Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Trump’s PH safety net


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Outgoing US President Donald Trump this week continued to receive object lessons in the meaning of the word “consequences” following his failed attempt to overthrow the government on January 6, and the blows landing now are quite a bit harder than just getting banned for bad behavior from social media sites. As is perhaps fitting, given that the Philippines is home to one of Yam Head’s biggest foreign fan bases — rivaled only by India — the fact that doing business with a would-be fascist dictator suddenly falling out of fashion has created a rather awkward situation for some in this country.

On Monday, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) announced it would move the 2022 PGA Championship that was slated to be held at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey, saying it was moving the tournament because holding it at one of Trump’s courses would be “detrimental to the PGA of America brand.” The president, who was described by aides as “gutted” by the decision, apparently finds no sympathy on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, either. Shortly after the PGA announcement, its British counterpart, the R&A (Royal & Albert) issued a statement saying it would not be holding any of its events at Trump’s Turnberry golf course in Scotland “for the foreseeable future.”

On a side note, the government of Scotland had by then already made it clear that Trump would not be welcome there under any circumstances, even before he incited the attack on the US Capitol. Having received information late last month that the Turnberry facility had been booked full through February, and that staff there and at nearby Prestwick Airport had been told to prepare for a “very important visitor’s arrival” on January 19, Scotland’s Chief Minister Nicola Sturgeon intervened. In a televised statement, Sturgeon said that as Scotland’s pandemic controls prohibit non-essential travel to Scotland, and as “playing golf is not an essential activity,” the “very important visitor” could expect to be arrested if he showed up, a warning that was enthusiastically seconded by Scotland’s top police official.

Although Trump considers his golf courses — he owns 16 of them — his flagship business, the announcements by the PGA and R&A were more damaging to his tender ego and aristocratic pretensions than his bank account, as nearly all of them have operated at a loss for years. The same cannot be said for the new developments on Tuesday, when the two main banks used by Trump, Deutsche Bank AG and New York-based Signature Bank, both said they would no longer do business with the Trump family or its businesses. Signature Bank, which also called on Trump to resign immediately, cheekily made its public announcement after it closed two Trump accounts reportedly holding $5.3 million, but before its direct notification to its now-former customer reached him.

As for Deutsche Bank, that presents a serious problem for the Dollar Store Despot. Trump and his organization have done business with the German bank for more than 20 years, and the bank has been under intense pressure from US fraud investigators to hand over details of Trump’s transactions, many of which are presumed to involve money laundering and tax evasion. A more immediate issue is the some $340 million in debt the Trump organization and Trump personally owes Deutsche Bank. The loans were coming due over the next couple of years, anyway — they had been held in abeyance while he was in office, and it has been speculated that this was one motivation for his desperate attempts to stay there — but now they are very likely to be called in all at once.

That brings us back to the Philippines, which, besides being governed by a president who made a point of not condemning the violent insurrection, and being the headquarters, so to speak, of the QAnon conspiracy that played an active role in the coup attempt (more on that in the near future), is one of the few places where Trump has an income-generating asset at this point. That would be in the form of the licensing agreement for the Century Properties-owned Trump Tower in Makati City, whose chairman, Jose E.B. Antonio, was named President Rodrigo Duterte’s special envoy to Washington for trade, investment, and economic affairs just days before Trump won the 2016 election.


As we learned back in September, when the New York Times obtained some of Trump’s financial records in connection with a major fraud case against him being pursued by the State of New York, even though Trump has no ownership interest in Century’s building, the deal that allows the company to hang his name on it — and according to the Washington Post, use personal endorsements from him and his daughter Ivanka in marketing materials as recently as mid-2017, despite this being a violation of US law on Trump’s part — is apparently a fairly lucrative one. The Times reported that between 2014 and mid-2016, Trump earned between $1 million and $6 million from the licensing agreement, and in 2017, paid $156,824 in taxes to the Philippine government (compared with $750 in US taxes he paid that year), which suggests an annual income of about $550,000.

(On an important note, Century Properties did tell the Post it had officially stopped using materials with any of Trump’s personal endorsement by 2015 — about the time he became a candidate for president, apparently — and that what the paper found online was posted by an independent agent and not approved by the company. The video on YouTube was taken down shortly after the Post story was published.)

By Tuesday, netizens here had begun openly posing the question, “When are they going to take the name off that building?” Century Properties or Antonio is yet to comment on the issue. One certainly has to wonder, however, how much longer they might consider a brand now associated with a globally shunned personality to be worth upward of half a million dollars a year, particularly when that payoff represents financial support for the leader of an armed rebellion against the legitimately elected government of a close ally of the Philippines. The only way that could be a worse look, business-wise, is if they called the building the Hitler Tower.

Twitter: @benkritz



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