Thursday, March 12, 2009


My congratulations to Philip Piccio and his band of tenacious victims of greedy pre-need plan buccaneers. Years back, Philip and some parents who lost much of their hard-earned savings with the fall of Pacific Plans grouped themselves together under the PEP Coalition, to fight the powerful Yuchengcos after the collapse of their pre-need satellite corporation.

They wanted the Yuchengcos, regardless of the already moribund and hollowed-out Pacific Plans, to redeem their pledges of sending their planholders’ children to school. They filed case after case in the courts. As far as I know, no clear resolution has yet come out.

Under normal circumstances, and the examples are legion in a country where justice is almost always denied the poor and middle class and almost always favors the rich and the influential, litigants lose hope amid the rising legal fees of protracted battle. But not Philip and his tenacious PEP.

When word got around that a Bicolano businessman close to the Lakas originators and close to the powerful first couple bought whatever was left of the net worth of Pacific Plans from the Yuchengcos, PEP inserted itself and asserted the parent-planholders’ rights. Noel Onate, the new controlling owner of Pacific, promised to redeem their obligations under the contract sold by the Yuchengcos. Or so he says, at least for now.

But then a curious thing happened late last year. It all began with the declared insolvency of a bunch of rural banks, from Paranaque to Cebu to Negros to Batangas, all under the flagship of a certain Legacy controlled by one Celso de los Angeles, AIM graduate, Marikeno turned Bicolano, who was once upon a time the Boy Seseng of jueteng infamy. Hollowed out of funds, depositors who were promised double-your-money in a few years suddenly realized their petty greed was gone forever, with an exceedingly and immoderately greedy man (and his cohorts) having purloined them of the dreams he purveyed.

And then again, weeping mothers suddenly realized that what they thought would be their hard-earned and long-saved legacies to their children or themselves, in the form of pre-need educational plans and pension schemes, were also fast vanishing, gone with the wind, if we may borrow from Atlanta literature.

They turned to Philip Piccio for help, this little toughie who had the courage to fight against the windmills of greed in an ever-benighted land. And thus came the phenomenon of focused people power. Victimized parents enabling other victimized parents, with Philip their earnest poster boy and unflagging, pugnacious defend dog.

After watching the Legacy scam unfold layer upon layer in Mar Roxas’ Committee on Trade and Commerce, with the usually unflappable Juan Ponce Enrile himself scandalized at the effrontery of Celso de los Angeles and the rank incompetence of government regulators called the Securities and Exchange Commission, I felt nauseated. Yet last Monday’s hearing provided a ray of hope, because Philip Piccio and his PEP were able to show that the SEC was not being just plain incompetent or stupid. They were incompetent and stupid for millions and millions of reasons.

I called Philip to thank him for the spadework and the dedication he displayed. How he got Celso’s executives to rat on his nefarious practices, and how he uncovered a slimy SEC commissioner and pinned him down, on the spot. But Philip told me it was the work of all those victimized parents. They were the ones who searched for clues, for somehow long family relationships that brought them to the doorsteps of the key witnesses they presented to Mar. They chipped in little sums of money, brought pot-luck food for endless meetings, and secured by themselves in their obscure homes the conscience-stricken witnesses they brought to fore.

Philip promises there will be more coming out of the woodwork, now that Celso’s band of immoderately greedy cohorts are being unmasked layer upon layer. When I congratulated Philip for the tenacity, he chuckled and said, “You know what our self-description was of what we were doing, investigating and putting pieces of the puzzle together? We kept saying, a-la-Lacson.”

Yes indeed, PEP and Philip, along with the nanays that Mar Roxas concluded last Monday’s hearings with, simply have to collect their tenacity together. That, in truth, is people power.

Yet in a larger sense, people of the benighted land do not seem to realize that the Celso’s and SEC with its Martinez atbp, along with the Congress of the Bought and their buyer in Malacanang, are all using our money --- people’s money.

When PDIC pays, if it can, that is people’s money. When Bangko Sentral pays, that is people’s money. When the budget is used to cover the losses, that too is people’s money. And when people of this benighted Philippines finally wake up from the stupor of a decade, as it woke up from the stupor of two decades of Marcos, and realize that it is their money and their children’s future that is being stolen by buccaneers in government and buccaneers in business in cahoots with each other, then people power will yet be reborn. Hopefully, the next people power will throw out a hopelessly rotten system, along with the maggots and vultures that have feasted upon its carcass.

* * *

The powerful head of the American Insurance Group, Maurice Greenberg, a permanent fixture in Philippine-American business relations, has lost most of his wealth, along with the collapse of America’s largest insurance conglomerate. Forbes magazine, almanac of the world’s wealthiest, recently said that Greenberg, who used to be worth 1.9 billion dollars (about 92 billion pesos), has a net worth depreciated to less than 100 million dollars. Wow!

A hundred million dollars is just about 4.8 billion pesos --- can you imagine that? How much did Celso de los Angeles play with? Much more than that surely. And how many Filipinos have net worth much larger, whether legitimately earned by them and their forebears, or the net result of plundering government coffers? There are congressmen and ex-congressmen of this benighted land who are wealthier than the great Maurice Greenberg now. And surely, a “golden” couple have ten times more, at the very least.

Wait! I may have said that too soon. Let’s see how much is left after deducting losses from Merrill Lynch and Lehmann Brothers. In any case, I heard over the air, somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, that financial task forces of the American government are keen on asking somebody for explanations about some 700 million (dollars, not pesos).

See why we must all be tenacious? See why we must never again allow the plundering species ever again to rule over the desperately benighted land? When, oh when, will God in his infinite mercy, open the clouds, and let the sunshine in?