Second of 3 parts
THE despicable attempt by Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Risa Hontiveros as well as Senate President Vicente Sotto to stop the $560 million sale by Chevron of its 45 percent shares in the Malampaya Gasfield Project to the Chinese-Filipino Dennis Uy, was intended to benefit Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim’s First Pacific conglomerate.
That foreign-controlled conglomerate would have instead acquired that stake. I wrote about this in great detail in my column last Wednesday.
What bolsters that thesis — that it was Salim behind the senators’ conspiracy — is the fact that it was not the first time that the Indonesian’s corporate vehicle made such attempt to sabotage Uy’s acquisition of Malampaya shares.
The first was made in November 2019, about two weeks after Salim’s PXP Energy Corp. lost the October auction by Chevron of its shares to Uy’s Udenna Corp. subsidiary.
In a brazen attempt to stop the sale, PXP Energy secretly asked — in four letters in November 2019 — the government-owned PNOC Exploration Corp. (PNOC-EC), which owns 10 percent of the consortium, to assign its rights to match Uy’s bid to the Salim firm. A copy of the first letter accompanies this column.
The proposal, which PXP euphemistically dubbed the “Cooperation Agreement” (see image), would have meant that even if had lost the bidding, PXP would still acquire, through the backdoor, the Chevron shares Uy had won in a fair auction. Among the other enticements that PXP dangled before PNOC-EC for the agreement was a “premium” to be paid to it amounting to P50 million — a corporate bribe, that is.
But the transfer of the right to match was not allowed under the joint operation agreement made in 2002 by PNOC Exploration Corp., Chevron and Pilipinas Shell, the latter two of which had 45-percent shares each in the consortium, operating the huge Malampaya Gas Field Project. One of the biggest industrial endeavors ever in the country, it has provided the nation the equivalent of one-fifth of its energy requirement by providing the gas fuel of five plants in Luzon.
The PXP plan would have violated all notions of a fair corporate bidding, since a losing bidder eventually acquires the shares of the winning bidder. That would severely dent the country’s reputation as one with rules and regulations governing business transactions. It would also have been inarguably a case of graft, since it would have been meant a government entity giving undue advantage to a private firm.
The PNOC-EC board rejected the offer on Nov. 14, 2019 — fortunately most of its members were handpicked by Rodrigo Duterte (including two former Air Force heads) and by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi. We are witnessing a clear instance of an oligarch — an Indonesian one at that — that had been close to the past four presidents, snubbed by the current president.
Less than a year after that, Senators Gatchalian, Hontiveros and Sotto, as well as Panfilo Lacson, for a time, launched what was a last-ditch attempt to stop the sale by Chevron to Uy’s Uddena, the details of which I described in my column last Wednesday.
Sources claimed that this gang calculated — falsely — that they could portray Uy as Duterte’s crony, that the President backed the tycoon’s purchase of the Malampaya shares, and that he would, for the sake of his political reputation, ask the Davao-based businessman to rescind the deal.
After all, the Indonesian tycoon had built up, very anomalously since the Constitution banned any foreign participation in media, the biggest media (read: propaganda) organization in the country, spearheaded by the Philippine Star and Channel 5.
But since when has Duterte cared about his reputation?
Indeed, a day after Gatchalian and his gang got the Senate to approve his resolution that the Malampaya deal should be investigated by the Ombudsman, Duterte issued a statement saying that Uy’s purchase “was a private transaction between private entities that must be respected.”
The senators’ allegations, he said, “casts undue, undeserved and unwarranted aspersion on the part of some of our key government officials. This is grossly unfair to them and to the public… I will not allow this valuable resource to be jeopardized and embroiled in the political antics of some members of the Senate.”A copy of the PXP letter that would have sabotaged the Chevron bidding if PNOC-EC had backed down.
It was a despicable move as these senators claimed, without an iota of evidence, that not only Energy Secretary Cusi, but also 11 career Energy department officials, were corrupt because they “railroaded” the sale — even if it was entirely a private transaction. They claimed without any evidence that 12 government officials conspired to railroad a colossal corporate sale. Or was the Gatchalian gang’s move merely their way of pressuring the officials to go along with their lies?
Gatchalian even expressed sadistic glee when he said in his speech endorsing the Senate committee investigation on the matter: “They face between six years and one month of imprisonment, and perpetual disqualification from public office.”
Given that the two senators are running for reelection while Sotto is running for vice president, it is difficult not to claim that their investigation of the sale was, as that well-known phrase puts it, “in aid of election,” either publicity-wise or financially.
I’ll give up my employment as a columnist if Gatchalian and Hontiveros’ allegations are proven true. However, graft cases in the Philippines are such that there have been scores of cases of such charges being filed against government officials resulting in their suspension from office, impoverishment as they are required to pay for their own lawyers and virtual prohibition from getting private-sector employment —- only to be declared innocent years later.
Of course, nearly all newspapers screamed in their headlines: “Cusi, 11 DoE officials face graft charges.” Gatchalian and Hontiveros have tagged them as grafters, and in modern society that label would take years to erase. And what for did these merciless senators do their evil?
To pressure the Duterte government and even the Ombudsman to stop the largest case of the Filipinization of a foreign-owned company after the US GTE sold its PLDT shares to local elites in 1968. Gatchalian and Hontiveros prefer an Indonesian tycoon rather than a Filipino to own the country’s biggest natural gas producer?
And these two relatively young senators have been projecting themselves as the country’s hope for the future? Marcos and Duterte’s unity team should kick out Gatchalian from their senatorial ticket.
He properly belongs to the Pink Party, many of whose members like Hontiveros and even its presidential candidate Leni Robredo have been more than willing to blacken the country’s reputation worldwide for their political ambitions.
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The Hong Kong-based First Pacific conglomerate is owned 45 percent by the Indonesian oligarch Antoni Salim. His more well-known top executive, Manuel Pangilinan, owns just 1.6 percent. Details of how it got to be one of the biggest in the country and how its propaganda machine has falsely portrayed Salim’s executive as its owner is discussed in my 2017 book Colossal Deception: How Foreigners Control Our Telecoms Sector — A Case Study of Corruption, Cronyism and Regulatory Capture in the Philippines, available in the shop section of my website.
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