SUBTLY CASHING IN

cashAnecdotal evidence has it that there is one family in the media particularly in print and broadcast journalism that has made a career in shakedown journalism. The members of this tough guy family drive around in high-end vehicles and even publish (or announce) their property acquisitions (in their column or radio/TV programs) as if taunting the taxman herself.

If you want a stress-free lifestyle, far from the madding crowd in Metro Manila, think of owning property at Sandari Batulao in Nasugbu, Batangas province.

The site is about 600 feet above sea level, complete with a rainforest and nature reserve.

The air is fresh at Sandari Batulao where a clean river and streams flow from the mountains.

I bought myself a piece of land in Batulao and I wish to share with you my delight over the purchase.

Those who have dealt with them or were erstwhile prey attest that there appears to be a script followed to the letter by the siblings.

A telephone call triggers an attempt at connecting with a high government functionary usually a cabinet member or a head of an agency like the Philippine National Police for instance. The bigger the quarry the better. This translates into a multimillion-peso take. Contractors gravitate too close to this family with a promise of sizeable contracts from the agencies top honchos in exchange for what the congressmen receive from their pork in similar fashion. With their reputation preceding them, none of the bureaucrats would want to cross this sui generis family.

Friendship to this family has an economic value. Their telephone calls have to be returned pronto or their appointments with the civil servant a red letter day or they wield their pen that looks like a machete. They compete in upstaging political or other media personages. They see to it that their presence alone makes the public official shake in their boots.

There is an unofficial talk going around that one sibling was maintained in the plantilla of a law enforcement agency on a monthly basis booked as public relations expense. While on the payroll, the recipient’s column was in all praises to the predecessor of the chief. Weekly however, the column was critical of the region and provincial directors in command. When asked by the former chief why he was carping on the agency’s lower echelon officials when he was provided with a monthly pr fee, he snapped back that the payment is exclusive only for the chief and it did not include the region and provincial principals. “Let them fend for themselves,” retorted the columnist saying that they have monthly intelligencia anyway from the STL operators. “Huwag mo ng pasabitin sila sayo, Hepe.”

When the new appointee asked for a work out of the pr fee, woe unto him, he became the daily staple of the column.

These siblings have their own separate Foundations ostensibly to assist the less fortunate. These Foundations however were only made as fronts for personal fund raising activities where ordinarily no receipts were ever issued for “donations.”

The family wants to keep their name intact, at least for the record, that they are no extortionists outside of the league of an infamous news reader who at one time occupied a position a breath away from the presidency.

An anecdote almost became of scriptural proportion when one brother sought an appointment with a department secretary. The ruse was the younger brother wants a personal audience with the secretary to let the official know that there is a spate of rumors going around among the contractors that close relatives of the secretary were cornering huge contracts in the department known to have close to a hundred billion budget. All that the visitor wanted, tongue in cheek, was to protect the good name of the secretary and at the same time warn him about the nefarious activities of the latter’s kin, in case he is clueless about their reprehensible actions.

The call was actually an initial connect with the high official for the next item in the agenda: the media man has some contractor-friends who are interested in the high ticket projects of the agency. Since the chief of the agency is steep in work, he might have forgotten the roundabout bid from the kid brother.

In situations like these which they have fully anticipated, the family has contingencies which the agency head may not savor at all. The family follows a script which has a coup de grace that literally shakes the official to his gut.

They designate the elder who is ostensibly out of the loop to deliver the denouement in his column.

Relatives of an agriculture official are allegedly cornering contracts to build farm-to-market roads and irrigation projects worth in the hundreds of millions.

This information came from my mole at the Department of Agriculture.

Here’s how they do it: The official’s brother or nephew approaches local officials to ask if they need funding for a farm-to-market road or irrigation project. If the answer is yes, the relatives then ask for a 20 percent commission.

What happened to President Noy’s “daang matuwid (straight and narrow path) slogan?

Once the column appears, another brother picks it up on his radio program and ingenuously makes reference to the rumor but never dwelling on it at length merely tying it up with the topic at hand. “Nandito kami para proteksyonan kayo, Secretary, baka dasi dehins n’yo alam!'”

Panic is now written all over the department. The secretary has to be informed or his image suffers especially with the appointing power whose pleasure appears short-fused. Another call is logged and happily picked up by its target, and a modus vivendi is hatched.

In a series of front-page articles, the Inquirer reported the plight of coconut farmers described as among the “poorest of the poor.”

The report said coconut plantation owners and farmers were exploited by the Marcos government, which collected a levy on copra and used the money for purposes that did not benefit coconut landowners and farmers.

Coconut plantation owners and farmer-tenants are also at the mercy of copra traders or middlemen who buy copra from them at a low price and which they sell high to millers.

If Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala’s plan for the coconut industry works, coconut plantation owners and tenant-farmers will become among the country’s richest.

Alcala is cashing in on the great demand for coconut water—locally known as “buko” juice—in Europe, the United States and China.

In a dinner meeting Monday arranged by this writer for Alcala and my friend Matthew Grecsec, an American whose US company buys coconut water, the agriculture secretary talked enthusiastically about the bright future of the coconut industry.

Alcala said the Department of Agriculture is focusing on the replanting of coconut trees to replace the old ones, which bear fewer nuts.

Grecsec told Alcala that Brazil, a major exporter of oranges to the US, is currently involved in the massive planting of coconut trees to answer the big demand of coconut water in the US and Europe.

Buko juice is now preferred by health-conscious Americans and Europeans over energy drinks because it’s natural and healthy, Grecsec said.

Coconut water, he said, contains fewer calories and less sugar, and is good even for people with diabetes.

