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BIZ BUZZ: ‘Fantastic’ bids

/ 04:03 AM November 24, 2021

As American banking giant Citi entertains suitors for its consumer and retail banking businesses in 13 jurisdictions, including the Philippines, the group has received “fantastic” bids from a “broad range of buyers,” Citi Asia-Pacific head of media relations James Griffiths told local media yesterday.

Citi expects to be on track with its target to conclude the transaction, or get deals announced by the second quarter or second half of 2022, he said.

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“We’re going to choose the bank that fits the best outcome for us, the best interests of our staff and our clients. There’s been plenty of speculation locally about which banks have bid for the asset and because it is obviously a fantastic asset, there’s been a very broad range of buyers,” he said.

As far as submission of “fantastic” bids is concerned, there are some people betting on BDO Unibank, the country’s largest bank. To recall, BDO has been picking up a lot of Citi assets, including the 10-branch Citibank Savings in 2014 and even the former head office of Citi along Paseo de Roxas in Makati in 2017. Citi has since then moved to its new home in BGC.

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BDO also bought the banking assets of almost every foreign bank that has exited the country since the turn of the millennium, bulking up its assets to eventually become the largest bank. Its resources have now breached the P3-trillion mark. It is in a good position to put out an aggressive bid.

Ayala-led Bank of the Philippine Islands is likewise no stranger to mergers and acquisitions (M&As) and has a strong brand equity and the longest operating history, being the first bank in Southeast Asia.

Ty family-led Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co. has taken a long pause from the M&A scene in the new millennium, after previously gobbling up three banks one after the other— Philippine Banking Corp., Solidbank and Asian Bank—and focused on building a formidable balance sheet. It’s also expected to be in a good position to vie for Citi’s assets.

Citi, on the other hand, was the 12th largest universal bank in the country with P331.32 billion in total assets as of end-2020. It had a P153.75-billion total loan book and P215 billion in deposit base. The consumer and retail banking segments constitute a significant part of this business.

In the credit card business alone, Citi has about 1 million customers in the Philippines and is among the top three in terms of share of credit card spending. In retail banking, it has about 50,000 customers, mostly from the affluent income segments.

But without naming anyone, Citi’s Griffiths said it was a “fantastic range of buyers.” “Conversations continue with a range of buyers and our priority right now is to conclude this and the transaction that makes the best sense, you know, for both our people and our clients,” he said.

—Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

Legal minds on Ongpin case

It may have raised some eyebrows here and there, but at least two of the country’s sharpest legal minds think that the decision of a La Union judge to acquit Julian Ongpin—the son of billionaire Roberto Ongpin—of drug possession charges was the right thing to do.

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Biz Buzz recently asked AccraLaw senior partner Francis Lim’s view on the case that has gripped the country over the last couple of months and he thought San Fernando Judge Romeo Agacita Jr.’s decision was spot on.

We sought Lim’s view in particular because he has been teaching Evidence in Ateneo Law for many years, and has also been recognized for his litigation practice. In fact, Ongpin’s lawyer, Dennis Manalo, was Lim’s student at the Ateneo, Biz Buzz learned.

“The court had a compelling reason to dismiss the case for lack of admissible evidence as the investigators did not follow the chain of custody rule,” Lim said, adding that the outcome “should serve as a valuable lesson for our investigators, otherwise their time and efforts will always go to waste.”

“From the perspective of Julian—whose right to a speedy disposition of the criminal case against him is guaranteed by our Constitution—it would have been gross error for the court to lengthen his agony arising from the rigors of a public trial,” the senior Accra lawyer explained. “As we all know, it usually takes years for a case to be decided until its final conclusion.”

Lim’s voice adds to that of former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile who also came out with a statement recently lauding the La Union judge’s decision.

“I must say that Ongpin was fortunate in having such a very judicious and capable judge to hear and try his case,” Enrile said. “The decision is very lucid and well-written. Judge Agacita meticulously analyzed the case, step by step, according to existing and current precedents and jurisprudence, to arrive at his decision to dismiss the case against Julian Roberto S. Ongpin for lack of probable cause to indict him.”

“The decision of Judge Agacita is truly a meritorious act of justice,” he concluded.

Of course, despite these opinions—and a few others like them—the Department of Justice has said that it will appeal the case. Will the outcome be different this time around? Abangan!

—Daxim L. Lucas INQ
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