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Biz Buzz: Witch-hunt turns bloody

/ 10:21 PM August 02, 2011

The state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines was shaken on Tuesday by news that one of its brightest young lawyers, Benjamin Pinpin, had committed suicide by hanging himself. The lawyer, who was in his early 40s, had worked at the documentation unit of the bank’s legal counsel.

The lawyer was one of the 20 people given by the new DBP bosses a “show-cause” letter in relation to the investigation of alleged anomalous transactions during the previous regime. He had left three suicide letters to his wife, but the mourning family requested that the contents of the letter be kept confidential.

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“We are very saddened. He’s very hard-working and dedicated and has a very bright future with the bank,” said bank spokesperson Leonora Fernandez. The young lawyer, who could no longer take the heat in DBP, was apparently driven into desperation. Other sources said Pinpin’s heartbroken mother trooped to the DBP on Tuesday to demand an explanation from the DBP board. Now we’ll see who won’t get sleep over this.—Doris C. Dumlao

Invoking Zeus

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Mining magnate Felipe Yap is beginning to unlock more value out of his assets and we’re not just talking about Lepanto and Manila Mining. In recent weeks, there has been a noticeable surge in trading activity on dormant holding firm Zeus Holdings, which is also affiliated with the Chinoy businessman. Based on its charts, Zeus was largely stagnant until July this year when it started to climb and even appear on the daily “actives” list. From only 20 centavos in June, its stock price has risen by nearly five times to close at 94 centavos Tuesday. Is the market again smelling a new deal in the making? Stock pundits say this is due to expectations that South African gold mining giant Gold Fields—Yap’s prospective partner in the Far Southeast mining project—is looking for a potential backdoor-listing vehicle if and when it exercises its option to acquire a controlling stake in the mining project. Such a listed vehicle will after all assure an easier exit mechanism in the future.

But given Lepanto’s array of other mines waiting to be developed, it’s also possible that Gold Fields may seek a slice of Lepanto itself, which only boosts the merger and acquisition play on Yap’s listed firms… which have for long been in the radar of the First Pacific group led by Manuel V. Pangilinan.

Meanwhile, industry sources say Lepanto shares are also rising ahead of a report that will come out by mid-August confirming the vast reserves of Far Southeast mining in the municipality of Mankayan in Benguet. There are also talks of a twin ore discovery by geologists working on the site.—Doris C. Dumlao

SBMA jockeying

A contender for the top position of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Administration will supposedly file a complaint against holdover Administrator Armand Arreza for plunder for having the agency incur a staggering net loss of P1.38 billion in 2007 and P2.5 billion in 2008 “as a result of anomalous acts.”

According to our source, this contender has in his possession Commission on Audit documents showing the allegedly “questionable” deeds of Arreza and the previous board of directors of SBMA.

One such “anomaly” was the sharp spike in the agency’s expenditure for salaries and wages, which went up from P387 million in 2007 to P737 million in 2008, despite there being “no appreciable increase in personnel complement or in the amount of salaries and wages.”

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Of course, no good deed goes unpunished, as they say, and there is now an ongoing “demolition job” against this candidate courtesy of some tabloid columnists and block-timers, according to our source. These same columnists and radio commentators are, of course, calling for Arreza’s retention.

Mr. Contender also said that the same CoA report shows that, in one year alone, Arreza and his board of directors racked up P5.16 million in foreign travels, P4.47 million in personal expenses, P3.6 million in bonuses and P1.81 million in gas allowances. The same records also showed that Arreza, in 2009, received a P26.86 million in salary and allowances.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Contender—who has made no secret of his desire to replace Arreza at the helm of SBMA—will indeed be chosen by Malacañang for the post. Who is he? He’s the son of a former Olongapo City mayor who passed away earlier this year.—Daxim L. Lucas

PBCom ‘residue’

The Chung and Nubla families may retain about 9 percent of Philippine Bank of Communications with their intention to plow back P2.8 billion in investment to the bank after the entry of the group led by former trade minister Roberto V. Ongpin. These two groups used to own 58 percent of the bank but had to divest to comply with a regulatory requirement to bring in a third party investor into PBCom. At the very least, they will be able to buy new preferred voting shares at P27.88 a share, the same as Ongpin’s entry price. PBCom’s shares, after all, are now worth P120 each.—Doris C. Dumlao

Goodbye ‘H-S-B-C’

The Makati skyline discreetly lost one of its most visible and recognizable logos recently after the management of Kuok-owned Enterprise Center took down the huge red-and-white logo of British banking giant HSBC from the top of its taller “Tower 1” (not to be confused with the Ayala’s Tower One building across from the street).

The bank’s iconic logo—visible from way beyond the boundaries of Makati City—was previously the issue of a small debate between the building’s owners and HSBC when the latter moved out of The Enterprise Center early last year to their slightly humbler abode at present in Taguig City.

The bank had argued then that the original contract (sealed at the height of the 1997 East Asian financial crisis) stipulated that HSBC’s logo would stand proudly at the top of the building as long as the bank maintained a presence in it. Well, HSBC may have left as an anchor tenant in 2010, but it left behind its main branch at the Enterprise’s ground floor (technically giving it a “presence” to justify the signboard on top).

The Kuok group allowed the bank to have its way for a time, but with the original contract having ended recently, pressed its advantage and had the bank remove its logo from the prime advertising slot. It should be interesting to see what logo would replace it. In the meantime, the joke around HSBC is that they will install the recently removed letters on the Antipolo skyline facing Metro Manila, Hollywood-style.—Daxim L. Lucas

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TAGS: Banking, company, DBP, HSBC, PBCom, Philippines, suicide, Zeus Holdings
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