Billionaire family feud worsens
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - September 9, 2019 - 12:00am

Decades ago in the ’60s, a wise man built an empire from scratch. The empire grew to dizzying heights, thanks to hard work and perseverance. The patriarch chose his favorite son as the next emperor, putting him at the helm of the family business.

The son took care of the company, helping it become the sprawling empire that it is now. But not everyone was happy.

So one day, things began to unravel. Resentment, envy and sibling jealousy prevailed.

Today, decades later, the siblings are locked in a family feud like young boys and girls squabbling over leftover cookies in a cookie jar – except they’re not really fighting over cookies and crumbs, but control over a billion-peso empire.

The plot has become thicker, the complexities deeper. One might be reminded of a page out of The Brothers Karamazov.

But fiction, this is not. This is a story straight from Sugarlandia, where everything is supposedly sweet and sugary, but which ironically is ground zero of the Yanson family’s bitter feud.

Bacolod City-Valladolid-La Carlota or Vallacar

The Yanson family of Bacolod is behind Vallacar Transit Inc., a bus conglomerate of six companies, said to be the biggest bus group in Southeast Asia.

The late Ricardo Yanson, the family patriarch, put up the company in 1968.

Together with his wife Olivia, Ricardo built the business starting with a lone jeepney. The couple started a jeepney-assembly business, but later on diversified into a small bus line which plied the Bacolod City-Valladolid-La Carlota route, hence the name Vallacar.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the giant bus group which operates in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, has 18,000 employees, 700,000 daily passengers a day and an estimated P15 billion annual revenue.

Yanson vs Yanson

The ongoing family feud, however, is threatening the empire’s future.

On one side is Ricardo’s widow, the 85-year old family matriarch Olivia Villaflores Yanson, or OVY, and two of her children, Leo and Ginnette.

The other camp is comprised of the four remaining Yanson siblings – eldest son Roy, Emily, Celina and Ricardo Jr.

More than a decade ago, Ricardo Sr. named Leo as president of the company, to the surprise of many, including eldest son Roy.

Things drastically changed when some P380 million went missing last year. Leo’s camp blamed Celina, then the CFO, for the missing funds. Celina, on the other hand, said she could not be held accountable for the lost money. She said an employee favored by their mother was responsible for the fraud.

A boardroom battle ensued last month when the four allied Yanson siblings held a meeting and voted to unseat their youngest brother Leo as president.

But another special stockholders meeting on Aug. 19 re-affirmed Leo as the president of the company. Leo’s camp said his siblings should respect this and move forward.

Police

But the other camp said hundreds of policemen – from a Philippine National Police contingent – using siege tactics forced the four Yanson siblings out of the company’s main office in Mansilingan, Bacolod and harassed employees.

Why the PNP interfered in a private family affair is puzzling, they said.

Clearly, the end is nowhere in sight.

The four Yanson siblings, although out of their offices now, vowed to fight it out. They said they have majority control – 62 percent – against the other camp’s 38.8 percent stake.

In the meantime, more than 200 workers have been displaced and bus terminals have been shut down, according to local reports. Ricardo Sr., who died in 2015, must be rolling in his grave.

Bacolod’s social circles and Manila’s business community are abuzz with talks about the family feud.

In a society that loves gossip, the stories are endless. Some are saying this is more than just a family affair. It’s a business whose future can affect the future of Negros, its politics and its politicians; its businesses and its businessmen. The Yanson family, after all, is among the most influential clans in the province, with some of its members allied with a broad pro-Duterte bloc in Negros including prominent Negrense Clint Aranas, the former GSIS boss. President Duterte himself wants to see an end to the feud.

A mother speaks

But of all the players in this family affair, it is perhaps the 85-year old matriarch OVY who is most eager to see a happy ending to this story. No mother after all wants to see her children locked in a fight.

“I hope it will soon be fixed and everyone will be happy,” Mrs. Yanson told me by phone.

Her voice, as motherly as can be, seemed full of hope and optimism. But just like any provincial bus ride, this bitter family feud can be long and winding. Only time will tell when it will end.

I do hope it’s resolved soon because as with most beleaguered empires, it’s not just the members of the billionaire clan who are affected. Sadly, it’s the innocent workers caught in the crossfire who suffer the most.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com.

Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

BILLIONAIRE FAMILY FEUD
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