FIRST OF TWO PARTS
In September last year, Kris Aquino took to social media bewailing the loss of tens of millions of pesos to a trusted business associate she did not name. Amounts varied from PhP 50M to a staggering PhP 100M, her savings wiped out, one account claimed. Speculation swirled as to the identity of the person who ran away with her money until a case of qualified theft amounting to PhP1.2M was filed in October against the former Managing Director of Kris Cojuanco Aquino Productions Nicko Falcis. In late November, Aquino filed a cyber libel complaint against Jesus Falcis, Nicko’s youngest brother. Jesus, a lawyer and radio broadcaster, took to Instagram and Twitter to dispute the charges Kris made against Nicko.
ANCX reached out to Falcis to get his side and last January 6, Nicko, accompanied by his brother, Jesus granted Ces Oreña-Drilon his first interview. The interview follows Kris’ Facebook Live post where she tearfully appealed to Nicko to face the cases she filed against him. In December, Nicko returned quietly to the Philippines from Thailand, after exhausting all legal remedies to respond to the case in absentia, due to what he called “grave threats to his life.” Last January 3 Nicko appeared at the Manila fiscal’s office to swear to his counter affidavit. (Cases were filed in 7 cities- Makati, San Juan, Taguig, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Manila and Quezon City)
In his interview with ANCX, which lasted more than an hour at the Sagana restaurant in BGC, Nicko gave us a glimpse of his 18 months working with Kris Aquino. He talked about how it all began, and how things eventually led to court cases and alleged death threats. Through her lawyer Sigfrid Fortun, we asked for an interview with Aquino, but Fortun said his client is abroad and have not made known to him the exact date of her return.
Charting a new course
Kris Aquino and Nicko Falcis first met in 2015 when the two, together with other partners, became co-owners of several Nacho Bimby and Potato Corner franchises. Upon the TV host’s exit from ABS-CBN, her home station for many years, she expressed her intention to open more stores. “I think you know she did a very public announcement of ‘I'm leaving the network and I'm focusing on the businesses, I'm a proud owner of several franchises already,’” Nicko told ANCX, echoing his former boss’s words. “She wanted to have that narrative going well for her. And that's where I was introduced. And of course we showed her the potential of the business.”
To hear Nicko say it, the popular TV personality was impressed with how he turned what originally was a two-branch enterprise into a popular movie snack operation. “We told her we want to roll out in different locations, or different malls as well,” said Nicko. “And that's where it started. That's when she kind of appreciated me, how good of a manager I am.”
And that was when Kris extended the invitation. Back then, after leaving her home network for many years, she was supposed to be handled by APT Productions, which was headed by Antonio P. Tuviera, producer of Eat Bulaga! “But of course you know unfortunately, it didn't work out and then it left her with no one to really fully manage her.”
And so Kris turned to Nicko. She asked how he was doing, if he would like to join her in her shift into the digital world and form her own management team.
Nicko claimed Kris wanted to hire him but he said no. “She wanted to hire me but since I'm already doing a lot of responsibilities, my number one caveat to her is that I can never go full time. I can form a team, I can represent her during the meetings but nothing beyond that. Like I can't be in an employer-employee relationship because I feel like I may be unfair to her later on. So we said, let's try it out first.” In TV parlance, said Nicko, “Let's do a pilot.”
Nicko said he was never employed by Kris. “When she did the KCAP (Kristina C. Aquino Productions) or when she rolled out her digital company, she actually offered, ‘Oh, you want to become a corporation or be part of it?’” Nicko declined. “Just make it yours and then I can run it,” he told her. “You can call me anything you want."
What Nicko’s exact role in KCAP, he told ANCX, was never made clear. He was just asked to run it. By that she meant, in Nicko’s words, to help her coordinate with all the brand inquiries, help her oversee production, put everything together. “The first thing that I asked from her is that can I make my team. And she said yes.”
At which point she brought up another detail that surprised Nicko. “Oh, let's create a specific bank account for you,” Kris was supposed to have told Nicko. “It's the weirdest thing because like she executed SPA. It was like a Kristina Bernadette or Nicardo setup. It's not an ‘and’ (account).”
CD: “So you have special power of attorney?”
N: “Of course. Everything. So she executed all of that. I can literally sign her digital life away. Yeah. Contracts, everything, all the business transactions.”
CD: “Did you have a salary?”
N: “I did not take a salary but I took in a percentage commission on all her revenues. Or collect whatever she collected as a celebrity and even as a producer on digital.”
CD: “Can you tell us how much?”
N: “Twelve percent. Twelve percent on talent fees, five percent on branded webisodes.
CD: “And this was your concept or her concept?”
N: “My concept. Honestly, she really came to it blindly. And, you know, she gave me full trust and confidence. ‘Oh Nicko, what do you think about this? Nicko, what do you think?’ She always tells me that she just knows all her contracts. ‘This is what I did before, you know this is what we experienced before’ and that's just it. And then it's up to me to crunch the numbers, make it into a good and very viable business model. And we saw the potential.”
CD: “It was up to you—for instance, you have a webisode—it's up to you to put a price to sell to advertisers.
N: Yes to the brands.
