(First published in The Philippine Star issue of Mar. 14, 2013)
BY ASSOCIATION: The debate on who owns Sabah and why Filipinos there are being violently uprooted has brought in side business issues that Malacañang may want to clarify if only for the sake of transparency.
With Malacañang itself having dragged in persons identified with the previous administration in a guilt by association process, President Noynoy Aquino may also want to say something about “profit by association” now being raised in media.
This may be unfair to the President, but since he is the leading actor on the stage he cannot refuse to say something about certain business transactions where Malaysia and persons close to him are involved.
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COJUANGCO TIES: Going around in the Internet is a color picture of Malaysian troops boarding an Air Asia jet that would fly them to Sabah where they are to hunt down Filipinos who had settled home there.
One blog points out that AirAsia Philippines, the local affiliate of Malaysia-based AirAsia Bhd, is partly owned by Filipino businessmen led by the President’s cousin Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco Jr.
Cojuangco was the biggest campaign donor of Aquino in 2010, based on the President’s declaration to the Commission on Elections. He put in P100 million out of Mr. Aquino’s P440-million declared war chest.
In November 2010, the Board of Investments approved the organizing of AirAsia Philippines as a joint venture between Malaysian investors and Filipino businessmen led by Cojuangco.
The business combine recently acquired at least 40 percent stake in local rival Zest Airways Inc. Malaysia-based AirAsia Bhd, btw, is the largest budget air carrier in Southeast Asia.
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SAN MIGUEL: Another business deal with Malaysians being cited is one involving San Miguel Corp., a conglomerate where the President’s uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. holds a major interest.
San Miguel acquired in August 2011 three subsidiaries of US giant Exxon Mobil’s downstream oil business in Malaysia. The $610-million transaction included the purchase by SMC of Esso Malaysia Bhd, Exxon Mobil Malaysia Sdn Bhd and Exxon Mobil Borneo Sdn Bhd.
The three companies form an integrated business engaged in refining, distributing and marketing petroleum products. Their assets include the 88,000-barrels-per-day Port Dickson refinery, seven fuel distribution terminals, and about 560 refilling stations.
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OIL & POWER: Ramon S. Ang, SMC president, has disclosed that San Miguel has been eyeing big oil and natural gas field overseas.
“If we were able to buy one of those,” he was quoted as saying, “it would be like printing money forever.”
He disclosed that they were willing to let go of long-time core business San Miguel Brewery Inc. and some new power generation assets to raise funds.
One blog noted that with its acquisition of Exxon Mobil’s downstream assets, SMC is in a strategic position to corner upstream deals in oil-rich Malaysia.
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SABAH RICHES: What is there in Sabah, the “land below the wind”?
The second largest of the 13 member-states of Malaysia, Sabah’s mineral-rich 73,630 square kilometer area is home to more than 3,117,000, a number of them Filipino Muslims.
The Philippine STAR recently reported, quoting a 2012 study by Singapore-based FACTS Global Energy, that Sabah has reserves of about 11-12 trillion cubic feet of gas and at least 1.5 billion barrels of oil.
The figures represent 12 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of Malaysia’s natural gas and oil reserves.
The Centre for Research on Globalization also reports that Sabah has 15 oil wells that can produce 192,000 barrels a day. Four new oil fields have been discovered in its territorial waters in the past two years.
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MOTIVATIONS: As I said, it may not be fair citing these business angles involving relatives of President Aquino, but he owes the people to reassure them of his pure motivations on Sabah.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile counsels us to trust the President to perform his patriotic duty to advance the country’s best interests and protect Tausugs in Sabah from any maltreatment.
Enrile points out that in plotting his approach to a satisfactory resolution of the problem, the Chief Executive has validated information to which the public is not privy but which help guide him make the right decisions.
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BANGSAMORO: My take on this is that having gone this far into sealing a deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for a Bangsamoro sub-state in Mindanao, he does not want something like a “dormant” Sabah claim to ruin it.
But it so happened that Malaysia, the same neighbor that had plotted to destabilize the Philippines decades back, is brokering Bangsamoro talks.
When Malaysia’s role in the bargaining for an MILF-dominated Bangsamoro was questioned, sources said, Malacañang suggested that a new facilitator be found. However, Kuala Lumpur reportedly insisted on staying. Why?
There is suspicion that the Bangsamoro deal is tied to Malaysia’s desire to dump forever the Sabah claim in the dust bin of history.
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JOJO VS MAR: In a foreshadowing of the presidential derby in 2016, overseas Filipinos in distress are providing a chance at favorable exposure for likely aspirants.
Vice President Jojo Binay is earning points helping work out clemency for death convicts in the Middle East, while DILG Secretary Mar Roxas is basking in his own limelight by brokering disengagement in Sabah.
The two gentlemen, who fought over the vice presidency in the 2010 elections, are expected to collide again in 2016 this time for the top executive post.
Roxas still has an unresolved protest on the election of the Vice President. It is curious that although Binay was elected together with President Aquino on the same ballot, Roxas is not questioning the votes for the President.
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