Pork barrel and Janet Napoles
FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - September 6, 2013 - 12:00am

The press and social media continue with commentaries and condemnation of the so-called “pork barrel” and the role of Janet Napoles and her beneficiaries from the three branches of government. One of the items in the web had a photo of Manuel V. Pangilinan stating he earned P81 million and paid P26 million  to the BIR, making him the fourth largest taxpayer.  Juxtaposed to his photo was that of a Senator which quoted his estimated annual income as P420,000 but with an estimated pork barrel scam of P1 billion with no BIR listing. This is illustrative of the corruption which is pervasive in our government system. The citizenry is justifiably enraged and some have expressed outright disgust with this bad governance.

I think it is worth making the following observation that seem to undermine the President’s moral authority however unwittingly. I have no doubt that the President is honest. That, above other attributes, is the source of his strength domestically which explains his high approval rating, and internationally as evidenced by our improving credit rating and rising interest from foreign investors.  As a former member of Congress, the President sees value in the honest application of this money to meet local needs. But he underestimated the public sentiment and so his perceived dithering about “abolishing” the pork barrel certainly knocked his credibility a few notches down.  But it was his  meeting with Janet Napoles in Malacanan Palace as well as accompanying her to Camp Crame  that certainly raised eyebrows. Certainly, on form alone, it did not look right for the President to meet a fugitive in the presidential palace nor accompany them to jail. Worse, this perception of special treatment only served to encourage impugning dark motives to this sordid revelation of mind-boggling corruption given that those on the dock right now are predominantly from the opposition and especially those with reported presidential ambitions. It is the responsibility of his communication group (three cabinet secretaries) to recognize the potential downside and shield the president from such a situation.  These “close ins” should have told him the implications of meeting such a notorious character. Presidents don’t meet with fugitives, nor should they be brought to the presidential palace and accompanied to jail. In fact, the presidential spokesperson and his deputy were the ones who fetched Napoles from a cemetery. Little wonder why people think the communications group should take a crash course on Public Relations 101 forthwith before they inflict another PR disaster on the President.


Good governance

The practice of good governance is not the exclusive requirement of the public sector, it is equally mandatory for the private sector. I am involved in a case related to Nationwide Development Corporation (NADECOR). Conrad Calalang, Jose Ricafort and I, together with six others, we were elected members of the board in an annual stockholders meeting on Aug. 15, 2011. On December 2011, upon petition of the wife of Jose Ricafort and children, the Regional Trial Court 159 of Pasig nullified the election.

Corazon H. Ricafort and children stated that they did not receive notice of the annual stockholders meeting.  The Court of Appeals ruled: “Contrary to the finding of the RTC and the respondents’ contention that they were not able to participate in the annual stockholders meeting, the records reveal that respondents did participate through their duly authorized representative Jose G. Ricafort, who acted as their proxy.” Luis Manuel L. Gatmaitan, then corporate secretary, confirmed in his affidavit that Jose Ricafort did indeed sign the attendance sheet for and on behalf of his wife and children. Furthermore, Raymond Ricafort, the son of Jose Ricafort also confirmed this under oath. I find it condemnable that Jose Ricafort urged his wife and children to perjure themselves. Clearly, he failed to act in accordance with good corporate governance. 

The Court of Appeals final decision stated: “The Annual Stockholders Meeting of NADECOR held on August 15, 2011 is hereby declared valid and the Board of Directors and Officers elected thereat are declared lawfully elected.  Any and all acts of the Board of Directors elected during the August 15, 2011 NADECOR Annual Stockholders Meeting are declared VALID.”

Ironically, the Jose Ricafort group then filed an administrative case against the justices of the Court of Appeals only to have the case dismissed by the Supreme Court unanimously (15-0).  This dissident group continues to create problems for the legitimate board of NADECOR. In this modern age of the internet, potential foreign investors read about his attempts to block investors such as St. Augustine Mining which invested $43.5 million dollars in NADECOR. Ricafort is demotivating others from investing at a time when the country is promoting foreign direct investment.



I recently met with RJ David, the managing director of Sulit.com.ph . Amidst the headlines of corruption and opportunism, this young man (33 years old) was a breath of fresh air. In 2006 with a capital of P2,400 and inspired by the success of Craigslist (the leading classifieds in the world), he and his wife Arianne (who he convinced to quit her job as the development lead in a bank) designed and developed a website which eventually became the premiere buy and sell website in the Philippines.  Today, the company’s 100 team members are located in Ortigas, Pasig City. 

In August 2009, a South African group called MIH decided to invest in his company. MIH is a leading global Internet company: China (with 35 percent interest in “Ten Cent”), Eastern and Western Europe, Brazil, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and India. MIH is a subsidiary of South African Media giant, NASPERS.

Today Sulit has 67 percent market share. Sulit has been clocking impressive numbers in terms of website traffic and user engagement. On a monthly average, the site is receiving 14 million unique visitors, 290 million web page views and 60 million mobile page views (300 percent growth since last year).  Sulit’s social network reach has outpaced its competitors with its Facebook fanpage at the one million mark. The number of its website members is a key measurement:  2.4 million with an average of 2,000 new signups per day. 

With the advent of the smart phone and as the Philippines continues to be one of the fastest growing markets in Southeast Asia, mobile is top priority. Sulit recently announced its Android and iOS apps placing them No. 1 on the shopping category. To date, they get 2000 plus average downloads on a daily basis. In terms of traffic, the top four are cars, clothing, real estate and pets.

As an interesting sidebar, the Napoles affair and the announcement of the P10 million reward generated multiple ads posted requesting others to help locate Napoles with a promise of sharing the bounty.  

RJ David and his wife Arianne are a source of inspiration for the youth of today. You can succeed through hard work and commitment. Thank you for the interview RJ. You helped me end my column on a positive note.

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