POSTSCRIPT / January 4, 2009 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Montemar club's stink jolts owners, members

ABSENTEE OWNER: One of the best-kept tourism secrets is the Montemar Beach Club, a gem of a resort on a cove with a prime white-sand beach in the hills of Bagac, Bataan, some 150 km (two-hour drive) from Manila.

It may come as a surprise even to members that Montemar is owned over 60 percent by the Philippine Communications Satellite Corp. In 1992, the telecommunications giant rescued it from near-bankruptcy with a financial package of over P100 million.

This put the club back on its feet and expanded its facilities that now include 85 guestrooms, swim pools, a convention hall, a nine-hole pitch-n-putt course, and a restaurant with a view of spectacular sunsets.

But despite the bailout under then Philcomsat president Honorio “Baby Boy” Poblador, the majority owner has had no representation on the Montemar board of trustees. Instead, Poblador brought in his friend Victoria Gonzales as Montemar president, CEO and general manager.

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STENCH: Just before the holidays, the Philcomsat board was assailed by what smelled like falsified public documents, forgeries and apparent gross negligence in Montemar.

This is the new unified Philcomsat board (consisting of government nominees sitting with the private-sector owners) that had taken full control of their 81-percent subsidiary — the Philcomsat Holdings Corp. — with the finality of the Court of Appeals’ consolidated decision on an ownership dispute.

Asserting control over its assets and subsidiaries, the new Philcomsat board unearthed irregularities that included a P3-million unauthorized personal loan by the club president to the corporate secretary, booked as a money market placement, and almost P700,000 in signed but unpaid chits by government officials.

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ACCOUNTING FRAUD: The more shocking discovery, confirmed by Montemar accounting manager Zenaida Ragel, is six years (2000 to 2005) of:

• Fraudulent audited financial statements.

• Forged signature of the auditing partner of Vicente Reyes & Associates, which had audited the books until 1999.

• Forgeries on fake letterheads of Vicente Reyes & Associates.

• Falsified “BIR” stamp on the front page of each “Audited FS” to simulate annual filings by Montemar.

Philcomsat directors — led by Malacañang nominee to the board Ramon Jacinto; holding company president and chief finance officer Katrina Ponce Enrile; and president Lin Bildner — demanded the resignation of Montemar president and general manager Victoria Gonzales and treasurer Carlos Munoz. They also ordered the preventive suspension of Ragel, the accountant.

The directors assigned Alex Villamar as club officer-in-charge and Manolita Morales as finance officer/comptroller.

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AMAZING TRUST: Some members were amazed that since 1999, the Montemar board had been unaware of the falsified and unfiled “Audited Financial Statements.”

The board includes Gonzales along with experienced business persons Edgar Krohn Jr., Ramon Davila, Rafael Cacho, Corazon Atayde, Digna Santiago and Francisco Garcia, the resident manager.

The trustees were also unaware that the Securities and Exchange Commission has fined Montemar P2 million for not filing an audited FS since 1999, and revoked the club’s license to sell securities to the public.

An irate member blamed the trustees who, he said, must have trusted the club president, who for years obviously had trusted the accountant.

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GOING BANANAS: I used to keep in the car bananas, the lacatan variety which does not spoil as fast as latundan, to fill me up when I feel like munching something on the road.

The bananas also came in handy when beggars in the nation’s capital knocked on my window at the red light. I would roll down the window and offer some bananas on the assumption they needed food.

More often than not, the beggar refused the bananas. A policeman-friend explained to me that mendicants collected money, not food, for the syndicate that fielded them and gave them their share at the end of the “working” day.

The late Manila Mayor Tony Villegas once told me that some “beggars” plying their trade near Quiapo church were found by a study he had commissioned to be earning more than the monthly salary of the city executive.

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DIET CRAZE: I am suddenly talking bananas because of this item quoting Cotabato Rep. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza reporting on a “Banana Morning Diet” craze among health-conscious Japanese.

This has reportedly resulted in a shortage of fresh bananas in that country. The solon’s line is that the Philippines should move quickly and purposely to fill the great demand.

Created by a pharmacist in Osaka, the banana diet became fashionable in Japan after celebrities who credited their impressive weight loss to the regimen endorsed it.

The diet starts with one or several bananas with a glass of room-temperature water for breakfast and anything for lunch and dinner. No desserts are allowed after meals, but a mid-afternoon snack is. One must have dinner by 8 p.m. and go to bed before midnight.

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JPEPA TERMS: A market of 128 million, Japan buys more than half of the bananas exported by the Philippines. Japan imported 970,000 metric tons of bananas in 2007, mostly from the Philippines and partly from Taiwan.

Cotabato (formerly North Cotabato), the solon’s home province, is a leading producer of bananas and other tropical fruits.

She noted that the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) gives Philippine bananas more access to the Japanese market. Japan has agreed to “eliminate import duties on small bananas over 10 years.”

After Ecuador, the Philippines is the world’s second biggest banana exporter, with a market share of 16 percent. Other rivals are India, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Costa Rica and Mexico. Last year, the Philippines shipped out 1.905 million MT of bananas worth $440 million.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 4, 2009)

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