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Business

Conflict of interest

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

The Philippines has a new President, and with him, a team that will decide on the course that this country will take for the next six years.

President Bongbong Marcos’ team is a combination of the old and the new – those teeming with experience and others, newbies in government.

For those who have been in government before, their lives are an open book by now.

But for the new faces in government, we expect that Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez has subjected them to vetting before they were offered their respective posts. After all, as the head of the executive department, the President is ultimately accountable for their actions under the principle of command responsibility and Rodriguez would not allow any appointment to taint the reputation of the new President this early in his administration.

So we expect that the ES already knows that the appointment of Christopher Pastrana, who was recently named general manager of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), could be questioned and even criticized for potential conflict of interest.

According to news reports, Pastrana is the president of Archipelago Philippines Ferries Corp. (APFC) which operates FastCat as well as ports and terminals, and Philharbor Ferries and Port Services Inc. (PFPSI) while his daughters own Philippine Archipelago Ports and Terminal Services Inc. (PAPTSI). Both PFPSI and PAPTSI operate PPA port terminals.

Pastrana is also said to be a business partner in Bacolod Real Estate Development Corp., the biggest port company in Negros Occidental. Meanwhile, Pastrana’s brother-in-law owns Prudential Customs Brokerage Services Inc.

News reports also show that Pastrana, his daughters, and his brother-in-law combined operate over 18 ports, or about 20 percent of the ports operated by PPA.

Another report mentioned that Pastrana’s business partner is Dennis Trajano, whose wife is the sister of Rodriguez’ wife. Trajano is said to be the chairman of APFC, PFPSI and PAPTSI.

There are also reports about Pastrana’s PFPSI being the subject of an outstanding demand letter from the Department of Transportation to pay P132.1 million for unpaid monthly amortizations and accumulated interest for Maharlika Uno and Maharlika Dos of the DOTr from 2013 to 2022.

Another issue being raised against Pastrana was a qualified theft case that he filed against officials of Chailease International which is selling or leasing Airbus helicopters. According to one account, the Taiwanese company took back a $3.7-million helicopter which Pastrana leased through CAPP Industries in 2016. This was after CAPP defaulted on the lease finance payments.

In its petition for review submitted to the Department of Justice, Chailease said that their company pre-terminated the aircraft lease agreement due to the many breaches committed by CAPP and that there was no unlawful taking of the helicopter since Chailease was merely enforcing its right as owner-lessor of the subject-helicopter.

Pastrana’s case could be the first opportunity for the just installed BBM administration to show to all what it really stands for and to what extent it will go to deliver and “get the job done,” with “no excuses.”

Me Too

There is now a growing concern over the role of social media, especially in so far as presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial are concerned.

An article written by Peter Suciu for forbes.com noted that as social media has been increasingly used to spread misinformation, it could certainly influence public opinion including those of potential jurors.

Meanwhile, on another article, this time by Scott Stump for today.com, pointed out that the highly charged defamation trial involving actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard was contested as much on social media as it was inside a Virginia courtroom.

Depp was awarded $10.4 million in damages by a jury after she sued his ex-wife over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in which Heard was identified as a public figure representing domestic abuse.

Heard’s lawyer said she believes the vitriol against Heard and massive support for Depp on social media had an effect on the jury, which was not sequestered during the trial. The lawyer explained that since the jury members went home every night, have families who are on social media, there was no way they could not have been influenced by it.

The article revealed that the hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp has nearly 20 billion views on TikTok, while #justiceforamberheard had over 80 million.

There is now such a thing as trial by social media. Unfortunately, some people form their opinions and conclusions using bits and pieces of unverified information, oftentimes incomplete to get the full picture.

After their divorce, public sympathy favored Heard in the spirit of #MeToo, a social movement that encourages women to speak up about their abuses, knowing that they are not alone. Meantime, Depp was perceived in social media as nothing but a horrible “wife-beater” who deserved to be stripped of whatever goodwill he amassed as an international movie celebrity.

But after over three years of netizens believing that Depp had domestically abused Heard, public opinion came full circle.

In the Philippines, we have our own share of similar social media dramas.

Who can forget the alleged sexual harassment made by a faculty member at the Ateneo de Manila University? It was first revealed in an anonymous post over the ADMU Freedom Wall website, before going viral on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

Recently, there were also news reports about the Office of the City Prosecutor in Marikina finding probable cause to order the indictment of advertising executives Denise Tsai Tee and Maria Corazon Cruz who were charged with cyberlibel for their posts on social media against a certain Herbert Hernandez who they accused of sexual harassment.

While we commiserate with supposed victims of crimes, trial via social media should never be an option.

The best way forward is via the court of law and not the court of public opinion.

Clarification

Contrary to what appears in some news accounts, there is apparently still no agreement between the warring camps at Okada Manila in terms of how the salaries and other expenses of the casino and hotel operations would be paid for while the court cases are still ongoing.

To recall, the Supreme Court issues a status quo ante order (SQAO) which provided that “petitioner and respondents… are hereby required to observe the status quo prevailing prior to petitioner’s removal as stockholder, director, chairman and CEO of TRLEI in 2017.”

Last May 31, the camp of gaming tycoon Kazuo Okada stormed Okada Manila to enforce the order which they claimed restored Kazuo as chairman, chief executive officer, director, and stockholder of Tiger Resort Leisure and Entertainment Inc. (TRLEI), the operator of the Okada casino complex.

Just recently, the SC ordered Kazuo to comment on a motion for reconsideration filed by TRLEI questioning and asking for the lifting of the SQAO.

In the meantime, Okada Manila’s bank accounts have been frozen because of the intra-corporate dispute in TRLEI.

One of the banks required the two warring boards to sign an agreement to disburse the salaries of the employees but Kazuo’s camp was not keen on signing, imposing unreasonable conditions. Kazuo’s decision not to sign forced the banks to file interpleader cases.

According to TRLEI legal counsel Estrella Elamparo, while Okada Manila may choose to use the cage money or revenues from the operations of the casino and hotel to fund operations and salaries, those funds can only go so far and are expected to dry up soon.

It is thus urgent that the SC decide on the motion soon to finally settle the issue as to who should be in control of TRLEI, and of Okada Manila. Otherwise, the future of its over 5,000 employees may be at risk.

 

 

For comments, e-mail at [email protected]

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