MANILA, February 3, 2006
 (STAR) By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes - The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) plans to immediately dispose of about P20 billion worth of assets formerly held by the family of businessman Antonio "Tonyboy" Cojuangco which the Supreme Court (SC) recently ordered reconveyed to the government for being part of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses.

These assets consist of 111,415 shares of the Philippine Telecommunications Investment Corp. (PTIC) registered in the name of Prime Holdings Inc. (PHI) owned by the Cojuangcos. PTIC, which is 46 percent held by PHI and the rest by First Pacific and Metro Pacific Holdings, currently has a 14 percent stake in Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT).

In an interview with The STAR, PCGG commissioner Ricardo Abcede, who heads the commissionís asset management department, revealed that they are just waiting for the SC decision to be final and executory in order to finally sell the PHI shares in PTIC which directly owns a seven percent stake in PLDT.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales and promulgated last Jan. 20, the SC ordered the reconveyance by the estate of Ramon Cojuangco, Imelda Cojuangco, PHI, their assigns, nominees and agents to the government of the PHI shares in PTIC. The High Tribunalís ruling did not affect the shares of First Pacific and Metro Pacific Holdings in PTIC which these two companies acquired from the Cojuangcos.

The Sandiganbayan earlier lifted the sequestration of said the shares by the PCGG after the government failed to prove that the PLDT shares sought to be recovered are ill-gotten.The SC decision was a consolidated ruling on five petitions, including one filed by the Yuchengcos claiming ownership of said PHI shares in PTIC, relating to the action of the graft court.

Abcede said that the Cojuangcos actually have 15 days from notice of the SC ruling to file a motion for reconsideration, although he notes that the High Tribunal seldom reverses itself.

Once the decision becomes final and executory, he said the government will immediately dispose of the said shares in PLDT. "Our mandate is to privatize and dispose, and not to hold on to those shares," he told the STAR.

He disclosed that he has already formed a team that will recommend strategies as to the sale of the shares as a block, estimated to fetch at least P20 billion for the government. "We do not have any plans of holding on to those shares longer than necessary. Our mandate is to privatize and sell the assets to the highest bidder," Abcede said, even as he emphasized that the sale will be conducted, without giving any preference to particular groups including existing major shareholders of PLDT.

Once a sale of the PLDT shares is made, the disposition will have to be approved by the privatization council under the Department of Finance.

Among the groups that have expressed interest in acquiring additional shares in PLDT are Hong Kong-based First Pacific, which has a 25 percent stake in the countryís biggest telecommunications company, and NTT DoCoMo, Japanís leading mobile phone service operator, which earlier gained entry into PLDT by purchasing half of sister company NTT Communicationsí stake.

"We havenít received any inquiry yet as to these PLDT shares ordered reconveyed to government but weíve learned that DoCoMo wants to buy additional shares in PLDT," Abcede said, even as the PCGG official emphasized that no group will be given priority in the disposition of the PTIC shares in PLDT held by PHI.

PTIC used to be owned 100-percent by the Cojuangco family until it sold 54 percent to the First Pacific group, paving the latterās entry into PLDT.

According to the SC, the beneficial owners of PHI, which owns 36 percent of PTIC, are Imelda Marcos, her late husband and their family. Mrs. Marcos said PHI was incorporated to serve as the holding company of all PTIC shares owned by the Marcoses in addition to those held by trustees/nominees like Ramon and Imelda Cojuangco.

The incorporators of PHI, namely Jose Campos Jr. (son of Jose Yao Campos), Rolando Gapud, Renato Lirio, Gervaso Gaviola and Ernesto Abalos, were all trustees/nominees of the Marcoses, and therefore no third party, including the Cojuangcos, could have lawfully and rightfully acquired any right over said shares in their own right, the SC noted.

It said that the Sandiganbayan, when it earlier lifted the PCGG sequestration order, committed a reversible error when it held that the government failed to prove that the PHIís shares in PTIC were ill-gotten.

In ordering reconveyance, the High Tribunal relied on the testimonies of the elder Campos, Gapud, and De Guzman, persons who actually participated in the formation and early years of operation of PHI.

It cited Jose Yao Camposí deposition which pointed to PHI as among the companies he organized for the former President. Despite Camposí testimony linking Marcos to PHI, the graft court concluded that there is no competent evidence to tie Marcos with PTIC, a conclusion which the SC said was a gross misappreciation by the Sandiganbayan.

After Campos organized PHI, he entrusted most if not all of its business transactions to his close associate Gapud, the president of PHI who himself confessed to have acted as a Marcos nominee.

"The credibility of Campos thus stands, and his sworn admission that PHI was a dummy corporation organized for former President Marcos constitutes convincing evidence that PHI was beneficially owned by Marcos," the SC noted.

Gapud, one of the incorporators of PHI, in depositions taken in 1995 affirmed Camposí sworn statement and further established that PHI was a dummy corporation of the Marcoses.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved