Who are the country’s megatycoons backing in the coming presidential elections?
Some alignments are clear as day. Billionaire Danding Cojuangco and his Nationalist People’s Coalition look set to back Senator Grace Poe and her running mate and fellow Senator Francis Escudero, a former NPC stalwart. Assuming, of course, that she is declared a natural-born Filipino and allowed to run for president.
Cojuangco has been mixing politics and business for decades. In 1984 he harnessed his Marcos-era clout over the coconut industry to take over San Miguel Corporation from the Ayala and Soriano families. Now, with oil, power generation, infrastructure, and telecoms added to San Miguel’s beer interests, Cojuangco wants to make sure he still has a friend in the Palace after his nephew, President Benigno Aquino 3rd, steps down in June.
Cojuangco is almost surely supporting Aquino’s Liberal Party and LP standard bearer Secretary Mar Roxas. He owes much to the administration for such niceties as rebidding the Calax expressway project after San Miguel said it was unfairly excluded.
San Miguel also benefits from Aquino’s indecision on the elevated highway project to link North and South Luzon expressways, proposed years ago by the Metro Pacific Group headed by Manny Pangilinan. That enabled San Miguel to make its own proposal. While the NLEX-SLEX link stalls, so do motorists, commuters, and cargo truckers get denied its traffic-easing benefits.
But survey leader Poe offers Cojuangco an even greater prize. Totally dependent on him for campaign money and machinery, Poe would be far more grateful if she wins than Roxas would be, with the LP and its funds behind him. And a Poe victory would build up Cojuangco’s NPC, as politicians flock to the winner’s party.
Another LP supporter is the Ayala Group; its longtime executive Vicky Garchitorena, former Presidential Management Staff head under Gloria Arroyo, is said to be among Roxas’s top campaigners. The conglomerate has been all out in backing Aquino, betting big on public-private partnership projects.
Ayala was incensed that its winning Calax bid was set aside at San Miguel’s behest. But Ayala too got the Department of Transportation and Communication under Roxas to stall the North EDSA station supposed to link the Light Rail Transit and the Metro Rail Transit lines. DOTC already agreed to build it close to SM North EDSA mall, and accepted P200 million from the Sy family group. As SM and Ayala’s Trinoma Mall joust, hundreds of thousands of commuters trek daily between LRT and MRT lines.
Billionaires will spread their bets
One billionaire pondering whom to support is former senator and defeated 2010 presidential candidate Manny Villar. His Nacionalista Party, part of the ruling coalition, is also mentioned as a possible Poe backer. Plus: NP stalwart Senator Bongbong Marcos is being considered by Vice-President Jejomar Binay for his running mate.
As a property developer dependent on government permits and infrastructure, Villar has reason to have Malacañang on his side. He lost public support in 2010 amid allegations that he used his senatorial clout to get a major road built along his properties.
Besides business reasons for backing the next president, Villar may also want to see the NP expand its ranks and reach to field a future presidentiable like Marcos or Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who has declared his candidacy for vice-president.
From established practice, Chinese Filipino taipans like Henry Sy of SM, Lucio Tan of PAL and Fortune Tobacco, and John Gokongwei of Robina, are expected to support all winnable candidates. So might fellow billionaire Enrique Razon, whose world-class container ports and leisure enterprises require state franchises or contracts to operate, like the even bigger PLDT-Smart, Meralco, Philex Mining, and Metro Pacific expressway ventures run by Manny Pangilinan.
However, with the administration targeting business people allegedly linked to political opponents, like purported Binay dummy Antonio Tiu, no contributors to the VP’s and maybe even Poe’s campaigns would want to be identified.
Dirty money will show its gratitude
Some administration contributors may also want to stay unnamed. Among them: smugglers who have flourished under Aquino. Based on International Monetary Fund trade data, undeclared or undervalued imports tripled from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $26.6 billion last year. Illicit shipments totaled P4 trillion since 2010, evading taxes and duties estimated at P760 billion (see http://www.manilatimes.net/smuggling-utterly-out-of-control-under-aquino-regime-p4-trillion-in-last-five-years/212920/).
Criminals never had it so good, too, with crime incidents also tripling, from 324,083 in 2009 to more than a million annually in 2013 and 2014, when Roxas was supervising the police (see http://www.manilatimes.net/presidentiables-briefing-the-crime-explosion/210493/). That gives the hoods much reason to support a reprise of this administration.
Don’t forget jueteng operators. Back in 2010, Aquino could have cracked down on them by letting then Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, who eradicated the illicit numbers game in Naga City, supervise the Philippine National Police. Instead, Aquino tapped his shooting buddy, then DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno, to oversee the PNP, despite being named by Archbishop Oscar Cruz as an “ultimate recipient” of gambling payoffs. Taking over the DILG after Robredo’s death in 2012, Roxas threatened a war on jueteng, but it never came.
Last but not least among likely secret backers are America and China. Washington wants the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement implemented, for its forces to boost deployment and use bases in the country. Beijing opposes the EDCA and seeks bilateral talks to resolve territorial disputes. With the Philippines’ paramount strategic value in Asia, expect the rival superpowers to help their preferred presidentiable win.
With no clear favorite, the tight race means contenders must rake in massive contributions for what will be unprecedented media and grassroots campaign spending. Hence, the next leader’s challenge is plain: advancing the people’s interest when vested interests ask favors for the billions of pesos they wagered on him or her.
Don’t bet on it.