EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

The sprawling multibillion dollar empire of taipan Lucio Tan may well be considered the country’s real life version of the highly-addictive US television series Succession, centered on the Roy family and the fight for control of its media conglomerate.

Aren’t the similarities just so telling – jaw-dropping twists and turns, dysfunctional characters and tense power struggles among the men and women who share the patriarch’s name?

For the longest time, it seemed this way, indeed, in the Tan empire – and there’s more than enough characters in the group that may be likened to those in the TV series from the power-hungry Kendall, the cocky and hilarious Romulus, to the ultimate girl boss Shiv.

And just like in the series, one can never guess who will be the rightful heir in the Tan empire, as there were times when one individual seemed to have the edge over the others in their father’s eyes.

This time, however, the rise to power of 29-year old Lucio “Han” Tan III, grandson of the taipan, seems to show a clearer succession plan, with Han as the heir apparent.  Perhaps, this is a new chapter in this real life television show.

LT Group

Last week, Lucio III was named vice chairman and COO of LT Group Inc., the listed conglomerate of the taipan.

Lucio III is the eldest son of the late Lucio “Bong” Tan Jr., the only son of taipan Lucio Tan and wife Carmen.

In 2012, the taipan created the LT Group Inc. as a $5 billion holding company for his various businesses, which include Asia Brewery Inc., Eton Properties Philippines Inc., PMFTC, Philippine National Bank, etc.

At the time, Tan put his son Michael (Bong’s half-brother) as president and COO of the LT Group. Fast forward to today, 10 years later. Carmen Tan, who has been running the empire more actively than the taipan himself in the past three years or so, has put Han in charge, effectively consolidating power within her family.

Thus, Lucio III will be taking over the position as president and COO no later than April 2023 following a transition period with Michael.

More changes

With Lucio III taking over LT Group, his younger brother Kyle is expected to take his place as president of Tanduay, sources said. Michael, on the other hand, will remain active in the group as president of Asia Brewery and director of some Tan-owned companies, including LT Group, sources also said.

I also heard that Lucio III has been working closely with Michael to update LT Group stakeholders, including Philip Morris of the looming changes.

With all these changes, the Tan empire’s succession story seems to be taking shape. But then again, as with the television series, it’s never easy to tell what will happen next in this business conglomerate. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Is it really the end of e-sabong?

Somewhere near our neighborhood, there’s a man hooked on e-sabong, that cockfighting craze streamed online, which has grown exponentially in the country since the pandemic struck. The man, who is in between odd jobs, once lost P14,000 in e-sabong, an amount he borrowed from his girlfriend. There were a few good days. Once, he took home P4,000.

His girlfriend has long been wishing e-sabong operations in the country will no longer be allowed.

A few days ago, she got her wish after President Duterte ordered an end to e-sabong operations, acting on the recommendation of Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, citing the social costs to Filipinos.

Gambling tycoon Charlie “Atong” Ang, the biggest e-sabong operator in the country, said he has stopped all his e-sabong operations following President Duterte’s order.

In a video message I received from his camp, Ang said his e-sabong empire, Pitmasters Live, immediately halted operations and didn’t even see the need to wait for a formal directive from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), the gaming regulator.

He also took the opportunity to thank the government for letting him do e-sabong in the first place, saying it created jobs for many Filipinos, especially those who lost their livelihood – from the traditional cockfighting – during the pandemic. I saw this myself when I spent days in an e-sabong farm, talking to the different stakeholders of the industry.

‘Pitmaster cares’

Indeed, when Ang talks about e-sabong, he also likes to share how he’s been able to help other people through his Pitmaster Foundation, which provides indigents with medical assistance, service, and targeted emergency relief.

But going back to my earlier question – will e-sabong really end? Will e-sabong operators like Ang – powerful, well-connected, awash with cash, and as with most gambling lords – seemingly gangster-like, really allow e-sabong to end?

We will have to wait and see. If the government is really serious in stopping e-sabong, it can do so with enough political will.

As for Ang, he assured e-sabong stakeholders, such as agents, operators, breeders and patrons that he will work with the government on the policy environment for e-sabong.

He also said the halt was temporary. Thus, just like Duterte’s ban on casinos, which he eventually lifted, this craze may be back sooner than we think.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is [email protected].

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

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