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Lopezes lay claim to 7.13% of EPCIB

() - June 23, 2006 - 12:00am
In a surprising twist to the ongoing boardroom battle in the country’s third largest lender, Equitable PCI Bank, the Lopez family has renewed its claim to a 7.13-percent stake currently held by the Romualdez family’s Trans-Middle East (Philippines) Equities Inc. (TMEQ).

In a press conference yesterday, Oscar M. Lopez, chairman and chief executive officer of the Lopez-owned investment holding firm First Philippine Holdings Corp. (FPHC), said they have filed a motion with the Sandiganbayan reclaiming 51.8 million of EPCI Bank shares with a present market value of P3.8 billion.

Lopez said that in 1984, the Marcos-Romualdez group transferred PCI Bank shares held by FPHC (one of the Lopez companies seized by the dictatorship during martial law) to TMEQ.

He said FPHC is asserting its claim on the EPCI Bank shares since these "were wrested from the Lopez group through the use and abuse of power, force, pressure, threats and intimidation during the Marcos regime."

In 1986, however, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) sequestered the shares as part of the ill-gotten wealth of Benjamin "Kokoy" Romualdez, the younger brother of First Lady Imelda R. Marcos. The sequestration was subsequently lifted in 2003 but the shares were deposited with the Land Bank of the Philippines "in escrow for the persons, natural or juridical, who shall be eventually adjudged lawfully entitled thereto."

Lopez pointed out, however, that Martin Ferdinand Romualdez, who continues to represent the contested shares in the EPCI Bank board, had already withdrawn P138 million representing dividends and profit from their share in the bank. Martin is the son of ‘Kokoy’ Romualdez.

Martin Romualdez had a short stint as bank chairman after TMEQ sided with other major shareholders of EPCI Bank – state pension funds Government Service Insurance System and Social Security System and the SM Group of retail tycoon Henry Sy – in the battle for board control against the bank’s founders, the Go family. The Gos eventually sold their 25-percent stake to the SM Group last year.

Last month, Romualdez was barred by the Sandiganbayan from taking his seat as co-vice chairman of EPCI Bank during the bank’s annual stockholders meeting. The Supreme Court, however, recently reversed the decision and allowed Romualdez to assume his seat.

Their renewed claim for the TMEQ shares would signal the return of the Lopezes into banking, seven years since the family sold a substantial stake in PCI Bank to its smaller rival Equitable Banking Corp. in May 1999, eventually merging as EPCI Bank.

The P31.6-billion buyout by the Go family was aided by the financial muscle of the SSS and GSIS. – Ted Torres

BANK EQUITABLE BANKING CORP EQUITIES INC FIRST LADY IMELDA R FIRST PHILIPPINE HOLDINGS CORP GOOD GOVERNMENT GOVERNMENT SERVICE INSURANCE SYSTEM AND SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM HENRY SY KOKOY LOPEZ ROMUALDEZ
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