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Biz Buzz: Law school shocker

It’s the kind of gossip that makes one’s jaw drop.

Word in legal circles is that a ranking academic official at a leading school is on his way out after he got involved in an affair with one of the school’s staffers.

How bad was it? According to Biz Buzz sources, this academic official, who is very much a family man by most accounts, was busted by no less than his spouse just recently. The preferred term to describe it in legal circles is “in flagrante delicto”—caught in the act. (Yes, it was that bad.)

When were they busted? Last Feb. 14, of course.

In any case, word on the street is that this academic official’s tenure at the law school was nearing its end and was not likely to be renewed. The strange thing is that this academic official is very much loved and admired by the student body for his nurturing and mentoring ways and many in the community couldn’t believe it upon hearing about the development.

And if that isn’t jaw dropping enough, this early, the legal community is already abuzz with speculation as to who will replace this official at the helm of the law school. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and the would-be aspirants aren’t wasting any time.

Wow. Just wow. —DAXIM L. LUCAS

JJ’s Aussie investment

Outside of his mass housing business, 8990 Holdings president Januario Jesus “JJ” Atencio has dabbled in offshore tech investing.

He recently became a cornerstone investor in a fund-raising launched by Australia Stock Exchange-listed Tomizone, which provides connectivity, analytics and location-based services and software to enterprises, brands and public venues in Australia and New Zealand.

“The story is that I invested in a Filipino tech startup called Social Light last year. They are a software company doing wide area internet connectivity, business analytics, point-of-sale processing, big data management. Then Tomizone, a publicly listed Aussie company was looking for a backroom provider that was good and competitive in price. They stumbled on the Philippines and Social Light and acquired it through a merger. They invited me to [be the cornerstone [investor] and this is the result,” Atencio explained to Biz Buzz.

Manila-based Social Light Inc. provides development services across the connectivity, digital marketing and retail technology space, serving the likes of UCC Group, Ateneo de Manila University, Sky Cable, TNS, Isuzu, Chilli’s and Baskin Robbins. This tech start-up was founded by Francis Simisim (co-founder of popular WhenInManila.com and founder of Blogapalooza), Annabelle Simisim (former P&G global purchasing solutions manager), Franz Alfonso (founder of Glue Digital and co-founder of ava.ph) and Erwin Lee (former Microsoft software engineer and founder of Glue Digital).

“The Aussies were looking for a competent software provider that they can partner with and acquire that would be up to the standards of Australia. They found it in Social Light. So this is a testament that Philippine tech is simply world-class,” Atencio added.

Tomizone used the extra boost to buy 100 percent of Social Light using its shares as currency: 24.5 million Tomizone shares equivalent to about 19.97 percent of its equity.

Apart from shifting backroom operations to a lower-cost environment, having a Philippine footprint is thus seen crucial to scale up business and acquire operating flexibility for Tomizone. This local foray is also seen as its gateway to major Asian customers and investors.

For his part, Atencio (directly as well as through Januarius Holdings) recently invested $650,000 to acquire a 6.63-percent stake in Tomizone, based on a regulatory filing. To recall, Atencio also put up a local venture capital firm “Original Pitch” to create a more favorable ecosystem for Filipino start-ups as well as enterprises entering their next stage of expansion. —DORIS DUMLAO-ABADILLA

Growing firm, growing client list

A growing law firm requires an ever-growing guest list when it comes to holdings social events. In the case of the Divina law office (branded for marketing purposes as “DivinaLaw”), every event it hosts features a growing list of VIP clients and last Monday’s birthday party for managing partner Nilo Divina was no different.

Held at the Tony Blackbird restaurant along Makati Ave., the lunchtime gathering drew in de facto SM group head Tessie Sy (the firm’s biggest client, no doubt), Divina’s former boss at the old Equitable PCI Bank Antonio Go, Sabin Aboitiz, Ricky Delgado and Menardo Jimenez.

Also present were UCPB president Jose Macadaeg; Francis and Norman Wee of the W Group; Ferdinand Sia, chief operating officer of Double Dragon; banker Rene Buenvantura; Monetary Board member Juan de Zuniga; Social Security System chair Amado Valdez, and Benjamin Yao of Steel Asia.

Also spotted enjoying the five-course lunch were Roman Felipe Reyes of the Reyes Tacandong & Co. audit firm; Danny and Baby Vasquez; Anna and John Marcelo; Anthony Huang of Comfoods; Francisco Tiu Sr. and Jr. of Frabelle Fishing Corp.; Quinto Oreta of Major Homes; Reghis Romero II, and mining businessmen Eric Gutierrez and Rep. Edgar Erice.

Now having grown to a headcount of 52 lawyers, Divina hinted that the law firm may soon need to put up its own building, the way white shoe establishments like ACCRA and Villaraza & Angangco have done.

Incidentally, the idea was put to Divina by his client Tessie Sy herself. But that’s more of a long-term plan for the firm. For now, Divina wants to focus on delivering results for his clients. Watch this growing firm, folks. —DAXIM L. LUCAS

New US investor

Despite President Duterte’s somewhat chilly attitude toward the powers in the West, there’s still plenty of business interest coming from that part of the world. The latest is Washington D.C.-based Astris Finance, a 15-year-old firm that focuses on consultancy and raising capital for major infrastructure projects in energy, transport and water.

With an early focus on Latin America, the company made a strategic decision in 2015 to expand its physical presence in Asia Pacific.

In the Philippines, the company is slowly establishing its roots. It tapped lawyer Michael Sagcal, a former spokesperson at the Department of Transportation under the Aquino administration as country representative.

Biz Buzz heard the company is now scouting for new office space, possibly in the Makati central business district, as well as for new deals. Some of those potential transactions are in the energy and public private partnership space.

All that’s left now, of course, is for government to roll these projects out. It looks like the interest from investors hasn’t waned. —MIGUEL R. CAMUS

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