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Monkey laundering

Just imagine the reaction of the stock market to the new boss of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). OK, it was actually embarrassingly upbeat!

That could be bad for the incoming administration of the new President, the tough talking Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, aka Duterte Harley.

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A couple of days ago, news media reported Duterte Harley wanted to appoint the just re-elected Las Piñas representative, Mark Villar, as DPWH head. Mark is the son of billionaire couple, former Senate President Manuel Villar and incumbent Senator Cynthia Villar, who made money in the real estate business.

The Villar family controlled the listed Vista Land, one of the biggest property firms in the country, with massive projects in more than 80 cities and towns.

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On Tuesday, the young Villar announced he accepted—rather “humbly”—the DPWH position, indicating Duterte Harley actually offered it to him and that the Villars did not solicit it. Hmmm.

Manny Villar, of course, also happened to be the president of the Nacionalista Party (NP). Never mind that the Villar couple immediately hurried to the side of Duterte Harley last week, joining the Davao City gold rush for juicy government positions.

From being a mere fence-sitter in the last elections, the NP of the Villars suddenly opted to coalesce with the PDP-Laban party of Duterte Harley. Presto! The 37-year-old congressman would be heading DPWH.

The stock market knew too well the potential of such a development—how the DPWH would perhaps build infrastructures to the advantage of Vista Land.

Prior to the elections, Vista Land stocks were trading at a strong  P4.70 per share, having already recovered from the collapse of the market early this year.

Surprise! The day after news broke out about the DPWH going to the Villars, seen in business as part of the spoils of political war, Vista Land zoomed to P5.60 per share. That was such a spectacular increase of 20 percent.

Nobody of course believed that, overnight, the company suddenly became so good in building houses that it would merit the dramatic rise in its stock price.

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To our contacts in the business sector, the market simply issued a loud statement: “conflict of interest.”

AMLC’s alleged abuses

Another monkey business that the Duterte administration planned to attack is the supposed abuses of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

Duterte Harley promised he would be investigating AMLC because his camp suspected it leaked information on his alleged bank deposits. Remember the exposé of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV days before the elections?

Anyway, the Senate blue ribbon committee would still be conducting another hearing on the $81-million money laundering scandal involving Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), Philrem and casinos. All eyes would be focused on Philrem, the company that handled the “cash” supposedly taken from Bangladesh.

What about AMLC? Would its sins in the scandal just be forgiven without much ado, considering it dilly-dallied in the case, in stark contrast to the haste with which it acted on a couple of other cases, such as those of the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona and Vice President Jejomar Binay?

In an ideal world, the Senate committee would have to come up with some clear policy directions for AMLC, particularly regarding the “leaks”—whether intentional or not, whether out of political pressures or plain incompetence from the AMLC.

The AMLC is already facing an interesting perjury case filed by businessman Antonio Tiu, whose bank accounts were ordered frozen due to allegations of being a Binay dummy. Tiu owns the 20-year-old publicly listed firm called Agrinurture, a top exporter of Philippine mangoes, in which another listed firm, Greenenergy, just invested P258 million last year.

The AMLC made it appear Agrinurture had no means whatsoever to justify its transactions, much less its assets and cash positions. Tiu, for his part, claimed the company had responsibly disclosed those “transactions” to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange.

Tiu lamented his group was in the midst of a major program for diversification and expansion, only to be hampered by the AMLC squeeze play called anti-money laundering.

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TAGS: Business, Department of Public Works and Highways, DPWH, economy, Mark Villar, News, Rodrigo Duterte
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