Who are the tycoons inside Marcos Jr.’s circle?

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

One can almost hear the merry banter of some of the country’s businessmen – mischievous laughs to a stranger, charming even – just looking at those post-election countdown photos with presumptive president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that we saw on our timelines and moving walls. Cozying up was the term used by some. Others called it Bagong Lipunan 2.0.

But photographs really are silly indicators of one’s closeness to a person, especially those in power.  Photographs capture a moment in time; nothing more. Who was it who said that when you look at a photo, you do not see what or who is outside the frame?  You do not see what went on moments before or minutes after.

The truth is, some of the country’s tycoons are indeed closer to Marcos Jr. than others, with or without photos. And whoever is seen in a photo with him is not necessarily “in.”

Former political allies

Let’s look at the housing king Manuel B. Villar, Jr., the country’s richest man, for instance. I didn’t see him in the photos during the countdown victory dinner unless I missed it.

But make no mistake, with or without their so-called “Kodak moments,” Villar and Marcos Jr. go way back. They were both neophyte congressmen in 1992,  and when Villar ran for president in 2010, Marcos Jr. was part of his senatorial slate under his Nacionalista Party. Marcos Jr. was a re-electionist then, and he won. Incidentally, also part of that slate was Susan ‘Toots’ Ople whom Marcos Jr. named on Monday as head of the Department of Migrant Workers. She is the daughter of the late Blas Ople who served as secretary and later minister of Labor and Employment for 19 years under the administration of Marcos Sr.

Going back to Villar, he was also perhaps the most vocal supporter of Marcos Jr. among the country’s tycoons.  In March, Villar announced  his support to Marcos Jr. and his running mate, presidential daughter Inday Sara Duterte.

“For the May 2022 elections, the Nacionalista Party fully supports the candidacies of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for president and Inday Sara Duterte for vice president,” said Villar, president and chairman of the party, back then.

The two candidates’ “message of unity will be good for the country,” said Villar, whose endorsement came a day after he posted a birthday and congratulatory greeting for President Duterte for a “job well done.”

In a recent chat, Villar said he never really had a chance to get to know Marcos Sr., but he and Jr. indeed really go way back as lawmakers. One of Uniteam’s biggest rallies was held in Las Piñas a.k.a. Villar country.

From past to present

Tycoon Ramon “RSA” Ang, head of San Miguel Corp. (SMC), is of course a constant supporter of every administration, but the ties with the Marcoses also go all the way back to the time of Marcos Sr. through the late Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., former chairman of SMC and touted as one of Marcos Sr.’s proteges.  RSA and Marcos Jr. ‘s known close friend, Inigo Zobel, are also both behind listed Top Frontier, the largest shareholder of SMC. Zobel is the son of the late industrialist Enrique Zobel, the cousin of Ayala patriarch Jaime Zobel de Ayala.

There’s also Sabin Aboitiz, president and CEO of Aboitiz Equity Ventures. Sabin and Marcos Jr.’s children are friends and schoolmates. Sabin’s wife Bettina Araneta-Aboitiz, also served as former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s social secretary for nine and a half years.

Tycoon Roberto V. Ongpin, the trade minister of Marcos Sr. who is practically based in his island paradise Balesin, managed to remain friends with Marcos Jr. and his wife Liza through the years. I heard that Liza also still calls him every now and then for advice.

Other tycoons Enrique Razon and Lance Gokongwei are said to be in the good graces of Marcos Jr. as well, at least from what I heard. Razon of course is the astute survivor who knows how to play his game and has good anticipatory instincts. As for Lance, well everyone likes the Gokongwei group unless perhaps you happen to be in one of the delayed flights of Cebu Pacific. That, of course, is another story and not always the carrier’s fault.

The Davaoeños

Notorious members of the Davao Group are no longer in, I hear.

There’s also some rivalry or falling apart among members of the infamous group from the Philippines’ DC or Davao City, but that’s not really Marcos Jr.‘s concern. In any case, I heard that among Davaoeños, the Floirendos and Lagdameos, whose link to the Marcoses also go way back to the time of Marcos Sr., are–not surprisingly–”in.”

How deep inside these tycoons are in Marcos Jr.’s circle and how they will use their ties, we still have to wait and see.

But here’s what I’m hoping for. Friends they may be, but cronyism as what characterized the term of Marcos Sr. should never be allowed to destroy our economy again.

The incoming administration must ensure a level playing field, minimum crony intervention if that is even possible, fair rules governing private sector partnerships and a more prosperous life for all – and not just for a powerful few.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com.

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