Among the oligarchs (those whose names grace the Forbes list of billionaires), it is only Manny Villar who stands as his own man. He currently occupies the top spot even eclipsing SM founder Henry Sy who died last year. He shuttles two worlds: politics and business. Though he does not occupy any political seat, Manny Villar is perceived as one of President Duterte’s strongest political and economic allies. Aside from San Miguel’s Ramon Ang, the second wealthiest oligarch is at Duterte’s side.
With an estimated wealth of US$5.5 billion (see link), Manny has enough resources to pull down a small country’s economy ( basing on the current exchange rate of 50:1, Manny has an estimated wealth of 275 billion pesos, equivalent to the annual budget of at least one governmental department).
Of course, who does not know Dennis Uy, the maverick businessman who was once accused of oil smuggling? Uy is now becoming one of the most powerful businessmen in the land due to his perceived close-ness with Duterte. As soon as Duterte ascended the rungs of power, Uy was closely behind him, consulting with the President’s closest confidante, Senator Bong Go, and aligning with others such as former Congressman and chief gamer Albee Benitez. The first casualty was former Marcos crony Roberto Ongpin who lost his shares in the country’s prime online gaming firm after it clashed with Benitez’s and Uy’s interests.
Not far from the scene is Lucio Co, whose holding firm registered triple revenues in 2019. He is close to Duterte and reportedly sought the mayor’s help in resolving charges of smuggling made by previous administrations against him. Lucio Co’s name cropped up during the time of former president Joseph Estrada. Reportedly, Estrada erstwhile companion, the former actress Laarni Enriquez had something to do with Co’s Puregold business which he uses to reportedly mask his smuggling activities see link.
Obviously, these oligarchs want nothing more than perpetuate Duterte to power. Realities, however, tend to frustrate this.
For one, the president himself intimated his desire to retire once he finishes his term. However, analyzing his speeches, the possibility of him lusting for a vice presidential spot remains, and this possibility depends on the candidacy of his daughter Sara Duterte.
This is one complication which the Duterte administration and its political and economic allies face.
Many political forces profess loyalty behind Duterte. For one, the Marcoses who were the first to bet their political futures with Duterte in 2016. The Cayetano’s are another. And of course, the Villars. It is common knowledge that the Villars are a force to reckon with within the administration.
Manny’s wife occupied the top spot in the 2018 senatorial polls thanks to the support given by Duterte. She now occupies sensitive committee chairmanships that guard the interests of oligarchs behind Duterte.
Manny and Cynthia’s daughter is now a Congresswoman, while another child, holds the powerful post as Public works chief and daughter-in-law works for the justice department. For a political analyst, it seems that the Villars had their bases covered pretty much.
Sara-Cynthia or Sara-Manny
The safest bet this administration could muster is possibly a Sara Duterte-Cynthia Villar tandem or a Sara-Manny Villar, which could lead to a possibility of a Cayetano yielding his presidential ambitions. We all know that the Speaker salivates the presidency and it is quite obvious since 2016. However, Cayetano’s actions are beginning to reflect or at least show similarities of the political fate of another presidential aspirant, Mar Roxas. The more Cayetano stays in the bureaucracy, the least his chances become to win. He is now Speaker yet he enjoys it only thru the blessing of his political benefactor, Duterte and his closest political and economic ally, the Villars. This just shows that Cayetano remains a political functionary and not a powerful political center the way the Villars are.
Hence, when push comes to shove, the possibility of Alan Peter abandoning his political ambitions and give way to Villar’s remains.
The thing is, there are news that Cayetano is open to the possibility of a tandem with former Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio, who now counts himself as the main figure of the opposition (due to the absence of a more credible political figure). Obviously, the Liberals want a piece of the action come 2022 yet they face internal contradictions which hinder or weaken their political capabilities of clinching a win or a political comeback.
IF, and this is a big IF, Cayetano thinks that it is his time to throw his hat unto the presidential ring, then, this is the way to go for Cayetano. When this happens, the once formidable Duterte block will show fissures which, only succeeding events will be able to determine how deep or how wide the political implications are.
If you ask me if this Cayetano option would give a major impact on Duterte’s politics, I dare say no. Cayetano is hinging his chances on his political network and we all know this is definitely not the way to go and succeed. Even his benefactor, the Villars know this. Political allies such as Congressmen often prioritize their own campaigns than spend for the campaign of their supported national candidates, unless of course, Cayetano has a billion pesos or more to spend for support of these political forces.
Many think that Senator Go is mulling his options come 2022. He probably realizes that being a senator does not shield him from prosecution post-Duterte. Even if he is now the richest senator, political forces would surely run after his neck and his supporters once his principal descends from power. The only way for Go to keep his neck intact is to throw his hat onto the presidential ring and many believes that he is pencil pushing and calculating his chances in 2022.
