BIZ BUZZ

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THE booming gaming business in Metro Manila might be all about getting the newest and flashiest local or overseas performers but it appears that players at Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.’s (Pagcor) provincial casinos prefer a blast from the past. And their preferred star is none other than “jukebox king” Victor Wood, a romantic balladeer who hit it big in the 1970s while the country was under the martial law regime of  the Marcos administration.

Wood, who also made an unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat in 2007, might have vanished from the airwaves—those born after the  ’70s might have no clue who he is—but  Pagcor chair Cristino Naguiat Jr. assures us that he remains the hottest star at the regulator’s events outside Metro Manila.

Naguiat says a performance by Wood draws the biggest crowds and has thus become a staple at these Pagcor events in 13 casinos nationwide at least once a month. There have been opportunities to tap other celebrities—Naguiat notes that Gabby Conception is another favorite—but Wood is still the most popular choice.

The gaming chief recounts how one of Pagcor’s loyal patrons, a “super VIP” lady who can wager as much as $1 million at its casinos in a day, personally requests for a performance by Wood. “How can we refuse,” Naguiat quips.

Apart from his appeal, we hear that Wood does not charge as much as the younger “top” singers of this generation. And for Pagcor, this makes the jukebox king a very good bet indeed.  Miguel R. Camus

Counterfeit Mongols

BEROL Corp., the company that produces the iconic pencil brand Mongol, is cracking the legal whip to protect its trademark, which has reportedly come under siege from a ring of counterfeiters. National Bureau of Investigation agents last week uncovered and seized about 8,000 counterfeit Mongol pencils from two stores in Cebu City and criminal complaints are being readied against the owners of these trading firms, Mongol’s legal representative Eduardo Escaño told Biz Buzz.

Berol, a wholly owned subsidiary of New York Stock Exchange-listed Newell Rubbermaid Co., claims that its registered trademark Mongol had been violated after the Cebu retailers “offered and sold merchandise that are counterfeit, sub-standard and mere imitations of the Mongol pencils.” The retailers were selling the fake Mongol pencils for a little more than P2 each as against the P5 selling price of the original ones, Escaño said.

The stores distributed fake Mongol pencils, displayed them on their store racks and kept stocks in their warehouses. Similar raids were conducted in Cebu City last year, resulting in the filing of charges against four establishments likewise through the Escaño Sarmiento & Partners Law Offices. While the cases against the four firms are pending at the Cebu City regional trial court, two new cases will be filed with the Department of Justice in the next few days.

“We theorize that the goods are in Cebu because they are easily detectable in Metro Manila. They are in Cebu to disseminate goods in other provinces in Visayas and Mindanao,” said Escaño.   Doris C. Dumlao

Restructuring Sinophil

LIKE its affiliate APC Group, shareholders of investment holding firm Sinophil Corp. yesterday approved a capital restructuring plan that will reduce the company’s deficit by about P1.6 billion. This will be through a reduction in the par value of the company’s common and preferred shares to 25 centavos from P1 each, an exercise seen to expedite its ability to declare dividends in the future.

But while APC has been defined to be a holding firm for the group’s mineral and energy assets, there is no firm plan yet on what core business Sinophil will embrace moving forward.

“We’re still looking for opportunities,” said Sinophil chair Willy Ocier.

To date, the only assets in Sinophil’s books are some pieces of real estate near the upcoming Belle Grande entertainment complex and a substantial amount of Belle shares. Once the books have been cleaned up, Ocier said the next step would be to determine what business to get into. To this, he said Belle Corp.’s new president Frederic DyBuncio would be the prime mover. Doris C. Dumlao

Attracting the pros

THE PHILIPPINE office sector, touted as among the hottest in Asia, is apparently so attractive that real estate professionals abroad are start     ing to look for work here.

CBRE Philippines, at least, is getting queries from offshore professionals seeking experience in this growing market, according to vice chair and global corporate services chief Joey Radovan. “We are getting a lot of applications from elsewhere in the world from those with or without experience wanting to work here.”

