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Business Buzz

July 16, 2008

Bank examiner pulls a fast one

There can’t be a bank examiner more enterprising than this one.

A bank examiner at the central bank, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), found it irresistible to own a rural bank while being a bank regulator himself. Not only did he take over a rural bank in a far-flung province, he also borrowed P800,000 from the BSP provident fund to purchase a building, which then leased office space to this rural bank.

This bank examiner has been suspended and is now facing charges in court filed by the BSP. And his rural bank had been shut down by the central bank.

The funny thing was, at the time the BSP was building up the case against this conflicted bank examiner, he was still reporting to the office every day.

BSP officials lamented that he couldn’t be easily sacked because of restrictions under the civil service law. Doris C. Dumlao

Tony Boy takes a partner

The TV firm Associated Broadcasting Corp. or ABC-5, of Antonio “Tony Boy” Cojuangco will start broadcasting programs produced by its new Malaysian partner Media Prime Berhad on Aug. 1 in a bid to revive its flagging fortunes.

Ranking company officials said Tony Boy’s group—which includes former finance secretary Jose “Titoy” Pardo and Bank of Commerce president Raul de Mesa—initially explored the possibility of bringing in Media Prime Berhad as some form of equity partner, but were deterred by the constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership of media outfits.

“Instead, we will just co-produce programs and air them on Channel 5,” an official said.

Eventually, all programs to be aired on ABC-5 will be Media Prime programs, or at least co-produced, leaving the station’s news programs as the only ones of purely local content. Daxim Lucas

High and dry

SM Investments Corp. officials recently showed off the company’s 6,000-hectare Hamilo Coast mixed-use development in Batangas province to awestruck members of the media—part of the company’s drive to further drum up interest in the project.

Ever since Hamilo Coast was unveiled, officials of high-end property developer Landco Pacific, which owns the adjacent enclave for the ultra-rich, the Punta Fuego, have quietly fretted on how the SM mega project will affect their fortunes.

One thing they are counting on to level the playing field a bit is the shortage of potable water in the area.

“Just ask them. Where will they get their water?” said a ranking Landco official with a chuckle.

As it stands, the local water district has trouble supplying the needs of the local community and Punta Fuego, which is occupied largely on weekends only.

The likely answer for SM Investments’ Hamilo Coast would be an expensive “reverse osmosis” water treatment facility that would supply the water requirements of the huge community.

High-flying SM Investments will have to draw on its well of experience if it hopes to bring down the cost of water in the area—through economies of scale or through direct subsidies. Daxim Lucas

GSIS springs a trap

The Lopez family that runs the power retailer Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) seems to have won the initial round of the battle for Meralco against board member Winston Garcia, president of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and things are beginning to quiet down.

But pro-Garcia insiders say the fight is far from over.

Putting on a brave face after their recent setback, one official who moves in the inner circle of the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration said the legal battle would now likely go all the way to the Supreme Court.

“That’s what Winston wanted all along,” he said, quite confidently. “The Lopezes made a mistake by falling into this trap.”

It remains unclear how this “trap” is supposed to work. But the buzz around town that has been gathering intensity over recent weeks is that the GSIS assault on the Lopez family’s crown jewel is meant to soften it up for an eventual buy-in by a prominent businessman who is looking for new investment opportunities. Who is he? Clue No. 1: He is not a Chinese-Filipino tycoon, or “taipan.” Clue No. 2: He is cash-rich. Daxim Lucas

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