Calling a spade
Business World, 28 December 2011

It is traditional to end the year on a hopeful note, and this is one tradition I will adhere to, not only because there is nothing wrong with it, but because there is indeed something of substance to be positive about.

And what is that? I refer to the very small tribe of whistle-blowers — the likes of Catalino Generillo, Elpidio Que and Danilo Pacana — who have a couple of things in common: they want to get back for the Philippines and Filipinos what is rightfully theirs from business tycoon Lucio Tan; and they are dogged in their determination to succeed, despite setback after setback.

In terms of the magnitude of the amounts involved, Generillo is way in front of the others. The reader will recall that he was hired by the PCGG under then Chair Heidi Yorac — and was assigned to the case against Ferdinand Marcos-Lucio Tan et. al. (Civil Case 005) only in 2007. But Generillo accomplished in two years what his predecessors had failed to accomplish in 20: get solid proof bolstering the eyewitness account of finance expert Rolando C. Gapud of the 60-40 financial tie-up between Marcos and Tan, with Tan as the front man getting 40% and Marcos 60% because he provided everything that Tan needed to acquire the chosen business enterprises and ensure their profitability — including tax exemptions and financing of breathtaking magnitude and incredibly easy terms.

[Forgive me Reader, for going off on a tangent at this point, and talking about Roly Gapud. He was Ferdinand Marcos’s personal financial consultant during the dictatorship, and was in the loop insofar as the dictator’s business and financial deals were concerned. He is now Chair of the Board of Del Monte Pacific, Ltd., and I wrote him eight months ago to the day, asking him — Filipino to Filipino — to help his paisanos finally get the share of the Tan business empire that is rightfully theirs. This request was in the form of a public letter to Gapud. He has as yet not replied.

The grapevine has it that either a) he is not interested in helping the Filipino people or b) that he will do it only for a fee. I sincerely hope that it is (b), because while it smacks of self-interest, at least the chances of the Filipinos winning the case will be greatly enhanced. I also ask the PCGG to get off their butts and go to Singapore, if necessary, and talk to him face to face.]

Back to the story: Generillo was making waves, and he was ignominiously fired from PCGG — this is the most disgusting part — at the behest of Lucio Tan’s counsel Estelito Mendoza, whose wish, apparently, was Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera’s command, who in turn convinced the PCGG that he must be fired.

The good news is that the PCGG and the Solgen no longer seem to be taking orders from Tan/his lawyers. The bad news is that they either have no resources, or have too many competing demands on their time. But in any case, Generillo is still in there, swinging, trying to help, one way or another. Dogged determination.

If Generillo has found out where the skeletons are with regard to the Marcos-Tan relationship, Pacana and Que know where the skeletons are with regard to what they claim to be the so far successful efforts of three of Tan’s flagship enterprises — Fortune Tobacco (now merged with Philip Morris), Allied Bank (which is in the process of being merged with Tan-owned Philippine National Bank, the latter to be the surviving entity ), and Asia Brewery — to evade taxes. And where did they get that knowledge? Both were long-time Tan employees — Que, if I am not mistaken, for 30 years, rising to Regional Sales Manager of Asia Brewery before he was terminated; and Pacana had been with Allied Bank practically from its inception (1978), and was one of its regional auditors when he, in the euphoria following the EDSA Revolution decided to do his duty as a citizen and write President Cory about how the banking industry was evading taxes.

Pacana’s fight against Lucio Tan is recorded in his forthcoming book “Faceoff Against A Tycoon.” I have read the draft, and I must say that it is a brutally honest depiction of the characters and issues involved — including himself. I believe him when he writes that he was not aware of the informant’s award in successful prosecutions of tax evasion cases.

He lost that fight — and it was clear that insiders in the BIR had informed Allied Bank of who the informant was. His wife lost her job (she has since passed away), also with Allied Bank. He does not hesitate to name names. The story of the loss of financial security and his wife’s loss of health is gut-wrenching.

But he continues in his fight, and whereas his first case against Tan was filed out of the limelight, this latest case he is determined to fight in the open — he has apparently talked to BIR Commissioner Kim Henares. This second fight, by the way, is with the cooperation of Elpidio Que — whom he met only in the course of his battle against Tan.

Although Pacana reminds me that I had called him up in 1998 (I have been following the Tan case since the early ’90s) in connection with the tax evasion case against Tan’s Allied Bank (dismissed by then Commissioner Beethoven Rualo, who was universally regarded as a Tan-backed appointee), I had forgotten about the conversation. It was actually Elpidio Que who put Pacana back within my radar, and Que himself came to my attention because of documents he had sent me — which I disregarded, because I wasn’t sure whether he was just trying to get back at Tan for his dismissal. But I changed my mind three years later, when he sent me documentary evidence that made me pretty sure where he was coming from (and he had already won his case against Tan for illegal dismissal — although I don’t know whether it has become final, because as the Reader knows, Tan uses the judicial process and its appeals system to his advantage).

What did Que’s documents show? For one, the exploitation of domestic tobacco farmers, who Que claims are paid as little as one-fourth of what their Chinese counterparts are paid; for another, the exploitation of labor (he cites himself as an example, but other names as well); and for a third, the notorious use of “marketing arms” to cheat the government of tax revenues — obviously with government complicity. Que’s anger and frustration at how government officials — he specifically cites the elected officials of Vigan. But despite that anger and frustration, he fights on.

There is a third similarity between the three whistle-blowers: all of them wrote to their respective Presidents, making “sumbong”: Pacana to Cory Aquino, Generillo to Gloria Arroyo, and Que, ever optimistic, to PNoy (he also wrote to Arroyo, I think). As far as I can make out, only in Cory’s case was a response given — although no resolution to Pacana’s charges were made until after 11 years (against Pacana), long after Cory, and during Erap’s time.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for these whistle-blowers? One knows how well-connected their enemy is. The hope arises because not only are they doggedly determined, but this time it looks like they are giving each other moral and other support. Davids against Goliath — but three of them this time. May their tribe increase. Happy New Year, everyone!