And just what might such professionals want to do in the Philippines? Corporate leasing, for instance, is a vibrant activity in the country, and there’s the residential property market.

Industry data point to Metro Manila as a fast-growing office market alongside Bangkok, Taipei and Tokyo. This is due to high investor confidence, credit upgrades, cost-effective rental rates, expanding multinationals and manufacturers and overseas workers and expatriates alike moving from renting to buying properties.

Combined with the effect of anti-speculation taxes, tighter rules and sky-high property costs in saturated markets such as China, Hong Kong and Singapore, more property investments are expected to boost Philippine developers.

For now, at least, experts say the country’s property market is still some way off from being oversupplied—and real estate professionals abroad are taking notice. Riza T. Olchondra

Coveted vacancies

ROUGHLY a year before the posts become vacant, some forward-looking (and ambitious) parties are already angling for the two slots that will become available at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ Monetary Board.

Set to end their terms in July 2014 are Ignacio Bunye, who was appointed to the policy-making body that oversees the banking system in 2008 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Also ending his tour of duty is banker and former Trade Secretary Peter Favila, who was appointed to the Monetary Board in 2010 to serve the unexpired term of former board member Raul Boncan.

Favila—even if serving only four years instead of the six provided by law —has been particularly active, serving as a trouble shooter for the BSP governor and a back channel between regulators and banks when “moral suasion” needs to be exercised on touchy issues.

Just like in previous instances of forthcoming MB vacancies, several would-be candidates have already whispered their expressions of interest to their respective padrinos in the hope of landing the coveted post.

Why? Apart from the prestige and influence that comes with helping set the course of the Philippine economy, MB members are also some of the most highly paid government officials since the BSP is exempt from the Salary Standardization Law.

But what are the desired characteristics of an MB member? Preferably, he should have experience in the financial system and monetary policy, and how both interact with the real economy. So those with less than sterling credentials need not apply.

Many are interested, but few are qualified.  Daxim L. Lucas

Tax surprise and everything nice

BESIDES tuition and other expenses that have come to be associated with the month of June, there’s something else to worry about for employees of embassies and multilateral agencies: Taxes.

The people concerned have somewhat recovered from the big surprise in April when, on the Friday afternoon before the April 15 deadline for tax filings (which was a Monday), tax authorities issued a circular requiring their 2012 payments.

Sources said the hide-and-seek way that authorities went about the ruling hit workers badly. For one, since their principals do not pay Philippine taxes, there are no taxes withheld to record and present tax authorities with. This resulted in confusion at BIR offices where many public servants on duty didn’t seem to know what to do with what seems to be voluntary payments.

Another trouble is, those following the law will have to kiss some 60 percent of their 2013 earnings goodbye. That is, they’ll be paying 30 percent of their 2012 income and will have to set aside another 30 percent of this year’s income in order to be ready for the next round of filing.

The burden is such that, according to sources, very few have been able to pay even last year’s tax requirements. Some have tried taking out loans to make payments, but are finding it hard to chase the deadlines.

On a good note, the deadline for the first half of payments owed last year were extended to May 15 from April 15, and the rest will have to be completed by July 15. Even so, the sources said, many were unable to make the unforeseen cashout as they deal with tuition, regular living expenses and other costs.

There was apparently an appeal for abatement and a collective move to have the orientations on the ruling as well as the tax filings done where many embassies are located in order to have some form of order and encourage compliance considering the number of filings anticipated. Concerned public servants were said to have insisted on a “to each his own” approach, prompting embassy officials to appeal to BIR higher-ups.

To date, however, the July 15 deadline remains. People were apparently told to just pay and request abatement later. Our sources said they were told the requests would be “reviewed on a case to case basis.”

It’s gotten our sources wondering why they seem to be in a cat-and-mouse game where they need not be. Still, there are fingers crossed that concerned employees can hurdle such difficulties. And there’s hardly a month before the reckoning. Riza Olchondra

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