MANILA,  July 14, 2004
HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes  -  As she begins her second term in office, President Arroyo will find herself in an even better position to her pursue her housing program. She will have the private sector behind her, thanks to the gains she made through the Home Guaranty Corp., or HGC, which succeeded in raising the bar of private sector confidence on GMA’s shelter initiatives during her first three years in office.

Perhaps unknown to most of us, the housing sector was in a sorry state when GMA assumed office in 2001. Despite the hype that some so-called flagship shelter programs generated during the 1990s and early 2000s, the private sector stayed away from the government’s housing programs.

Also, unknown to many of us, the support of the private sector is crucial to the housing program. Private financial institutions lend out billions to would-be homeowners. Of course, government counterparts like GSIS and SSS are also major investors in shelter programs. But none of them, whether private or government, would lend out money to low-income families, unless somebody guarantees the loans. Someone has to say, if the borrowers default on their payments, I will be here to pay you back your money.

The latter is the role of the HGC. The agency is actually responsible for much of GMA’s unheralded success in the housing sector. You see, no new housing projects can be developed for middle-class and low-income families can be developed unless developers put in money. And no housing loans can be availed of unless banks set aside funds for them. And both developers and banks would not risk their money unless such risk is guaranteed by a credible HGC.

The return of confidence in GMA’s shelter program was worked out by her team led by housing czar Mike Defensor and HGC president and housing undersecretary Gonzalo Benjamin "Bong" Bongolan who slowly but surely cleaned up the mess caused by massive defaults in housing loans and failed investments during the 1990s.

The key has been HGC. GMA had chosen a team led by Bongolan who, despite the low-key and soft-spoken trademark, turned out to be gifted with exceptional financial and management acumen. GMA’s HGC team raised billions to pay off the inherited headaches. The result, billions of pesos, in turn, steadily poured in from private and government financial institutions into housing programs.

Today, big housing loan lenders like BPI Family Bank and Filinvest Development Corp. attest that the confidence is back. They are willing to lend because they believe the Arroyo government has the capacity and credibility to back these loans.

HGC and Bongolan have been faceless all throughout GMA’s first term. Bong is part of Mike Defensor’s youthful and dynamic corps of hardworking idealists who mostly hail from the University of the Philippines. But when GMA begins to push her housing initiatives during her second term, the low-profile HGC would have done much in paving the way for bigger private sector support for this crucial undertaking.

So the next time your bank hands over a check to you for the construction of your dream house, remember that the transaction became possible only because someone promised the bank it would guarantee your loan. And if you default on your payments, remember it will be Bongolan’s headache.

Monsod to DoE?

The jockeying for the post of Energy Secretary has reportedly shifted to high gear following news that current energy chief Vince Perez might take the finance portfolio.

While two current officials within the energy family are rumored to be in the shortlist, former Comelec chair Christian Monsod is said to also be interested in the position. Malacañang insiders say he has the President’s ear regarding energy and power-related matters.

Although Christian Monsod’s credentials may seem impeccable, Palace insiders feel the former Comelec chair is in a rather awkward situation as far as a possible appointment to the energy post is concerned. For one, he currently sits at the Meralco board representing private owners – the "hidden agenda" angle will definitely be used against him. Two, his wife, Professor Solita Monsod, is known to have voted for Eddie Villanueva in the last elections.

Should the Monsod bid for the energy post fizzle out, Palace insiders believe he will continue to whisper to the President’s ear on related matters. Pity any energy official who falls out of Christian’s grace.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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