Thursday, December 20, 2007

Danding pigs out in Sumilao

In a post on his blog some weeks back, Manolo Quezon asked if "a deal is looming with Danding?" Most of the 142 people who took the time to comment didn't seem interested in the answer to that (and a few were actually more interested in a flame war over the alleged cult of Ellen Tordesillas). But with the farmers from Sumilao marching into a calloused capital and demanding respect for what has always been theirs by ancestry and -- even if superflous -- by law, that question and how Cojuangco and the Arroyos will finesse this wrinkle in their otherwise profitable arrangement has come up again.

A previous separate opinion by now Chief Justice Rey Puno, might be useful to analyze should this case go up to the SC again; Puno's attitude is apparently seen by Fr. Joaquin Bernas as favorable to the farmers. But then again, what was Puno thinking when he said that "the Sumilao problem raises fundamental issues which conflict (sic) between land reform and the industrialization of the countryside?"

That the Sumilao farmers were promised and given land through land reform (during a period when the DAR had successive social-democrat-leaning officials) is indisputable.

On the other hand, is the "industrialization" that Cojuangco brings to the countryside -- Negros, Isabela and in Bukidnon -- the kind that should be given weight equal to land reform? Danding does not and has not brought in his own capital -- just as in his Marcos-era takeover of San Miguel Corporation, he relies on political access to the limited capital available in domestic markets to finance much of his expansion and basically grabs land that he need not develop himself.

He raided UCPB during the Estrada years and borrowed P4 Billion practically unsecured. This was repaid partially and grudgingly only this year, and only because the Arroyos pressured UCPB into allowing Danding to use sequestered cash dividends from equally sequestered SMC shares as payment. He uses congressman and LGU officials from his NPC such as the Dys in Isabela (and those outside, like the Zubiris) to evict land farmed by destitute farming communities and rewards these politicos with the spoils of ill-gotten wealth (for example, giving certain congressmen beer and soft drink distributionn franchises in their districts, which is almost like pork-barrell allocations, but using a publicly-listed company's assets to do it. The Macedas, for instance, own a Coca-Cola distribution franchise in Laguna.)

To cut this long story short, I answered that question thus:

Is a deal looming with Danding?” There have already been deals (and a few important no-deals, too :) between ECJ and the Arroyos.)

You might want to look at this instead as a series of deals, some of them strategic (e.g. allowing ECJ to use Kirin’s entry to regain controlling interest in SMC) and some tactical, mainly done for political expediency (e.g. post-2004, put Gilbert at DND, while ECJ distributes NPC support across the political divide). The most strategic deal has already been done, though: by allowing ECJ to control SMC (through Kirin in 2002 and later, by not objecting to the SMC capital stock rights offering in 2003) the Arroyos have allowed Danding to not only regain all of what he lost in 1986, but to then plan his exit from publicly-held SMC with more than what he had stolen under Marcos (this explains his overseas investments and corresponding divestments from the core SMC business). The Sandiganbayan ruling legitimizing “his” 20% is relatively unimportant: the same court already allowed him to sell those shares two years ago. But he has two remaining hurdles: the Supreme Court and the inevitable appeal regarding the 20% ruling AND the next President’s attitude toward him.

The SC may be more unpredictable. CJ Puno was a colleague of Estelito Mendoza at the OSG but has taken inconsistent positions in past ECJ-related cases. The presence of J. Carpio creates an opportunity to press for an outcome more consistent with the 2001 ruling.

The Presidency? Mar Roxas is in Danding’s pocket. Manny Villar will sell his soul (and the housing projects he has left uncompleted after OFWs paid him their life-savings) to ECJ (and San Miguel Properties Inc.) But then again, Danding is getting old and his children are not getting more intelligent. The 2010 election may be important, but it is the ones after that, where Danding’s apprentices Chiz and Gilbert may be prominent, that he thinks he can decisively control. Marcos is dead, and Danding will try to do what the dictator could not: come back and retake power.