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Dark side of a corporate row

The ongoing dispute among the siblings of Bacolod City-based Yamson family— owner of five bus companies that operate an estimated 4,800 buses nationwide and employs some 18,000 people—has spilled to the highways of Negros Occidental.

Last week, the bus drivers of one of the companies, Ceres Lines, ceased plying their routes after the police took control of one of its terminals in Bacolod City in the wake of disagreement among company officials on who has the authority to deploy security guards in the premises.

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Recall that in July, the president of the conglomerate, Leo Rey Yamson, was ousted by four of his siblings in a surprise boardroom move and replaced by elder brother Roy.

Leo Rey has in his corner their mother, who claims to have majority stock ownership of the companies founded by her late husband, and a sister.

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The contending parties filed suits against each other. The efforts of the court to convince the parties to amicably settle their dispute have, so far, been unsuccessful.

In the meantime, the operations of the bus firms and the public transportation system in their franchise areas are adversely affected.

Unless the siblings can resolve their differences, the court proceedings would likely, emotion-wise, be bruising—and very expensive in terms of attorney’s fees and charges.

To prove or disprove the charges of mismanagement and misuse of company funds cited as the reason behind the boardroom coup, the siblings may have to disclose confidential family information or, worse, wash their dirty linen in public.

The public may also be treated to the spectacle of the family matriarch, who should be enjoying blissful retirement, testifying in favor of Leo Rey at the expense of four of her children.

Although the Yamsons’ case involves family matters that under normal circumstances would allow the exclusion of the public from the trial to protect the parties’ right to privacy, as in child custody, adoption, guardianship and support cases, that rule does not apply to them because their dispute is intracorporate in nature.

In substance, an intracorporate case is a dispute between a corporation and its stockholders, or among the stockholders themselves.

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During the trial, details about the bus companies’ operations and financial transactions would surely be discussed. In the course of the proceedings (and perhaps in a fit of emotion), information about lapses or violations of public service, tax and accounting regulations may, directly or inadvertently, be disclosed.

If this happens, expect the Land Transportation Office, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and other regulatory offices concerned to get into the picture and order the company officials to explain why they or any of the companies should not be penalized for the infraction.

This scenario may find the Yamson family battling on two fronts: Among themselves and against the government in their individual capacities or as family.

Sadly, that situation could put in serious peril the financial viability, or even the continued existence, of the transportation empire.

There is word on the street that some politicians have poked their fingers into the feud. This is understandable, if not expected, because like bees attracted to honey, the billion-peso conglomerate represents a good source of campaign funds in future elections.

But the problem with tapping the services of politicians to influence the court’s decision is they would be insatiable in making demands on the family member they have assisted.

When those politicians are no longer in power, their successors would have the same feeling of entitlement and there would be no end to the cycle of exploitation.

It has been said that time is the greatest healer. For now, an amicable settlement of the family dispute may look dim. But when the heat of the emotions has subsided, the quarrelling members may be able to resolve their differences peacefully.

If they fail to do so, the consequences would be dire for the family and the companies on which thousands of Filipinos depend on for their livelihood.

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