The Politics of Business: an account of political persecution by Herminio Disini

If you want to have an idea of how the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) was weaponized against the Marcos “cronies” you should read this book, The Politics of Business: How the Government Tried My Case Without Me, by none other than Herminio T. Disini. Disini begins with his origins in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur and how he made his way to Manila. His forebears were Chinese, Dy Sy Nee, which explains the origin of the name Disini, similar to the origins of Ongsiako, which was literally Ong Si Ako, the broken Tagalog of a Chinese named Ong.

Disini attended college at De La Salle for his Commerce degree majoring in Accounting. He later obtained his MBA from the University of Santa Clara in the Bay Area. He worked in a cigarette factory owned by one of Harry Stonehill’s lieutenants, John Spakowski. This led him to pursue becoming an entrepreneur by importing cigarette filters and supplying the newest player in the market, Fortune Tobacco Corporation, owned by a young chemist by the name of Lucio Tan. From then on, there was no stopping his rise in Philippine business.

Disini has been derided as one of the worst cronies of former President Ferdinand Marcos, primarily known for representing Westinghouse in the bidding for what eventually became the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). He was targeted by the communists as well for Cellophil Resources Corporation, which was geared towards the production of cellulose, in the Cordillera region. Disini details how the project was scrapped because of security concerns and the negative publicity as this was the time when media first branded him as a “Marcos crony”, his only crime being married to Imelda’s cousin, Inday Escolin. He bares how he received instructions from Marcos for the project while they were playing golf. It was actually meant to spur the development of the Cordilleras since the New People’s Army (NPA) under renegade priest Conrado Balweg had established a foothold there.

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On the issue of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and Westinghouse, Disini explains how one of his subsidiaries already represented Westinghouse for its non-appliance business in the country. The BNPP was thought of by Marcos as a response to the oil crisis of 1973 during the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East. Marcos saw nuclear energy as one of the keys to economic growth by weaning the country off its dependence on imported oil. The energy security infrastructure of the Philippines, as envisioned by Geronimo Velasco, would be a mix of oil, geothermal, and nuclear. It was for this reason that the Philippine National Oil Company was organized to compete against Shell and Caltex to keep the two behemoths in check. The BNPP was supposed to be the first of six nuclear power plants that was in the pipeline. It was supposed to provide cheap power to the 11 major industrial projects approved by Marcos for the industrialization of the Philippines.

Disini’s quick rise to the top with his Herdis Group was fueled by his keen eye for business opportunities, which Marcos had nothing to do with. In fact, Disini reveals how the economic managers of Marcos, led by Cesar Virata, Bobby Ongpin, Ting Paterno together with the consecutive Central Bank Governors Jaime Laya and Jose Fernandez, put the squeeze on Herdis when it ran into liquidity problems brought about by the Dewey Dee scandal in 1981 and the Aquino assassination in 1983. Contrary to the news stories then, Disini didn’t leave his creditors holding the proverbial bag by fleeing to Austria. He was able to obtain a bailout by pledging the assets of his companies to the government-owned National Development Corporation. He was able to make a fresh start in Europe until the PCGG came to haunt him in 1986 until his death in 2014.

Disini delves into the details of his legal travails with the government with evidence supporting his claim that he wasn’t given due process and the PCGG often resorting to dirty tricks to harass him and his family. He laments his being betrayed by his friends, employees, associates and even his relatives. Some of the names mentioned are then Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio and Artemio Panganiban and the succession of PCGG Chairmen from Jovito Salonga to Andres Bautista. He decries how the PCGG became a tool of oppression and persecution by not abiding by the cases he won at the Ombudsman under Conrado Vasquez and Aniano Desierto, the US Federal District Court in New Jersey and the International Court of Arbitration in Zurich. His death in 2014 came after he had an epiphany after almost dying of multiple organ failure. He attributes his epiphany to the Nuestra SeƱora Virgen de Caysasay, patroness of Taal, Batangas.

The book is relevant considering how the Philippines currently has the second highest power rates in Asia while the BNPP bears silent witness to what could’ve been the road to prosperity for Filipinos but, instead, became a calvary of thirty years to those who claim that Marcos never did any good for the country. The PCGG has been existent for thirty-five years without winning a major case against any alleged Marcos crony it has charged. It is about time that its mandate be put under review to finally put a stop to its being used as a tool for political persecution.

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About Ramon Ortoll

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