NEW PCI BANK CHAIR DE LA PAZ PAVES WAY FOR BANCO DE ORO MERGER

MANILA, February 22, 2006
 (MALAYA) BY MAX ESTAYO (ROMUALDEZ SAYS: ‘READ BETWEEN THE LINES’)

Social Security System president Corazon dela Paz yesterday took over as new chair of Equitable PCI Bank, a prelude to the merger between Banco de Oro and the bank, analysts said.

Dela Paz replaced Ferdinand Martin Romualdez of Trans-Middle East Equities (Phils.) Inc., which owns 7 percent of the bank.

Romualdez is now the vice chairman of E-PCIBank.

He said both his replacement and the election of Dela Paz was "supported by the SM-BDO group" and whether or not Dela Paz will lead the bank to a sell to BDO is something "you can read between the lines."

Analysts said there is an alliance between the SSS and BDO as opposed to the GSIS which prefers not to sell to BDO.

A statement from the Social Security System said Dela Paz was elected via a "unanimous vote."

"I am optimistic that the bank will move forward in a strong way because we are seeing growth in our economy this year," Dela Paz said.

Before her election as chair, Dela Paz was vice chair of the bank together with Government Service and Insurance System president and general manager Winston Garcia.

Dela Paz also sat at the powerful executive committee, which decides on crucial matters affecting the bank, which is headed by Henry Sy’s daughter Teresita Sy-Coson.

The SSS is the single biggest shareholder of EPCIB with 26 percent or 187.7 million of the total 727 million outstanding shares.

While the GSIS is against the merger offer of rival Banco de Oro Universal Bank, Dela Paz said in earlier statements she would study the swap proposal.

Meanwhile, in an interview after the board meeting yesterday, Romualdez said he supports the election of Dela Paz.

"I was asked last year by the SSS and the GSIS to protect and support their interest and to restore their [position] in the bank, which I did. I legitimized the bank. I hope she will continue to protect the shareholders’ interest," Romualdez said.

The SSS, GSIS and TMEQ at the height of the boardroom squabble July last year formed a majority block to thwart the efforts of the SM-BDO group to take over the bank.

Romualdez and Garcia are both opposed to the BDO swap offer of 1.6 BDO shares for 1 EPCIB share which they consider as grossly disadvantageous to the bank.

Romualdez said should the bank under Dela Paz decide to sell, "they should sell at the right price."

"As long as shareholders are protected, I’ll continue to support herm," Romualdez said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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