It is used as a base for other fruit drinks like pineapple and orange because of its low caloric content.

The demand for coconut water will last for many years as borne by the fact that Brazil is involved in the massive planting of coconut trees, which take about 10 years to bear fruit.

Since the Philippines is a major coconut grower, it has an advantage over Brazil and other countries since it has millions of standing coconut trees.

Alcala told Grecsec he was bent on eliminating middlemen who buy low from farmers and sell high to millers.

Trading centers for coconut water, copra and other coco by-products, would be set up in coconut-producing provinces, he added.

The coconut farmers can sell their produce directly to millers or exporters at the trading centers, Alcala said.

He added that his trading center experiment in Quezon province, where he was once a congressman, was successful in eliminating middlemen.

As a result, many farmers now drive sports utility vehicles

(SUVs) because they earn big money for their produce, the agriculture secretary said.

Another project that the agriculture department is undertaking is helping coconut farmers plant vegetables and other crops under coconut trees to supplement their income.

Alcala welcomed Grecsec’s coconut water-buying venture in the country.

The agriculture chief said he and his staff would meet again with Grecsec, who made many suggestions on the coconut industry, to create an economic “roadmap” for coconut farmers.

The ensuing columns croon songs in high spirits sung by the dramatis personae of our fairy tale.

There’s no use crying over the contentious coconut levy fund that the Supreme Court has ruled on recently.

Coconut farmers—plantation owners and their “kasama” or tenants—are about to become rich even without the coco levy fund.

There’s a great demand for coconut water, known locally as “buko” juice, in the US, Europe and China.

The demand for coconut water, now a better substitute for cola and energy drinks, is such that Brazil, a major supplier of oranges to the US, is currently engaged in the massive planting of coconut trees.

Some Brazilian orange plantation owners are switching to coconut, even if the trees will bear fruit in 10 years, because of the very high return of investment.

So while Brazil and other countries are undertaking the massive planting of coconut trees, the Philippines can cash in on the current demand for buko juice worldwide.

The Philippines is the world’s No. 1 coconut-grower.

Let’s forget about copra, a coconut by-product that goes into the making of soap and cooking oil.

These products are sold cheap because of its low demand worldwide.

Coconut has other more expensive by-products than copra which are also in demand in the world market.

Among these are the much vaunted virgin coconut oil, which has many medicinal uses; husk, used in making car upholstery and rope; and coconut shells, for making charcoal.

The world has not yet heard much of the potent alcoholic drinks made from coconut—“tuba” and “lambanog.”

When properly marketed, there is a strong possibility that tuba and lambanog will find  a niche among wine and liquor drinkers in the world.

* * *

Before Administrator Lito Banayo of the National Food Authority (NFA) imports rice in huge quantities, he will have to ask permission from Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.

President Noy has made Alcala a virtual rice czar by having him approve all rice importations by the NFA.

In the past, the NFA was an independent agency.

* * *

Alcala has made a fearless forecast: by 2014, the country will be self-sufficient in rice that there will be no need to import the staple, he said.

To reach his goal, Alcala has ordered the Department of Agriculture to give more importance to rice and vegetable farmers by giving them easy access to farm inputs like fertilizer and equipment.

Alcala told this columnist his dream is to make the country progressive through its agricultural produce.

That’s why he wants the country to cash in on the great demand for buko juice worldwide, he added.

While the rest of the family chorused “We Say Mabuhay” in their MVP channel without let up as a signal of their unending gratitude to the government functionary. Is this a bonus or another freebie?

Wise move

President Noy will not let go of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala until 2016 when his term expires.

A very wise move on the part of the President.

You see, Alcala is the only agriculture secretary who has made a promise to make the Philippines not only self-sufficient in rice but also an exporter by 2013; that’s next year.

Making the country a rice exporter may be a tall order for other aggie chiefs, but not for Alcala who walks the talk.

Alcala has been going around the country convincing farmers and fishermen about the importance of their role in the economy.

Farmers and fishermen love and believe in Alcala, an engineer by profession and a politician (he’s a former congressman) by avocation.

SHOEMART AND THE STALEMATE IN BAGUIO

In a news item that appeared on the April 11, 2012 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, it reported “the Roman Catholic bishop of Baguio City supported calls by various groups on Wednesday for a boycott of SM malls across the country in protest of its clearing of trees to make room from the expansion of its mall in the City of Pines.” This is big deal in the City of Baguio. SM’s cavalier regard to the trees has earned the ire of the environmentalists of the Pine City and its Bishopric.

This news item should have merited front page given the uproar it created.

How was this treated by the desk at PDI? This breaking news appeared in the inner pages of PDI specifically on page 17. Not only that. The news piece was on the lower one eighth part of the page beside an advertisement with the clear intent of camouflaging it.

In the same issue appeared an enticing picture of Anne Curtis on page 5 with her signature smile promoting a new condominium development project of SM’s affiliate, SM Development Corporation, known for its THE GOOD GUYS mantra. How much does it cost to buy one whole page of PDI and at page 5 at that on a daily basis? What does this tell us?

If PDI has its way it could have killed that story. Instead PDI buried it in the inside pages appeasing SM, a blue chip ad placer in the broadsheet. Business as usual, not far from the business acumen of the family we told you about.

One thought on “SUBTLY CASHING IN

  1. Well that news reader who was about a breath away from the presidency entrusted much of his hidden wealth to the station’s show host who’ then transferred to another station. Now he doesn’t want to return the loot and instead bought yachts, an airplane and expensive vehicles.
    These Band of Brothers Sonny should be renamed Band of Bandits.

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