The quiet Yuchengco group

CLOSED TO MEDIA. Barring access to the press is uncommon since most listed firms want to get their messages and plans out to the bigger audience outside their investor circles, mostly for prestige and attention. Yuchengco-led RCBC is one of the few exceptions.

Rappler file photo

While publicly listed companies are not obliged to open annual stockholders' meetings (ASMs) to the media, almost all family members behind the listed companies and/or their C-suite executives face the press every year to give updates on their finances and answer questions on current issues – save for the Yuchengcos.

Barring access to the press is uncommon since most listed firms want to get their messages and plans out to the bigger audience outside their investor circles, mostly for prestige and attention. Ayala-led Globe Telecom is an oddity in not allowing the press to enter the ASM venue, but the Ayalas know that keeping the press out serves little purpose. They usually hold press conferences right after Globe ASMs.

However, the ASM of the Yuchengco-led Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), the 10th largest lender in the Philippines in terms of assets, was a completely different experience. Up until now, the embattled bank's ASMs has remained closed to media, both during and after the ASM.

On June 27, as simultaneous ASMs occurred in different parts of the city, 3 reporters – who are new to the banking beat, including Rappler staff – trooped to RCBC's annual stockholders' meeting at the bank's landmark skyscraper in Makati. As reporters headed inside RCBC Plaza's Yuchengco Tower, they were greeted with a "media" attendance sheet.

At around 4 pm, the reporters were whisked away to the Hexagon restaurant at the 4th floor of the two-tower building. The ASM was at the 47th floor. An RCBC employee informed the reporters that the ASM was closed to media, and that they had to wait at the restaurant for the press conference. After almost two hours, RCBC personnel were still out of sight. ASMs usually take 30 minutes or an hour at the most.

The reporters decided to proceed to the ASM venue by 6 pm, but only the cleaning staff were there. It was unclear if even the top executives were still around to meet the reporters before or after the mandatory organizational meeting after the ASM. The reporters asked: What happened to the press conference? Uncertain on what to reply, the staff member called a PR and media relations assistant at RCBC.

In a short while, the media relations assistant went up to the 47th floor and told the reporters, "Sorry, our ASMs are closed to media. There is also no press con scheduled today."

Hounded by issues

This is one of the reasons Yuchengcos are seldom quoted in news reports, even if there are a handful of issues hounding the family and their businesses. Most, if not all, of the public responses of the group have been coursed through carefully crafted press statements where follow-ups are almost non-existent.   

Press statements were how RCBC handled its entanglement in the $81-million Bangladesh Bank fund heist where it was fined the single biggest monetary fine of P1 billion for non-compliance with banking regulations. This pulled down its net income in the first quarter of 2017 to P1 billion from P1.8 billion registered in the same period the previous year. 

Hackers tried to steal close to $1 billion from the Bangladesh Bank account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in February 2016. The US bank was able to stop 30 of the 35 transactions.

However, 5 transactions involving $81 million entered the Philippines via RCBC through several fictitious accounts, of which funds were laundered in several casinos. RCBC named new top management members, including the bank president, after this incident. 

Aside from the bank heist, another Yuchengco-owned company is facing a syndicated estafa case before the Department of Justice.

In January 2017, around 450 plan holders of the defunct Pacific Plans Incorporated accused the Yuchengcos of 840 counts of "syndicated estafa by means of deceit," 840 counts of "syndicated estafa by abuse of confidence" and another 77 cases specific to Lifetime Plans only. 

Named respondents in the case are founder Alfonso Yuchengco, Alfonso Yuchengco III, Ambrosio Padilla, George Dee, Helen Dee, Paul Sycip, and 30 others.

The plan holders said that in June 2004, Pacific Plans unilaterally transferred the assets and liabilities of its pension, memorial, and fixed-value educational plans to a new company, Lifetime Plans. 

"Two months later, Lifetime Plans sold its stake in Pacific Plans to GPL Holdings Incorporated, which is another Yuchengco family company for the declared book value," the plan holders added.

In early 2009, GPL Holdings then sold Pacific Plans to businessman Noel Oñate, who bought it for P250 million.

In April, family patriarch Alfonso Yuchengco passed away. News of a possible sale of RCBC made the rounds. 

These issues and the Yuchengco group's plan moving forward still need to be further explained. – with reports from Sofia Tomacruz and Chrisee Dela Paz / Rappler.com