Sotto walks tight rope

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - February 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Business and politics do mix and the business sector is always observing with keen interest the goings-on in both the Senate and the Lower House.

Any change in leadership would of course have an impact on pending proposed business-related legislation, such as TRAIN 2, the tax amnesty bill, the Security of Tenure bill, the bill increasing social security contributions, among others.

Coffeeshop habitues are now talking about Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who they said has to play his cards right if he intends to retain the Senate leadership.

But from Sotto’s standpoint, it’s all a numbers’ game.  What is important is that on D-Day, he must have mustered the support, friendship and loyalty of at least 13 colleagues (a simple majority) in the incoming Congress to keep the Senate presidency.

At the moment, Sotto appears to be torn between JV Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada. Rumors have it that Sotto might lose Ejercito’s loyalty if the former recruits Estrada to the NPC coalition.

There seems to be a sibling issue here because JV is already a member of the NPC, along with Senators Grace Poe, Sherwin Gatchalian, Loren Legarda and Sotto.

Sotto’s perceived preference of Jinggoy over JV doesn’t sit well with the other NPC members, and their displeasure might make the difference between victory and defeat.

Right now, he has only seven of the incumbent senators – Ralph Recto, Migs Zubiri, Dick Gordon, Ping Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, Koko Pimentel, and Grace Poe who is an adopted member of the NPC. Make that nine if we were to include the comebacking Estrada and Bong Revilla Jr., but that is if they win a Senate seat.

Then there is also the Villar factor, with Cynthia seen as Sotto’s likely adversary in the Senate presidential contest.

Let’s just pray that whoever emerges as the winner will have the interest of the business and the economy in mind.

New beginning

A brighter future is seen for Okada Manila after its parent company, Tiger Resort Asia Ltd. (TRAL) completed the acquisition of the majority shares of Philippine Stock Exchange -listed company, Asiabest Group International Inc. (ABG).

Hong Kong-based TRAL, also the parent company of Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment Inc. (TRLEI), acquired 66.6 percent of  ABG’s listed shares, paving the way for the eventual backdoor listing of TRLEI which operates Okada Manila.

Following these developments, Okada Manila is poised to change its brand name to fully focus on refining its operations and further gaining stellar growth on a clean, untarnished slate. The brand name change is seen as TRLEI’s move to estrange the firm from its former chairman Kazuo Okada who was ousted in 2017 from the TRLEI and UEC Group.

Okada Manila, the largest luxury integrated resort in the Philippines is a fully owned subsidiary of Universal Entertainment Corp. (UEC), a publicly listed company in the Tokyo bourse.

A Tokyo District Court last January affirmed the validity of a 2017 trust agreement between Okada scions Tomohiro and Hiromi that caused the ouster of the elder Okada from the Hong Kong firm Okada Holdings Ltd. (OHL) which owns 67.9 percent of UEC.

The Tokyo court ruling is seen as the major turning point in the dispute between the 77-year-old Okada and the current management of the UEC Group. 

One source said the Tokyo ruling effectively confirms the legality of the removal of the elder Okada and makes it almost impossible for him to regain control of OHL, UEC and its subsidiaries, including Okada Manila.

Last November, the Parañaque Regional Trial Court also dismissed an intracorporate case filed by Okada who was seeking to be reinstated in TRLEI.

Confusing policy

Another issue that is also being keenly observed by the business sector is the “feud” between presidential adviser Ramon “RJ” Jacinto and acting Department of Information and Communications Secretary (DICT) chief Eliseo Rio involving the so-called common tower policy of the government.

We have on one hand Jacinto who wants the number of companies that will be allowed to put up cellular towers or cell sites to only two, and Rio, on the other, who has so far signed seven memoranda of agreement with seven companies.

Observers say they are confused because Rio, who will soon be replaced by outgoing senator Gringo Honasan as DICT secretary, appears to be pushing for no regulation at all, which is contrary to President Duterte and the Cabinet’s mandate to implement an independent common tower policy.

Recently, however, Jacinto has softened his stance so that the government guidelines would accommodate up to five tower companies to operate and build common towers. But Rio, during a hearing of the Senate public services committee chaired by Sen. Grace Poe, said he wants a free-for-all competition among tower builders.

For his part, Jacinto said Rio is contradicting the Duterte policy for active government supervision of the telecommunications industry’s service rollout in signing MOUs with interested common tower investors and announcing that there is no more need for the government to supervise the implementation of the common tower building program through official guidelines. 

Based on a study of the Philippine telecommunications industry, Jacinto had recommended that 50,000 new common towers are needed to be built to serve adequately the needs of the country’s 115 million consumers. Currently, there are only 16,000 cellular towers all over the Philippines, Jacinto noted.

Jacinto said the liberalized entry of tower builders in the country will only crowd out the market and affect the viability of the reputable tower companies.

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com.

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