Monday, May 4, 2009

An Expose of PDIC: The Makings of a Syndicate

Ricardo Tan, former president of PDIC, claimed that sometime in 2005, Nograles had invited him to dinner in Edsa Plaza Shangrila hotel but was surprised by the appearance of Celso de los Angeles. Prospero Nograles, then House majority leader, asked him to go easy on the probe of the Legacy Group because its owner was well connected with top administration officials. This dinner came after PDIC had started its own investigation of the legacy banks. “We conducted a probe based on the complaints of depositors,” Tan said.“What we found were fictitious deposits, [rotating] collateral from one bank to the other, unsafe and unsound [banking practices] and improper documentation.”

The older Nograles kept on coming up with different explanations for that meeting, and noting that if he had wanted to intervene in the Legacy case, he should have talked to the BSP and not PDIC. He is quoted as saying ““The function of PDIC is to pay depositors of banks ordered closed by the central bank which files complaints against erring banks. Filing cases is not the function of PDIC. So why should I talk to him (Ricardo Tan) when it is not his function? His job is to collate assets of closed banks and pay depositors.” Not surprisingly, Celso echoed the same line by saying “Why would I talk to Ric Tan when he was not with the BSP, and I did not have any closed banks at that time?” If Celso could play dumb on the powers of PDIC, Prospero Nograles certainly cannot get away with feigning ignorance. He was the majority leader when RA 9302, the law that restored PDIC’s power to examine and investigate banks, was deliberated on the floor and passed by the House in 2004.

We can therefore logically infer two facts from Tan’s revelations: first, that contrary to the younger Nograles’ protestations in the 2009 congressional hearings, PDIC could and had in fact investigated the legacy banks as early as 2005 and second, that Celso had powerful friends who were obviously interceding and running interference for him. Celso himself disclosed in an interview with Ricky Carandang that that he was “close” to some influential political figures like Vice President Noli De Castro, House Speaker Boy Nograles, former congressman Butch Pichay, and Environment Secretary Lito Atienza. VP Noli acknowledged that Celso was a campaign supporter in his 2004 election run for the VP position. How valuable was he to Noli de Castro? Obviously a big-time contributor- it was De Castro who recommended that De los Angeles be appointed in 2004 as chairman of the National Home Mortgage Corporation. Nograles admitted that he was a legacy preneed investor before 2004 and still had a collectible of P18 million in legacy investments. Legacy bank insiders revealed that the Speaker had availed of the bank’s car promo plan under its 6-year DYM time deposit. The Speaker has admitted to attending parties thrown by Celso. Carol Hinola, former president of the Legacy group, alleged that Congressman Ed Zialcita received a monthly stipend of P100,000 as consultant fees. Patricio Mangubat of the New Philippine Revolution wrote that the Paranaque congressman “is not just a silent investor but a very active one.

Obviously, these powerful friends had to ensure that the golden goose would keep on laying the golden eggs. Having influential partners and backers was not enough to keep the money machine operating. It needed inside men to ensure that BSP, PDIC and SEC would not spoil the party. The critical roles of BSP and PDIC as potential spoilers in the grand scheme are axiomatic; what is not evident is the function of the SEC. Most of the bank depositors confidently deposited their hard-earned money into the legacy rural banks, not only because of the high interest rates offered but because the banks were part of a conglomerate that included supposedly profitable sister companies engaged in preneed plans, motorcycle dealerships, credit cards, etc. Celso and his friends could not allow the SEC to close down these companies and therefore bring down confidence in the legacy “business model” that Celso kept on mentioning during the initial senate hearings. This was the business model that was making it possible for the legacy banks and preneed companies to rake in billions of pesos.

Enter SEC Commissioner Jesus Martinez, close cousin of congressman Zialcita. Hinola had narrated that during lunch on Feb. 14, 2006 at a Japanese restaurant at the Shangri-La hotel in Makati, Martinez, who was accompanied by Zialcita, has asked her “ if we have any problems with the SEC that he [Martinez] could help us with and at that time…” Martinez must have been a big help because Hinola accused him of receiving a Ford expedition in 2007 and a P5 million house in 2008, all courtesy of legacy funds. One potential problem (SEC) dealt with, two (BSP and PDIC) to go.
Very few people are aware that Prospero Nograles has a close relative working in the BSP. His name is Manuel Bendigo and he is the brother of the wife of Nograles. Though the BSP started investigating the legacy banks as early as 2004, it would seem that the legacy banks were always one step ahead of the investigative team. Would it be farfetched to believe that this brother-in-law played a key role in keeping Celso abreast of BSP’s findings and plans? Two down, one to go.

For refusing to play ball and go easy on the legacy probe, Ricardo Tan was replaced as PDIC president by Michael Osmena, who died in office. On December, 2007, Jose Nograles, an unheard-of Senior Vice President of Landbank and more importantly, younger brother of the House of Representatives’ majority leader, was appointed as PDIC president. It would seem that the younger Nograles had two marching orders- the first and immediate priority was to set aside and bury the adverse findings of PDIC’s 2005 investigations of the legacy banks. He obviously accomplished his first mission. Ricardo Tan said in an interview with the Inquirer ““When I left PDIC [in April 2006], our exposure to [De los Angeles’] 12 banks [in terms of insured deposits] was P4 billion,” “Since then, PDIC’s exposure has risen to P14 billion.” What was the new PDIC president’s second mission? That in case the some of the legacy banks failed, PDIC, in compliance with its overall mandate, would pay the depositors promptly and expeditiously. Remember his older brother’s quoted job description of the PDIC president? “His job is to collate assets of closed banks and pay depositors.” A month after the legacy banks’ closure, Celso announces that PDIC will soon be paying the bank depositors. Swift deposit payouts would have avoided unwanted attention into legacy bank anomalies and the criminal negligence of the regulatory agencies. But the syndicate did not take into account the one flaw in its grand plan- PDIC had no money to pay out and the BSP inexplicably refused to lend it money. How and why did this happen to the PDIC that had boasted that it had a DIF of P61.5 billion pesos? Part 4 will reveal the hidden interests of the big financial institutions that caused the drying up of the govt-controlled private funds.

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