TO be more precise, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo refused to stop her officials from implementing the Republic’s laws that would be financially devastating to the Rufino family*, the biggest and controlling owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI).
One of these cases required the Rufino-owned firm Sunvar Realty to vacate the prime Mile Long commercial complex in Makati and pay about P1.8 billion in back rentals (computed as of March 2017). The second involved the purported tax liabilities of the clan’s company, Golden Donuts, amounting to P1.6 billion.
Macapagal-Arroyo’s successor, President Benigno Aquino, ignored these cases, and sat on them during his entire term.
President Duterte’s critics claim he has revived these cases after the PDI got his goat for its biased reporting—even unprecedentedly making a hatchet piece by a US newspaper as its banner story. I was told that PDI management even told its staff in an emergency meeting last week that the issue involved “freedom of the press”.
Hogwash. The reality is that the Rufinos have simply run out of time, and Duterte has no choice but to implement the laws, or be charged with cronyism, even consorting with the oligarchs he says he detests.
The court decision made in 2015 ejecting them from the Makati property can no longer by delayed by legal maneuvers, with even the Supreme Court scolding the lower courts for allowing such dilly-dallying. Aquino’s BIR head Kim Henares who ignored the tax case (but pursued world champion Manny Pacquiao) was only following his boss’ directives, and the present BIR commissioner Caesar Dulay can’t close his eyes to such a huge P1.6 billion tax collection, that is now a decade overdue.
Do these financial stakes explain why the PDI demonized Arroyo so much that to this day, many still consider her a corrupt President, even as the cases against her have been all but dismissed?
Did PDI’s owners calculate that with its enormous hold on public opinion, it could trigger in mid-2005—when a traitorous and opportunistic bunch of Arroyo’s officials called the Hyatt 10 resigned from her Cabinet—a people-power type of uprising to topple Arroyo, giving it another chance of convincing the succeeding administration to forget the cases?
Do the PDI owners’ quagmire explain why the newspaper portrayed Aquino as a near-saint in the league of his mother Cory, that it stupidly even front-paged a fake Time magazine cover that had him as among the 100 most influential people in the world?
Do these explain why PDI undertook a vicious propaganda campaign against then Vice President Jejomar Binay who had been the front-runner for the presidential contest, and supported to the hilt—never publishing a negative article against— Aquino’s proxy Mar Roxas? (See my column “Inquirer’s brazen hatchet job vs Binay, a disgrace to journalism”)
Do these explain why the PDI has been portraying Duterte’s war against drugs as a horrific massacre of the poor? Do these explain why it has been running so many puff pieces for Vice President Leni Robredo, who is, as they say, just a breath away from the presidency?
Facts and my opinion
You decide, dear Reader. I present you with the facts, and based on thiese, my logical opinion.
In early 2002, Arroyo’s officials had informed Sunvar to vacate the property, as the lease would expire at the end of the year. It was the National Power Corp. that owned the property that leased it to the Technology Resource Center Foundation (TRCF) in 1978 and 1980, which in turn sub-leased it to Sunvar.
The National Power Corp. had asked the TRCF (renamed after EDSA I the Philippine Development Alternatives Foundation, or PDAF) to demand that Sunvar vacate it as it planned to auction the land, which it estimated was valued at P4 billion. The Napocor had to sell the property since the EPIRA Law of 2001 required it to sell of all of its assets so as to reduce its “stranded costs,” or losses, which until today are being borne by consumers.
Sunvar refused to vacate the property. Its president, Carlos Rufino, claimed in a letter in 2002 that the “previous management of PDAF” had extended the lease by another 25 years. No such document could be found, however. Rufino however also told media in July that year that the original lease was for 50 years, for which, again, no document could be found.
Astonishingly, or rather arrogantly, Rufino told the PDAF chairman in July 2002: “We do not agree with the position taken by the National Government. Kindly exert all efforts that the National Government (change its position).”
Arroyo’s Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera finally sent them a final collection and ejectment notice in 2008. When the firm ignored it, she filed the collection and ejection suit in 2009 at the Makati Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 61.
After it assumed power, the Aquino’s administration did nothing to follow up the suit. It was only in 2015 that the court issued a decision against Sunvar, although it lowered its claim by P1 billion to only P553 million. The Rufinos still refused to comply with the order, and filed various cases to delay it.
Golden Donuts case
In the Golden Donuts (franchisee of the American Dunkin’ Donuts) tax case, it was BIR official Othello Dalanon who was assigned in 2008 to audit the company’s tax payments for 2007, as part of the agency’s auditing of big firms’ tax payments. He found it to be liable for P1.56 billion in unpaid taxes, confirmed by his immediate superiors.
Dalanon used several methods to arrive at his conclusion, with one comparing its sales based on its own books and those in its income tax returns. This method found undeclared sales of P897 million. Another method involved comparison of what the firm reported as its franchise fees (which is based on its 1 percent fee to the US firm) to the sales it reported in its income tax return. This method found undeclared sales amounting to P438 million. Dalanon computed GDI’s unpaid taxes at P1.56 billion, adding what he claimed where GDI’s other understated income.
In his August 6, 2016 post in his blog othelloedalanon.blogspot.com, Dalanon, who resigned in 2013, because, he says of his disenchantment with BIR head Kim Henares, alleged:
“In 2010, I personally reported Golden Donuts’ omissions to former BIR Commissioner Henares and recommended to her the criminal prosecution of the company for tax evasion under the much-vaunted Run After Tax Evaders program of the Bureau. She intentionally failed to pursue tax evasion case against the company or enforce the collection of the said deficiency tax, because Golden Donuts secretary – Mrs. MarixiRufino-Prieto who also happens to be PDI’s chairperson – is former President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino 3rd’s friend.” Dalanon explained in his post how Aquino’s instructions to favor “his friend” in the case were relayed to the BIR.
The cases against the firms of PDI’s owners are replete with information of all sorts, documents and testimonies.
I hope they respect public opinion enough to respond to the very serious allegations that questions the PDI and its owners’ integrity. PDI President Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez, Marixi’s daughter, has not replied to my emails requesting her to reply to the allegations.
Still more on PDI in coming columns.
*I had referred in earlier columns to PDI’s main owners as the “Prieto/Rufino family”. However, its biggest owner, with 69 percent, is actually the real estate clan Rufino family, currently headed by Carlos Rufino. His sister is Marixi, who is married to Alex Prieto, a scion of the Roces-Prieto family that founded the Manila Times.
“Alex’s” sister Mercedes “Peachy” Prieto owns 6 percent of PDI. Mercedes’ husband is Briccio Santos who headed the Film Development Council under Aquino, and whom Duterte referred to as having been “overpaid” by the government. The Rufino family’s wealth used to be based on movie houses in downtown old Manila, and is now mainly in Makati and Bonifacio Global City skyscrapers, such as the Rufino Pacific Tower, Corinthian Properties and JPMorgan Chase Tower. The Creekside/Mile Long mall complex reportedly accounts for half of the Rufino clan’s revenues though.
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao Twitter: @bobitiglao