Duterte vs. the oligarchs; A tribute to Al Yuchengco
It seems Rodrigo Roa Duterte is on track to become one of our best presidents and the most popular ever. Proof is his continuing popularity. He also topped TIME’s online poll on who would be in the magazine’s 100 most influential people. He got 5 percent of the yes votes, far ahead of second-placers Justin Trudeau, Pope Francis, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg (whose Facebook has 1.86 billion active users), each of whom got 3 percent. Imagine that, Duterte beating in an online voting the guy whose business has 1.86 billion users online!
Duterte got global attention by focusing on one major issue —peace and order. And that to achieve peace and order, a president must kill all the drug addicts and drug lords he could get his hands on. His target was 100,000 to be fed to the fishes of Manila Bay.
According to former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, 70 percent of crimes are drug-related or drug-induced. By the way, Mayor Erap is celebrating his 80th birthday today, April 19. So if you want to achieve peace and order, focus on the major source of crime—drugs. This, Duterte is doing. And damn the world if it complains about his violent tactics.
Duterte also wants the world to know that he is an honest man. During the TIME poll, he fired his local government cabinet secretary and a deputy cabinet secretary in charge of irrigation and agriculture. He has urged overseas Filipinos visiting Manila to shoot customs people who try to ask for even a ten-peso bribe.
The President has also started a shame campaign against the Philippine oligarchy and tax evaders. In a speech in Qatar on April 15, he accused tycoon Roberto V. Ongpin of influence peddling since the term of the late President Corazon Aquino (February 1986-June 1992). Duterte also claimed Ongpin was given a concession by Cory in which he pays the government only one percent of his income while others pay 10 percent.
Bobby Ongpin was minister of trade and industry under President Marcos from 1979 to 1986. Knowing how much Cory hated Marcos and anyone associated with the late strongman, I doubt very much if she would dare give Bobby Ongpin any business concession or accommodation or a sweetheart deal.
To be sure, Bobby’s younger brother, Jaime Ongpin, served as Cory’s first finance secretary. He committed suicide after barely ten months in office because the President didn’t appreciate fully her reform-minded finance chief’s sacrifices. Jimmy Ongpin gave up a lucrative CEO post as head of a large Marcos crony-owned mining company and campaigned for Cory to win the presidency, to the chagrin of Bobby.
Cory’s successor, Fidel V. Ramos, also didn’t give any concession to Bobby Ongpin. Neither did President Joseph Estrada who succeeded FVR. Under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Bobby’s PhilWeb got the franchise to provide software to the state-owned casino entity Pagcor’s online gaming business. PhilWeb was giving the government P2 billion a year as its share of the income.
When Duterte became president, Pagcor lost this huge yearly income. Bobby sold his control of PhilWeb at a loss of P18 billion and simply moved on.
As I said in previous columns, whatever money the Harvard-trained Ongpin made, he did it through the old fashioned way—through hard and honest work, and sheer talent. He is not at all an oligarch, not an oligarch embedded in government, and certainly not a businessman who did or has done damage to the country and the Filipino people—unlike some so-called venerable tycoons who run or control utilities which charge the highest prices in the world.
And yes, Ongpin pays more taxes than billionaires far richer than he is.
Speaking of patriotic tycoons, I am shocked and sad that a good friend Alfonso Yuchengco has died, last April 15, at the age of 94.
I remember Al Yuchengco for three things—for his entrepreneurship, for his love of his country, and for fighting the Marcos dictatorship (he helped finance the Light a Fire Movement and back Cory’s presidential bid in 1986).
At first, AY tried to recruit his two sons, both named Alfonso Yuchengco, to help him manage the business but both found the business too much of a challenge. Helen Dee then took over. She is tough. And good.
In 2007, Helen hired Lorenzo Tan as CEO of RCBC. With AY, Helen Dee and Lorenzo Tan, RCBC took off.
Unlike other conglomerates which are backstopped by property and power assets, RCBC grew by using the capital markets in what Tan called “a prudent, calculated strategy.”
Muses Lorenzo Tan: “Al Yuchengco was a visionary, a patriot, a great business leader, a diplomat and a philanthropist. We will dearly miss him.”
In July 2016, Lorenzo left RCBC. He is back to his old love, investment banking.