Many believe that Go is Mayor Duterte’s personal bet, since Go has proven time and again, his loyalties lie with the President. Of course, Sara is being given the image as that of a presidential daughter with her own mind, but several event show otherwise. Several years ago, when Sara was mayor and his father, her vice, there was widespread perception that she sits so only at the get-go of her father. When she encountered a serious hit during that spat with the city’s official, it was Digong who went his way and shielded her daughter from that controversy.
In reality, both Sara and Bong Go defer to the wisdom and political sagacity of Digong and if push comes to shove, they may yet team up for the presidential campaign come 2022. The thing is, such a tandem might obviously alienate their close political allies and these include not just the Villars, but the Marcoses, the Cayetano’s and the Pacquiao’s.
Oh by the way, to make things more complicated, there are rumors of Pacquiao wanting to seek the presidency or the vice presidency. Pacquaio’s handlers think he has the network and the popularity strong enough to defeat others from the game. Me thinks he does not have the mettle and strong network yet and even if he has billions at his disposal, Pacquiao himself would not sacrifice these monies just to pursue the end game envisioned for him by his handlers, namely Governor Chavit Singson and Congressman Lito Atienza.
He may actually opt for the vice presidential post and when this happens, trust us to see a monumental battle of wits and resources between Go’s group and Pacquiao’s.
Cayetano-Pacquiao/ Manny Villar-Manny Pacquiao
Again, such configurations are most likely monkey wrenches thrown at the political unity within the Duterte administration. This is the thing. Since Duterte may be over the political ledge come 2022, the main glue that unifies these disparate political forces with differing economic interests dictated by their oligarchic benefactors disappears which could potentially cause massive and serious fragmentations within the once formidable Duterte administration. This is always the case when the winning political group allows others for the sake of politics. The more groups enter a strong political force, these political additions most often spoil the broth.
These configurations are most welcome especially for Duterte allies who seek a repeat of their glory days. Such tandems are perceived as win-wins and political compromises. Again, the thing is, it depends how other cliques within the Duterte administration perceives this and the bottomline is–will such tandems protect their interests on the long run?
Remember–these candidates are just proxies of the Big Boys. Those who control the economy have a strong say on who becomes who and who ascends to what come election time. Those inside the Colombo so to speak would want the perpetuation of power while obviously outside of the realm or sphere of influence, would want to field their bets and therefore, would spend more to secure a win.
Whenever you look at it, fragmentation seems imminent, and this causes a serious worry on the part of allies of this administration whose concerns are entirely legitimate. Whatever configuration Duterte’s allies chose, there will be serious consequences which harms the interests of oligarchs now behind Duterte.
If the administration chooses to support the Villars, the Duterte’s stand to alienate other oligarchs namely Lucio Co, Dennis Uy and some other members of the administration’s Filipino-Chinese economic giants. The Villars are direct competitors in the economic game played by close Duterte oligarchs, particularly Uy. Surely, a Villar presidency would definitely rock the markets and affect the interests of these fine gentlemen.
The Sys-Gokongweis-Lucio Tan-RSA (Ramon Ang)
These names are known to lend support to political personalities with Lucio Tan betting at all candidates. If Duterte supports a Villar run, nothing to worry about for Ramon Ang as his interests does not diametrically oppose the interests of the Villars.
The one group that may be affected by a Duterte-backed Villar run would be the Sys whose interests lie diametrically opposed with those of the Villars. The main contentious issue between the two is the extended reclamation of Manila Bay, especially that of Paranaque and Las Pinas.
Everyone knows why Cynthia heads the senate committee on the environment because she wants nothing more than protect her family’s properties in Las Pinas. There is this perception that once the reclamation of Manila Bay pushes thru, it will flank the Villar’s properties in Las Pinas leading to a price devaluation.
SM envisions the bay as something like Taipeh, with major businesses occupying high rise buildings there. For years, this has been the main bone of contention between the SM group and the AYALAs whose Makati properties stand to lose value if SM will have its way.
Seeing that SM is dead set betting its futures onto the expansion of Mall of Asia, other Filipino Chinese oligarchs make their moves to chess mate the Sy’s by convincing government to open an expansionary move towards the North. This explains why Ramon Ang is salivating for the construction of an airport in Bulacan and why the Aquino-Ochoa backed New San Jose Builders wanted nothing more than create a superhighway linking Manila to as far as Bataan thru island reclamation because it does not interfere with the SY’s plans and actually even open new business possibilities to other economic players such as RSA.
RSA is highly intelligent and he sees the landmines being planted by the Villars just to frustrate the plans of the SM group. That explains his expansionary push towards the North. The thing is, RSA is expected also to encounter stiff opposition from traditional political forces in Central Luzon whose interests are expected to change once RSA becomes dominant Northern player. RSA is flanked by the Villars and the Pangilinan there and one major push could spark a major war which these oligarchs would play come 2022.
(conclusion to follow…)