POSTSCRIPT / September 24, 2006 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Cuenca suddenly appears to reclaim PNCC shares

GHOST FROM THE PAST: Business circles, initially buoyed by reports on the House of Representatives’ approval of a 25-year franchise extension for the Philippine National Construction Corp., are amused by the sudden appearance of a ghost from the past.

Marcos crony Rodolfo Cuenca has asked the Supreme Court to allow him to intervene in the compromise agreement between the PNCC and Radstock, the Hong Kong firm that was assigned the receivables of Marubeni after the Japanese firm failed to collect from PNCC.

Cuenca ’s arguments are now the stuff of jokes in the coffee shops. He claims he was not informed of the case.

Now, for someone buried deep in cases he had filed against the PNCC — to regain what he claims were shares taken unjustly by the government — Cuenca ’s arguments just do not wash.

He claims the compromise deal is unfair because he had been blindsided. The word, a paraphrase of Cuenca’s claim, means to be taken by surprise. How can that be when Radstock’s case against PNCC has been going on since 2000?

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RIP VAN WINKLE: By all accounts, Cuenca is keen on reclaiming his power in PNCC by getting back shares sequestered by the government and diluted due to unpaid loans of his own making.

How could he have failed to miss the fact that in 2002 the Regional Trial Court of Mandaluyong issued a decision favoring Radstock?

Cuenca wants everyone to believe he was sleeping when the RTC issued its decision, and was still napping when PNCC elevated the case to the Court of Appeals, before turning tail midway through proceedings to ask the High Court to stop the hearing of the case.

That conjures up an image of a Rip Van Winkle, that fictional character who snored through an enchanted sleep while the world marched on.

Cuenca’s story would be a tad more believable had he not been pursuing cases against the PNCC all this while — cases that he has already lost in the lower and appellate courts.

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LOAN GUARANTEE: Cuenca’s other claim is that he did not issue a guarantee for the loan from Marubeni, which was used for his Basay Mining firm.

Now, that is a more solid reason for wanting to intervene.

That is why even Cuenca’s allies in the House of Representatives were surprised when, during a hearing on PNCC’s franchise extension, the businessman suddenly folded just a few minutes into one of his friend’s passionate defense of his case.

Why? Because PNCC corporate secretary Madel Tacardon bluntly refuted the claim, saying, yes, there were papers showing Cuenca had personally guaranteed the loan.

(The Marubeni loan, which was guaranteed by the PNCC known then as the Construction Development Corp. of the Philippines, should not be confused with Cuenca’s loans to government financial institutions that were guaranteed by then President Marcos)

Some solons told me that after Tacardon’s statement, Cuenca shook his head at the friend, apparently a plea to hush and please move on.

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BALLOONING LOAN: It is not surprising that Cuenca did not want to be pressed on the issue by Congress.

I asked several businessmen and former government officials in the know, and they say that his no-guarantee claim is strange, because the decision of the RTC hinged partly on the fact that PNCC had reluctantly admitted the existence of a guarantee, with no less than a former corporate secretary attesting to this.

Also, the PNCC board, as early as 2000, had acknowledged in an official meeting, that the original loan — unserviced since 1980 — had ballooned to P10 billion, including interest and penalties, as of that year.

A former government official involved in crony cases also said that even before that, the Asset Privatization Trust had certified there were, indeed, private guarantees issued by Cuenca and another top aide authorized by the CDCP board.

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BIG JOKE: A wag in one coffee forum quipped: If he really believes he owns PNCC, Cuenca should have helped PNCC in its long battle against Radstock who came collecting in lieu of Marubeni.

That is a valid point, considering that PNCC started eyeing a compromise deal only when the High Court rejected its plea to stop the case.

After a quarter of a century — one generation — the loan had ballooned to P17 billion. The PNCC could, of course, fight on and face the possibility of having everything pulled from under its feet. It took the wise course and settled for P6 billion.

As these cases go, this might even be dropped to P5 billion — in kind and staggered payment. But then it could go on with its core business in peace without a sword of Damocles hanging over its head.

For Cuenca to suddenly appear at this late date and claim to be acting in the interest of PNCC and the government is the biggest joke heard hereabouts in a long, long time.

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MWSS BIDDING: In another big project, the bids and awards committee of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System has set a pre-bid meeting on Sept. 27 with four investors vying for the government’s stake in Maynilad Water Services Inc.

Maynilad, which holds half of the Metro Manila water concession area, used to be controlled by the Lopez family in partnership with a French firm, but big losses and its failure to pay loans taken for the project forced the MWSS to rescind its contract.

Now the MWSS is bidding out the concession.

The bidders include the Consunji family’s DM Consunji Inc., the Metro Pacific Group led by Ayala-owned Manila Water Co. Inc. (already holding the contract for the remaining half of the metropolitan water area), Noonday Asset Management Asia Pte. Ltd. of Singapore, and Karunakaran Ramchand of India.

Oscar I. Garcia, chairman of the bids and awards committee, said the conference will give the bidders a chance to consult and clarify all matters before the committee.

The submission of technical and financial bid proposals has been set Oct. 24. The bidders have until Oct. 20 to conduct due diligence.

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NAMFREL BOMBSHELL: Those who believe that the National Movement for Free Elections, the civic poll watchdog, may sit up and pay attention to what this former Namfrel chairman in Lanao del Sur has to say about the 2004 presidential polls.

Abdullah Lacs Daligdig, the former Namfrel chairman, told the Presidential Electoral Tribunal the other day his readiness to face a firing squad if he cannot prove that vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda was cheated in the province in the 2004 election.

Presented as a witness by Legarda’s camp, Daligdig affirmed what he said in his affidavit that the late Fernando Poe Jr. and Legarda won the elections in Lanao del Sur based on Namfrel’s official copies of the election returns (ERs).

Under the law, Namfrel as a monitoring team accredited by the Commission on Elections was entitled to an official copy of the election returns. This enabled it to make its own independent tabulation.

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READY TO DIE: Daligdig, the provincial chairman of Namfrel’s “Operation Quick Count,” also affirmed as genuine the Namfrel copies of the election returns from Lanao that had been presented by Legarda to the PET as evidence.

The Namfrel’s ERs from Lanao and their counterpart copies from the Comelec, which were submitted to the PET last Monday, matched.

Legarda’s lawyers said that the matching of the copies showed the ERs retrieved by the PET from the House of Representatives, which did not match the Comelec copies, were forgeries.

Despite the badgering he received from lawyers of the opposing camp, Daligdig said: “Handa ko pong harapin kahit firing squad dahil talaga naman pong dinaya ang nasirang Fernando Poe Jr. at dating senador Legarda sa Lanao del Sur  noong 2004.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 24, 2006)

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