’s the President’s own business.

* * *

WE once said in POSTSCRIPT that the trouble with having an inept president is that he is dragging the entire country down with him.

That may be true, but at this point, it seems to us that with everybody watching his every misstep, Erap Estrada can no longer do much damage.

In the same way that Ninoy Aquino said that whoever took over after Ferdinand Marcos (unaware that it would be his wife Cory) would be a sure failure, we are tempted to say now that whoever succeeds Erap could do better.

* * *

COMMENTATOR Linggoy Alcuaz, who was 13th on the list of alleged destabilizers in the recent White Paper of Malacañang (but whose name was removed to trim the group to a “Dirty Dozen”) has a theory on why we no longer see more of those violent street demonstrations of yore.

Linggoy is blaming the press. He says that since the press is already throwing everything at Malacañang and noisily articulating people’s grievances, demo organizers have found themselves redundant.

* * *

IF this keeps up, we might even see the dissolution of the army of presidential advisers for having grown irrelevant.

By just reading the papers and listening to radio, the President would discover that he could get an overdose of advice on how to run the government.

In fact, the job of presidential advisers has been made easy by the press. All they have to do is read the papers everyday and copy into memo form much of what is said by opinion writers.

Come to think of it, maybe that might explain the mess in government. Is it possible that presidential advisers are just copying and passing on to the bar the bum advice of the press?

* * *

UNTIL yesterday, Secretary Cuevas was still pressing the rhetorical point that if he was removed for his supposed responsibility in the manner that presidential clemency has been dispensed, should not his resignation be rejected after Zamora took the blame?

Cuevas is not asking to be put back, although that’s how he sounds to those who do not listen carefully. He is just saying in a roundabout way that he was not removed because of the Manero affair — as Malacañang had wanted the public to believe.

The President’s boys were frantically trying to score pogi points and salvage the sinking ship. Somebody had to be thrown overboard – and Cuevas walked into the deck to be it.

* * *

CUEVAS had rocked the boat and rowed in the opposite direction on many issues, including the cases of presidential cronies. He was, therefore, dispensable. Getting rid of him kunwari on the Manero case was thought to be a neat trick, another case of shooting two birds with one stone.

But it backfired, because Cuevas, who still has to learn teamwork, opened his mouth and started talking. Especially now that he has more time for interviews.

* * *

DESPITE his hairdo and other imperfections, Cuevas deserved a more courteous heave-ho. After all, didn’t he submit what was described as a courtesy resignation, with emphasis on courtesy?

The rough handling he got from his President reinforces the image of a barumbado, with emphasis on the bar, running things at the Palace.

We can’t blame people for recalling the same unceremonious replacement of Sweepstakes head Cecilia Munoz Palma and housing czarina Karina David as if they were guilty of some capital crime.

The poor rejects just learned of their replacement not from the President himself, but from reporters asking for their reaction to their firing.

* * *

MEMBERS of the President’s team serve at the pleasure of the appointing power. As glorified casuals, they can be removed any time.

That’s true. But it is also true that when you’re serving the president, the unwritten rule is that of civility. A Cabinet member deserves a measure of courtesy from the chief.

The President loses nothing by going through the expected motions of first thanking and formally informing a Cabinet member who has to go. He should not discard anybody like a soiled rag.

After a year and a half on the job, even a new president is expected to have learned these few niceties of the exalted position.

One possible exception is disciplinary dismissal for some serious fault. But in such a case, the President should level with the man, look him in the eye and tell him straight.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 17, 2000)

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