Taipans in China, professionals in America

Amid the rising tension in the West Philippine Sea (also known as the South China Sea) over the reputedly oil-rich Spratlys, my wife Leni and I visited China last week (together with Sen. Frank and Mila Drilon, PCGG Chair Andy and Tisha Bautista, bankers Nonoy and Cory Alindogan, and William and Barbara Go). Freely mixing with the locals, we did not encounter anyone inclined to discuss the Spratlys conflicts. People were keener on promoting harmony and prosperity.

Entrepreneurs in China. In between listening to Dr. Fu Lang, foreign affairs director of Guangdong, explain how his province attained its superhigh GDP of over 14 percent for several years, and being enthralled at the magical mountains of Zhangjiajie where the movie “Avatar” was filmed, I was equally amazed to know how some Filipino taipans have succeeded in China.

Perhaps, the most admired Filipino tycoon in the People’s Republic is Carlos Chan. His “Oishi” food products are processed in 13 factories all over the Middle Kingdom and employ over 7,000 Chinese workers, supervised by 80 Filipino managers. His China footprint easily dwarfs his Philippine operation, which has four factories and 4,000 workers.

Though he has opened subsidiaries in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and other countries and though he sells his products worldwide, his Chinese operation is, by far, the most successful, eclipsing many foreign multinationals there like Frito-Lay, maker of “Lay’s” and “Doritos.”

Other Filipino taipans who have penetrated China’s markets include George S. K. Ty who recently opened Metrobank China, the first non-Chinese bank to be headquartered in Nanjing while maintaining its presence in Shanghai. Henry Sy’s SM operates the largest shopping mall in Xiamen and several stores in other locations. Lucio Tan has banking, real estate and beer interests in various Chinese cities, while John Gokongwei Jr. has set up thriving real estate and food businesses. Recently, Tony Tan Caktiong started 300 food outlets under a Chinese brand, not under his giant “Jollibee” that is popular here.

US professionals. In contrast, Filipinos in the United States veer not so much to business as to the professions—medicine, nursing, banking, education, etc. Some of those who have excelled in these fields are Joanne de Asis (investment banking), Loida Nicolas (advocacies), Josie Natori (high-end fashion), Sam Bernal (stem cell therapy), Felipe Tolentino (ophthalmology), Libertito Pelayo (journalism), Arthur Lopez (hotel management), Marilou Mabilangan (government), Jana Benitez (arts), and modesty aside, our son Jose Artemio III (quantitative risk management).

Diosdado “Dado” Banatao, a poor boy from Cagayan, has become a hi-tech legend in the Silicon Valley of California. Now a billionaire, he visits the Philippines regularly. A month ago, I had the pleasure of a private dinner with him, and of listening to his passion to set up, with the help of the Ayala and Lopez conglomerates, a P5-billion endowment to help brilliant Filipino science and technology students conquer the hi-tech industry.

Banatao is happy that the Philippines is becoming the world’s BPO capital. But beyond that, he thinks that with grit, proper education, tutoring and extensive training, Filipino scientists and engineers can, like him, rise to the top of the American totem pole.

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Reckless accusations. Reacting to last Sunday’s column, a reader berated me for allegedly writing a Supreme Court decision that allowed Hong Kong-based First Pacific Company to purchase a huge block of PLDT shares that enabled it to control the phone company. As a result, First Pacific and PLDT boss Manuel V. Pangilinan allegedly rewarded me with an independent directorship in PLDT and Meralco. This is misleading and false.

The truth: Justice Conchita Carpio Morales penned that landmark decision (Yuchengco vs. Sandiganbayan, Jan. 20, 2006) which declared as ill-gotten a large block of PLDT shares and forfeited it in favor of the government. Later that year, the government auctioned the shares. A unit of First Pacific matched the highest bid, exercised its right of first refusal and paid government over P25 billion in a transparent public bidding. I had no participation whatsoever in that sale.

I met Mr. Pangilinan for the first time in 2007—after I had retired from the Court in 2006—when Inquirer Chair Marixi Prieto introduced him to me. He invited me to be an independent adviser (not director) of PLDT only in mid-2009. As an “independent” adviser, I do not represent management or any shareholder. I cannot propose or second motions in the board of directors. Neither can I vote. My advice may or may not be heeded by the company, but anyway I render it objectively in good faith and to the best of my modest knowledge of law and business.

I was elected an independent director of Meralco in mid 2008 at the invitation of Meralco Chair Manuel Lopez, not of Mr. Pangilinan who was not even connected with Meralco at the time. That said, I hope readers will verify facts before spitting venom on me.

Another reader asked why, despite my friendship with Justice Antonio T. Carpio, I still critiqued his ponencia on due process grounds. True, we have voted together in many cases, but—equally true—we have also disagreed. For instance, he strongly dissented from my decision in 2004 upholding the constitutionality of the Mining Law. Magistrates, incumbent and retired, can differ without being difficult.

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