Still going strong
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - June 21, 2020 - 12:00am

I had very fond memories of having visited the sugar milling and refining facilities of Central Azucarera Don Pedro in Nasugbu, Batangas during my early years as a reporter covering the agriculture beat. I had several opportunities to meet and talk to its chairman Pedro Roxas, who back then was still in his ‘30s, but had the ears of the other leaders in the sugar industry, even guys much older than him, because everytime he spoke, he talked sense and with a lot of authority, but in a mild-mannered way and always respectful, just like his cousins Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala and Fernando, chairman and president of Ayala Corp., respectively.

Since then, a lot of things have happened. The Nasugbu sugar milling facility has been sold to Universal Robina Corp. Publicly listed Roxas & Co. Inc. (RCI), the holding company of the Roxas Group, has also sold 31 percent of its 66 percent stake in Roxas Holdings (RHI) to Hongkong-based First Pacific Co. which is led by Manny Pangilinan.

It’s good to know that RCI, which Pedro chairs, is still doing very well despite the pandemic that has adversely affected many businesses.

Just recently, RCI signed an P800-million equity placement with US and Europe-based global investment group LDA Capital, LLC as part of the former’s fund-raising activities.

RCI is engaged in real estate development and hospitality through its wholly-owned subsidiary and property arm Roxaco Land Corporation; in sugar milling and ethanol manufacturing businesses held through RHI which is also publicly listed; in coconut processing and exports through its subsidiary, Roxas-Sigma Agriventures; and renewable energy development.

The equity placement commitment is part of RCI’s fund-raising activities aimed at strengthening its subsidiaries engaged in agri-business, real estate development, hotel operations and management. It will use the proceeds from the equity placement for additional working capital and to support the reduction of bank debts.

Under this equity placement commitment, RCI has the right, but not the obligation, to sell shares to LDA subject to the conditions of the put option agreement.  RCI said it will control the timing and maximum amount of the POA and may sell up to P800 Million worth of RCI treasury shares during the 36 months from signing of the agreement.

In addition, LDA will be given a call option to purchase up to 99 million common shares of RCI at an exercise price of P2.38 per share, exercisable any time during the term of the agreement.

RCI and president Fernando Gaspar explained that the company opted for this alternative funding activity because it provides the company with the flexibility to raise cash as needed while at the same time protecting the interests of the firm and its shareholders because all transactions will be done through the Philippine Stock Exchange.

Malicious Publication

We all know how the court found Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa guilty of cyberlibel.

Many journalists have been charged with libel, whether under the Revised Penal Code or under the new Cybercrime Law. Libel is one of the limitations to press freedom, which of course is not an unbridled license by media to maliciously launch an attack against a private person, a juridical person, a public official, or a public figure.

The existence of malice, which is an element of the crime of libel, is implied or presumed when there is a defamatory publication, unless the complainant is a public officer or public figure. The latter have the burden of proving that the alleged defamatory statement made against them was made with actual malice.

Proof that what was written is true is also not a defense, unless the offended party is a public official or a public officer.

Journalists, understandably, would want the laws on libel repealed, or at the least the burden of proving malice shifting to the complainant in all cases or that libel be decriminalized and violations be just meted with a fine. We consider libel as one of the unnecessary hazards of the trade. Anybody can just file a libel case against us just because they did not like what we wrote about them but then, whether or not we will be found guilty of libel and whether or not the publication is defamatory and malicious is another thing.

In the case of Rappler’s controversial publication, the complainant is a private individual. Some consider it as an affront to press freedom and the court’s verdict as a threat to democracy and a weaponization of the law. There are those who consider it also as something that Rappler deserved, given the many years that it has used its online publication to smear and destroy the reputation of a number of people both public and private without regard to the consequences. The complainant in this case, Wilfredo Keng, tried a number of times to have his side of the story published by Rappler to no avail. Even if a journalist believes that what he or she wrote is true, it is also a journalist’s responsibility to print the other side’s story.

In his press statement, Keng said that when he filed the private complaint more than three years ago, it was to protect his name and his children and the future generations who deserve nothing less than freedom in the form of absolute truth. The guilty verdict against Ressa and writer Rey Santos, he said was a vindication even if the damage had already been done.

According to Keng, who in his statement described himself of humble beginnings and who got to where he is through sheer hard work, Ressa portrays herself as an alleged defender of press freedom and as a purported target of the Philippine government, but this in no way exempts her from respecting and following Philippine laws. And being a public figure, she has a bigger responsibility of telling the truth and of following the law.

Keng stressed that in the court of the trial, he has proven that he has never been investigated, charged, or convicted of any wrongdoing or illegal act. Despite this, he said Ressa dared to connect his private suit with an alleged government attack on press freedom.

He said that this is not a fight against press freedom, and that his filing and winning the case simply assures Filipinos that published falsehoods will not remain unchallenged and unchecked but will instead be dealt with by law.

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