Sui Generis

Will Marcos Jr. revive ownership claims of crony businesses?

Marites Dañguilan Vitug
Will Marcos Jr. revive ownership claims of crony businesses?

Presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr speaks to supporters during the UniTeam proclamation rally in Malaria, Caloocan City on February 19, 2022. John Mark Pineda/PonD News Asia

I am asking this question in light of what Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said in 2007 when he claimed that his family owned 60% of the shares in Lucio Tan’s companies such as Fortune Tobacco, Foremost Farms, Asia Brewery, Allied Bank and a few more.

At the time, he testified as a hostile witness before the Sandiganbayan which was hearing a case filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) against the billionaire businessman. His testimony, he said, was important to the Marcos family because “they – let us generalize by calling them the cronies – have been lying about what has been going on.” 

He used strong words, showing seriousness in taking back what he and his family believed to be theirs. This was a rare admission by Marcos Jr. that he knew of his late father’s illicit wealth. 

After the Marcoses fled the country in February 1986, a few cronies entered into compromise agreements with the PCGG, first of whom was Jose Campos Yao, who owned  United Laboratories Inc., a major drug firm. He surrendered more than 100 properties of Marcos of which he was caretaker. Banana magnate Antonio Floirendo and banker Roberto Benedicto followed.

Marcos Jr., then a congressman, appeared to cooperate with the PCGG which was running after Tan’s companies as the Chinese-Filipino entrepreneur was among the biggest cronies of his father. Tan benefited from government favors that allowed him to expand his business empire in exchange for lavishing the then-dictator with cash.

In 1987, the Los Angeles Times wrote that it obtained documents indicating that in just the years after 1980, “Tan gave Marcos $11 million in cash, much of it apparently in illegal campaign contributions, and was given favored treatment in the operation of his brewery, his pig farm, his bank and hotels.”

Tan, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, conceded that “he handed hundreds of millions of pesos over to Marcos and that he and Marcos were close friends.” When asked whether the figure of $11 million in payoffs was accurate, Tan said, “Add one zero, maybe two. President Marcos will not ask directly. Maybe indirectly. Maybe a project, disaster, earthquake. Always asking for money for projects. So many projects, too many projects. Always projects, projects, more projects. But when I give a check, I cannot know what portfolio, what folder, what pocket it goes into. They ask, and I just give the money.”

Sandiganbayan testimony

In August 2007, Marcos Jr. testified that a company called Shareholdings Inc. was the holding company for the other Tan-owned companies where the Marcoses had interests. He said this was divided into three other companies: Basic which owned 50%, and Falcon and Supreme, with 25%  each. He said they have copies of the Deeds of Sale, Deeds of Assignments and other documents to prove ownership.

However, his testimony was cut short by the anti-graft court because he could not present certified copies of these papers. Later, he told reporters: “… I merely spoke on the things that I knew from my own experience. So I don’t think there was any question that the things I testified to were things that I know of my own knowledge. Actually, the documents were those shown to me by my father.”

More details surfaced in a brief given to reporters a day before his court appearance. Marcos Jr.’s lawyers – Marcos Ochoa Serapio & Tan law firm (the Marcos in this firm was Liza Araneta Marcos, wife of Marcos Jr.) – said that the Marcoses had obtained US-certified copies of “several letters signed by Mr. Lucio Tan,” all addressed to the late president and containing the latter’s marginal notes. The letters were among many documents that Marcos’ personal secretary, Fe Gimenez, took when she and the Marcoses fled to Hawaii in February 1986, the Philippine News Service (PNS) reported. These documents were seized from the Marcos party by the US Customs Service when they landed in Honolulu.

The US government later gave the Aquino administration certified copies of the documents including various deeds of sale executed by Tan and his family transferring ownership of the business empire to Shareholdings, Inc.

‘Silent partner’

Marcos Jr. met with reporters on the eve of his testimony and told them that his father was a “silent partner” of Tan. He recalled that he was summoned by his father to his study in Malacañang in the early 1980s – where he found him in a meeting with Tan.

“My father asked me to join them and he said that Lucio would explain to me our investment interests in several of Lucio’s companies. A week or so later, Lucio asked me if I could meet him in his office at Allied Bank. During that meeting, he explained the different corporate structures which our family apparently had financial investments in,” the PNS quoted Marcos Jr. as saying.

Tan even drew structures of the companies in which the Marcoses had interests.

Shareholdings Inc, the holding company formed in November 1979 by then-president Marcos and Tan, was used to acquire and consolidate the shares of stock in Tan’s companies. “I distinctly remember this because I was present when [Security Bank president and Marcos financial executor Rolando] Gapud went to meet Lucio [to] formalize his business venture agreement with the latter,” Marcos Jr. said.

He added: “I believe that was done to put our financial interests in all these companies into one holding company and in order to further ensure continuity of these companies in case any unfortunate event befalls Lucio or my father.”

Today, this case filed by the PCGG against Tan is still pending in the Supreme Court. Should Marcos Jr. become president, what fate awaits Tan and other cronies who “lied about what was going on?”

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.