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Biz Buzz: Causing undue panic

/ 12:14 AM August 31, 2016

Many branches of Bank of the Philippine Islands were swarmed with clients Tuesday, though not for the usual reason that depositors troop to their banks on short notice.

No, there was no financial emergency, but many clients were anxious to get to their branches nonetheless.

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That’s because the Ayala-controlled financial giant posted on its Facebook page last Friday an urgent notice asking clients to comply with new scary-sounding documentation. This was supposedly required by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas ordering banks and their clients to toe the line with regard to the US government’s Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

The document that BPI wanted its clients to fill out and submit was basically an information sheet that would allow the US government to assess whether you are liable for US taxes. And it’s not just for US citizens or US residents, but also local accounts with US addresses or phone numbers, or those that have regularly sent funds to the US before.

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In any case, BPI’s rather alarmingly worded Facebook notice stated that any client who failed to comply with the Fatca requirements by Aug. 31—that’s today, just a day after the start of the work week, following a long weekend holiday —would lose access to their ATM and online banking services.

“If you are unable to update your account information on or before Aug. 31, 2016, your transactions can only be services over-the-counter of our branches,” the notice said, sending clients rushing to BPI branches Tuesday and leaving the officials of BSP (to which BPI attributed the requirement) scratching their heads.

“The submission of the Fatca form is not actually required to be submitted to maintain online banking access,” a central bank official told Biz Buzz, sounding rather annoyed at having been made a scapegoat for the requirement. “This is consistent with the fact that the Philippine-US Fatca intergovernmental agreement has NOT yet come into force pending Senate ratification.”

A few hours later, Biz Buzz received another message from the ranking BSP official: “I’m told BPI will issue a clarification and apology. They shouldn’t be clumsy about it.”

And so they did. Understandably, many bank clients were left upset after the unnecessary panic. Daxim L. Lucas

Deadlock

IT’S BEEN reported that Metro Pacific Investments Corp. is facing regulatory kinks over its proposed North Luzon Expressway-South Luzon Expressway (NLEx-SLEx) connector road, particularly over the Department of Finance’s insistence that the 8-kilometer elevated tollroad project be folded into a special purpose corporation (SPC) rather than be placed under the umbrella of Manila North Tollways Corp.

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What hasn’t been discussed in public is why the DOF is insisting on the SPC route and why the structure even matters.

We heard that the DOF wants the proponent to finance, design, construct, operate and maintain the connector road under a 37-year concession agreement be handled by an SPC to ensure that there would be no mismatch with the existing franchise of MNTC. From the regulator’s perspective, MNTC cannot handle this because the 37-year concession for the connector road will outlive MNTC’s hold over NLEx.

MNTC’s service concession term for NLEx runs until Dec. 31, 2037—unless further extended—after which it will have to hand over the tollroad project to the government.

On the part of Metro Pacific, the reported rationale is all about cost efficiency and its original assumption that the connector road will be operated as part of the NLEx (thereby prospectively lengthening the project life span of NLEx itself).

The parties are thus in a stalemate, but the private sector proponent isn’t giving up. “We are still in discussions with DOF at the present time,” said MPIC president Joey Lim. Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

The real telco issue

MUCH has been said P70-billion joint acquisition by Globe Telecom and PLDT of the telecommunications assets of San Miguel Corp. a few months ago.

The first issue that was raised was whether the deal complies with newly enacted competition laws, with no less than the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) leading the charge against the early clearance of the deal.

At stake is whether the transaction will concentrate too much market power in the two telecommunications giants and leave no room for competition—a situation that may ultimately be detrimental to Filipino consumers.

The more recent issue over the deal is whether the tender offer price being put on the table by the new owners of Liberty Telecom (which is now jointly owned by Globe and PLDT) in a bid to buy out remaining minority shareholders is a fair price. While some market analysts had earlier predicted that Liberty should be worth at least P5 a share, the firm’s new owners want to pay only P2.20 a share to small stockholders.

Of course, both issues are important, but the truth of the matter is that they’ve distracted the public from the real issue at hand: That the Philippines, to this day, continues to suffer poor mobile internet services at the hands of the dominant telecommunications firms.

Sure there have been marginal improvements since Globe and PLDT started setting up new cell sites using the 700 megahertz broadband frequency they bought from San Miguel, but the quality of service is far from optimal.

Poor internet service is the reason San Miguel wanted to set up a rival telco in the first place (something that Globe and PLDT opposed). And poor internet service was even a major issue in the recently concluded presidential elections with no less than President Duterte telling Globe and PLDT to shape up.

And while distracting issues continue to be raised before the public, the main issue at hand remains unresolved.

Biz Buzz learned, however, that the government is watching the situation unfold with keen interest, especially whether Globe and PLDT can deliver on service improvement promises before the deadline.

A deadline? Yes, there is. According to our sources, no less than the National Telecommunications Commission has read the proverbial “Riot Act” to both telcos: “Show us improved internet services by December, or else…”

Now that’s a deadline that’s worthy of their attention. Daxim L. Lucas

Speaking of which…

WHEN marketing man Noel Lorenzana was appointed to run the PLDT group’s TV5 venture, no less than the conglomerate’s head honcho Manuel Pangilinan said that the former Unilever official had a “difficult job” of trying to turn around the fortunes of the money-losing TV network.

Well, it looks like MVP (as Pangilinan is commonly known) was right about the prospects of the job. Biz Buzz got confirmation that Lorenzana has indeed tendered his resignation as the CEO of TV5 and it will be effective on Sept. 30, 2016.

According to a ranking insider, there are no indications that he will move to another unit within the PLDT or Metro Pacific groups, which is the usual practice in that conglomerate with its valuable talent pool of top officials. However, another TV5 mainstay will be sliding into the post Lorenzana is vacating, temporarily at least. We’re talking about renowned basketball coach  Chot Reyes who, according to this ranking insider, will indeed be taking over the helm of TV5 beginning Oct. 1, 2016.

It won’t be a permanent appointment yet as Reyes’ official designation will be “officer in charge”, but that can change, of course, if the company’s fortunes reveal a hint of changing during his tenure. Daxim L. Lucas

E-mail us at [email protected] Get business alerts and a preview of Biz Buzz the evening before it comes out. Text ON INQ BUSINESS to 4467 (P2.50/alert).

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