‘I need no Mike Arroyo to succeed in business’
He does not need the backing of Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo to succeed in business or obtain big-ticket loans, said businessman Roberto Ongpin as he defended his three-decades-long track record in investment and business.
In a phone interview on Saturday from Europe, where he is on a business trip, Ongpin objected to the statements that Sen. Sergio Osmeña III made during and after the Senate hearing on Friday into the P660-million loan that the Development Bank of the Philippines extended to Ongpin in 2009, which the businessman used to finance his acquisition of Philex Mining Corp. shares.
Osmeña said, among other things, that for the transaction to have been made possible at all, there must have been a “B”—or Big Man—behind Ongpin, which many have taken to mean as suggesting that the influential backer must be Arroyo.
“I don’t need an A, B, C, D, E or even an FG (popular shorthand for former First Gentleman Arroyo) backing me up for me to be successful,” said Ongpin.
“I have been doing investment banking deals for 26 years now,” he said.
Not bigness or luck
Ongpin also took exception to what he said was Osmeña’s remark that he was not “big enough” for the DBP to grant him such a large loan, and that Ongpin was quite “lucky” to have been able to make a large profit from buying and selling Philex Mining Corp. shares.
“It’s not a question of bigness. It’s a question of diligent research and analysis. In the same manner, it’s not a question of luck. It’s a question of careful analysis and judgment calls,” he said.
“That’s how I make money. Not [through] influence,” he said.
To Osmeña’s claim that he must have been backed by an influential personality, Ongpin said: “I admire Senator Osmeña, but just as he does not require a powerful backer to be a good politician, I, too, do not need a powerful backer to be a good businessman.”
“While I admit to being Mike Arroyo’s friend, we met no more than five times during the entire Arroyo administration, and only once in Malacañang,” Ongpin said.
“Is it a crime now to be his friend?” he asked.
Ongpin pointed out that he had been engaged in large deals since he brought in Malaysian business tycoon Robert Kuok to invest and put up the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel in Mandaluyong City during the administration of President Corazon Aquino.
Since then, the Kuok group has invested an estimated $3 billion in six hotel and high-end residential developments in partnership with him, including a new Shangri-La hotel being built in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig, Ongpin said.
The Philippine investments of his latest partner, the UK-based Ashmore Group investment fund, is worth an additional $2 billion, he said.
The controversy stemmed from two loans—P510 million and P150 million—that the DBP extended to Ongpin in 2009 for him to acquire the Philex shares, some of which were bought from the DBP itself.
The DBP’s new board of directors has claimed that the loan to Ongpin was “behest” because it was allegedly granted with “undue haste” and without sufficient collateral cover.
The new board also accused the former DBP board and its former president, Reynaldo David, of putting the bank at a disadvantage for selling the DBP’s Philex shares at P12.75—itself, already double the DBP’s acquisition cost—when Ongpin sold the same shares a few days later to businessman Manuel Pangilinan at P21 per share.
The former leadership of the bank also exposed the DBP to undue risk for allegedly granting the loan with insufficient collateral, the new board claimed.
The controversial deal is being investigated in the Senate by a joint inquiry of the blue ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Teofisto Guingona III and the committee on banks, financial institutions and currencies, chaired by Osmeña.
It is also the subject of at least three court cases.
In Saturday’s phone interview, Ongpin said the loan cannot be called behest because it was repaid fully ahead of its maturity date, was fully collateralized, and earned for the bank P4 million in interest and P1.3 billion in trading gains.
He stressed that the loan from DBP made up only 17 percent of the total financial package he borrowed from seven banks to be able to acquire a pivotal stake in Philex which, after it was sold to Pangilinan, allowed the latter to take control of the country’s largest mining firm.
No Marcos crony
Ongpin admitted to feeling “frustrated” at constantly being called a “Marcos crony” and the loan he acquired being labeled “behest.”
“It’s annoying, quite frankly. I was one of the technocrats during the Marcos administration, and was certainly never a crony,” said Ongpin, who served as trade minister under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos from 1979 to 1986.
Despite his dismay at the current turn of events, the businessman said he would continue to bring in partners to invest in the Philippines.
“I love this country, and I will continue helping it,” he said.
As for his critics and opponents, he said: “I am a battle-scarred man, having fought many wars in the past.”
“I’m happy to wage war with them, because I’m certainly no pussycat,” Ongpin said.
First posted 12:08 am | Sunday, October 9th, 2011
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