PRESIDENT Duterte’s critics claim that his popularity and political acumen, as well as his allies’ overwhelming victory in the May elections, have made him so powerful that he is on the way to becoming an absolute ruler.
Yet in the case of the huge Coconut Industry Investment Fund-Oil Mills Group (CIIF-OMG), which just five years ago had revenues from its coconut oil milling operations of over P14 billion, its board of directors has managed to defy his orders.
A year ago, five of the group’s eight directors nearly got to stop the firm’s operations when they resigned and got all the key officers to go on mass leave, to protest Duterte’s nomination of a Davaoeño, one Rehan Lao. Duterte bent over backwards, and rescinded Lao’s appointment.
He then appointed in September last year Aquilino Trinidad as the milling group’s officer-in-charge. Just seven months later though, in April, after Trinidad started to investigate allegations of corruption in company, six of the eight board members issued a resolution that since he was just appointed as “officer-in-charge” and wasn’t elected by the board, he had no authority to appoint or transfer anybody in the company. That practically made Trinidad a nobody in the company, with virtually no authority and nothing to do.
Then in a “Memorandum to All Employees” dated May 28, the vice president for corporate services, Joven Evangelista said: “Please be informed that during the Board [sic] meeting held on 31 July 2019, the Board of Directors elected Ms Teresita Mata-Marañon” as the new president/CEO of the CIIF-OMG.
The dates are not typos, at least not on my part.
Either the board secretary is extremely sloppy he shouldn’t be corporate secretary or even a lawyer at all, or there is something very suspicious about his memorandum.
It was dated May 28, announcing a purported decision of the board of directors on such an important matter as who is to be the new president/CEO made at a meeting that would still be held two months later, on “31 July 2019.”
Such an official company document is obviously void, defying all humanity’s understanding of what time is, or the order of months.
However, this sloppy corporate secretary, Evangelista, could be the central figure in the turmoil at one of the government’s biggest companies, a crucial one as it buys over 10 percent of coconut farmers’ copra output, and therefore has power over many such farmers’ level of income.
Sources in the company allege that it was Evangelista who last year “agitated”—the term they used—the firm’s board members and other officers to “resign” to force Duterte to rescind his order appointing Lao as president.
This claim is bolstered by the fact it was Evangelista who actively talked to print and broadcast media on why the board didn’t want Lao in the company.
One anti-Duterte media outfit pounced on the issue: “Evangelista also said CIFF-OMG officials were also approached by ‘powerful’ people closely connected to Special Assistant to the President Christopher ‘Bong’ Go. ‘Lumapit po sila kay (former CIIF president Benedicto) Lor [at sinabi] na kailangan ni secretary Go [ng pera] dahil malapit na ang midterm elections’.” (They approached president Lor and told them that secretary Go needs funds because the midterm elections are coming up.)
It was also Evangelista who allegedly convinced the board to deny the new president Trinidad any authority in the firm, providing them with alleged precedents in jurisprudence that an “officer-in-charge” has no appointing power in the company.
And to whom did the board give the power to “issue appointments, promote, transfer, discipline or dismiss personnel”? According to the board resolution of April 24, it gave the authority to Evangelista.
Who the heck is this Evangelista who has the gall to defy the President of the Philippines over who should run a billion-peso government firm? The answer explains a lot.
Sources allege that he has been close to leftist groups, and in fact had been a lawyer for Bayan Muna cadres Teddy Casiño, Liza Masa, and Carol Pagaduan in the plunder charges that the latter filed with the Ombudsman against then President Arroyo. He was the main counsel or among the counsels in other Bayan Muna and even Akbayan cases. Evangelista had been an obscure lawyer with a small office in an apartment in Sampaloc, Manila.
Evangelista, as it were, fell through the cracks He was appointed to the CIIF board in 2016 after lobbying by the leftist groups when they were still allied with the Duterte administration. When the Left broke off its support for Duterte, the President apparently forgot to include Evangelista in the group of communist cadres in government that he kicked out in 2018.
The allegations of his links to Bayan Muna are serious. Bayan Muna is the “legal-struggle” front of the Communist Party, which the military has claimed has been adept at siphoning funds to the New People’s Army. CIIF-OMG’s oil mills buy the copra from the country’s top coconut-producing areas, which have been for decades major sites of recruitment and operations of the New People’s Army.
It is not clear though if Malacañang, particularly the Executive Secretary, may have defaulted in the procedures for implementing the President’s orders, giving Evangelista the opportunity to maneuver in removing Duterte’s appointee, Trinidad.
To comply with corporate laws, the President gets to put his choice to head a government firm—especially one like the CIIF-OMG, the group of coconut oil companies set up by Marcos cronies illegally using the coconut levy funds, that was sequestered and turned over to the state by the courts—by issuing what is called a “desire” letter to the board. This states that it is his “desire” for the board directors to elect a certain individual as the firm’s chairman or president.
He has not issued such a “desire” letter for Trinidad, nor for Teresita Mara-Marañon, a small Davao City politician who had been at the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.
But that is how things fall through the cracks.