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Roberto Ongpin

Roberto Ongpin
Ronald Roy  -October 5, 2011

       For someone facing a criminal lawsuit for having allegedly unduly profited from a Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) behest loan in violation of banking laws, Roberto Ongpin was cool as a cucumber on Pia Hontiveros’ televised talk show on the ABS-CBN News Channel, ANC.

       Remembered as a “Binondo Central Bank” crony of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the mysterious industrialist held sway with nary a stammer, waxing affable and disarming throughout, in a performance that must have impressed the astute host, herself an affable and disarming performer.

       And if Pia’s smart and pointed interrogation seemed intended to faze her guest, Ongpin’s tranquil, good-natured and sometimes comical deportment was a portrait of condescension— an imagery of one born of a good mind, risk-taking savvy, and a healthy sense not to breach the law.

       In my view, the entire show was in the palm of his hand, and I believe many viewers were enthralled by the telecast for its unexpected entertainment and information contents.

       The main thrust of Ongpin’s position is that there was no behest loan to speak of because the P660M worth of loan taken by his Delta Ventures Resources, Inc.—which was granted during former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s time—was sufficiently collateralized, paid back well before it fell due, and yielded a hefty profit for the DBP.

       After some discussion, Ongpin calmly insisted, in effect, that it was grossly unfair to assail the loan in question as unlawful, just because it was processed and granted during Gloria Arroyo’s corrupt administration. Hmmm … oo nga naman!

       And again, as in previous press statements, Ongpin stressed that the criminal charges against him were a knee-jerk reaction to placate a public enraged over a suicide note of a promising DBP lawyer, who had literally succumbed to behest pressures. Hmmm… pwede rin yan! Animo ‘teneo, animo Ongpin!

       In any event, Ongpin’s loan now stands pejoratively labeled as a behest loan, as if it had been insidiously packaged to line the lender’s and borrower’s pockets with public funds.

       What in the first place, is the meaning of “behest”?

       “Behest” is an old English noun which means command or order. A behest loan is therefore a loan that is given to a borrower on the order of a governing body—i.e., if the lender is, say, a Government Financial Institution (GFI) like the DBP, or someone higher than that governing body, authorized by law to issue the order.

       And who is this “someone” in the instant case? Answer: Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, since it was during her administration when the Ongpin loan was released.

       Unknown to many, all the shares of stock of the DBP (as in the case of other GFIs) are lodged in the Office of the President for their disposition.  The President, through her appointing authority, fills up the DBP Board of Directors with people of her choice under guidelines prescribed under the DBP Charter.

       An appointment includes the grant of a qualifying share which, in effect makes the appointee a “stockholder” by fiction of law, thereby vesting in him the authority, rights and duties of a director.

       The President, on the other hand, is vested with a fiduciary duty to hold all the stocks in trust for their beneficiaries (the sovereign people) in whose interests the GFI was established.

       During the Marcos years, the DBP and two other GFIs, the Philippine National Bank (PNB) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). They fell by the wayside because they engaged in numerous behest loans, behest investments and other sundry behest transactions.

       Some of these behest activities did well, while others that turned sour resulted in huge losses which, according to bankers worth their salt, could have been prevented had behest pressures not been applied to undermine the efficacy of management’s exacting protocol designed for a wide array of financial situations.

       Since then, all behest undertakings going awry have been branded as mechanisms for graft. That is a risk a President and all these GFIs’ governing bodies take in behest cases, however well-intentioned they may be. All of them, including managements’ erring technical staffs, if any, must be prepared to stand accountable.

       When the smoke of the dictatorship cleared in the mid-80s, only the two other GFIs, the Social Security System (SSS) and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) stood strong, very much in the black.

       This was so because SSS Administrator Gilbert Teodoro and LBP’s ex-officio Chair Cesar Virata and President Basilio Estanislao were assiduous guardians of the sovereign coffers consigned to their care under the law— down  to the last centavo.

       Putting things in perspective, I would like to clarify that the strongman from the Palace never arm-twisted SSS and LBP officials. I should know that. As a Marcos appointee to the Land Bank Board, I was one of his “eyes and ears”.

       In fairness to Ferdinand Marcos, he always deferred to our technical judgment whenever we deemed his behests to be contrary to sound banking.

       In fact, when Mrs. Marcos once asked me to persuade the Board to accommodate an unviable business project of a ranking cabinet member, I boldly, albeit respectfully, told her:”Ma’am, only over our dead bodies could that be possible.” She never, never held me in deprecation after that – in fairness to her.

       Bobby Ongpin and I go all the way back to Ateneo de Manila’s elementary and secondary schools. He struck me then as a shy and self-effacing nerd who was more interested in the school library than in our playgrounds.

       Now, almost six decades later, Bobby has resurfaced on my radar screen— unperturbed in the glare of publicity far worse than during the Marcos years, and primed to take on all comers to defend his integrity as a high-stakes industrialist.

       At one point of the telecast, Bobby—his forefinger inflexibly pointed upwards, and squinny eyes mischievously hinting at P-Noy—said: “I’m being sued because someone up there doesn’t like me xxx and oh yes, Pia,  Mike Arroyo’s a friend of mine, and he’s really a nice guy, but we’ve never had any business deals between us.” Hmmm… peksman, Bobby?

       Be that as it may, from a purely legal standpoint, I reckon Bobby Ongpin will have a field day slaying the dragons unleashed from the war rooms of the Department of Justice, his FM and FG crony tags notwithstanding.

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