After years of being on television and the movies, Kris found herself charting a new course—the world of digital—and Nicko was put on top of navigating the ship.
“My vision was that we have to be the first," recalled Nicko. "we have to be the first digital-ready celebrity, and of course we have a queen!”
Kris liked the sound of that. “She enjoyed it, or she found it very, very visionary. And of course in the end, it's very viable. Because we were first,” Nicko said. “We have the first mover advantage.” Brands, indeed, were lured into the idea. And Kris’s inclusion into the cast of the mammoth worldwide hit Crazy Rich Asians only made her appeal in the digital business all the more powerful.
CD: She called you her Northern Star?
N: Yeah. I was. Every time she features me on IG, I was so grateful to her, mainly because I'm never a public person. You know, I never even announce, like, Oh, I'm the new Mister Manager of a Kris Aquino. Of course, I just told my mom; it's a personal feat. But nothing public. So whenever she puts it in public, I got so conscious about it. I always wanted to say, ‘Madam, I just want to do more for you, I just want to get more contracts for you, etc.’ And that's how things developed. But I think, as I said, to all other people, my language of service and love is bringing success. I'm a corporate slave, I'm a professional manager, but overall, I bring success to my stakeholders. And that has always been my mission in terms of working with her, working alongside her. And I think she just really were(stet) happy with how things panned out after her traditional media life.”
"There are three versions of Madam"
Even Nicko Falcis would say the Kris-Nicko teamup had a good run. “It was a good 18 months, honestly,” he told ANCX. “It came to a point wherein her house is a little bit of an extension of my life already.”
Nicko got to know Kris so well that he likes to say she has three “versions” of herself. “There are three versions of Madam,” he said. “I always wanted to meet the hyper one or, you know, the one that can be as active and as passionate as me. ‘Oh, you go to the house, go to the house. We have to discuss. We have to discuss.’” As time passed, the house visits would take its toll on Nicko, and she would demand more and more of his time, more things outside of his job description, out of the contracts and deals.
“I think she's very much pressured to deliver something, or to prove something, because she always tells me, ‘A peso to Kris, is a peso away from all others’ and specially her own previous network. And she's very competitive. And for me I thought it was just, Okay, yehey, at least I have a boss who has the eye of the tiger, I like that, [a boss] who's very driven. I like working for someone who can also be at my certain level of energy but I never knew that she had so much baggage. I never knew that the personal baggage was also something that I cannot fully manage professionally.”
Things began to turn sour August of last year, after the team did a working trip around Southeast Asia, which also included a US trip. It was to work on branded endorsements, webisodes, partnerships and even new businesses, said Nicko. “I think it took a toll on her and then she started asking herself, ‘Do I really need this? etc..’”
But what really seemed to have displeased Kris was, after returning home from the Crazy Rich Asians premiere in the US, she found out that Metro.Style, the ABS-CBN lifestyle wesbite, was able to get exclusive access to her pictures from the premiere. “I think it triggered her most insecure side and she lashed out on us,” Nicko said. He had nothing to do with the negotiations for the pictures, which was handled by one of KCAP’s media producers, but since he was managing director, Nicko owned up to the oversight anyway, and apologized to Kris.
“But what can your sorry do to me?” was Kris’s reply, according to Nicko.
She expected him to know the nuances of show biz, specifically when it came to her relationship with ABS-CBN. She expected him to be aware of her history. Where was his foresight? How could he have not seen that coming? “You know Nicko, that we do not like them and we will never give in to them,” he recalled her telling him. “How did you not expect this?”
He apologized. He told her he is not from the entertainment business. He said he was not aware of her “20 year context” with the station. “When I met her, a lot of people warned me: Nicko, you have to be careful."
Could they have been right?
“It's her licking her wounds I feel, but the wounds I think she's really holding onto. I really thought with our digital chapter, with all the successes, with Crazy Rich Asians, that she would be the happiest already. And that, you know, she's ready to become so much bigger.”
Nicko didn’t anticipate how truly affected Kris was still over her parting of ways with ABS-CBN.
“I started seeing a very different Kris,” he told ANCX. “And everyday, the messages kept coming. It's like her wanting to put all the guilt, put all the pressure, put all the blame unto me.”
But if Kris expected her managing director to fold, or get emotional, Nicko seemed unfazed.
“Unfortunately, empathy isn't one of my strongest suits,” Nicko added. “I'm really like your type A manager. I'm just really your no-nonsense, let's-just-work-so-that-we-can-go-and-move-forward type of guy. And I think she felt so betrayed that I cannot support her emotionally. She said that I have duplicate keys to have free reign of the queendom. I did. And I was able to deliver what she has envisioned. But unfortunately, I cannot support her, cuddle her, or cheer for her the way she wanted.”
CD: She wanted you to comfort her? She wanted emotional support?
NF: Specifically, she said, “I wanted to be nurtured Nicko. I have to be supported. I am the queen.”
CD: Were those her specific words?
NF: Yes. She said that “the queen needs to be guarded at all costs. And you forgot that.”
And this was when Nicko started to see another version of his Madam.
To be continued
Photographs courtesy of Nicko Falcis
ANCX is the online lifestyle arm of ANC, a subsidiary of the ABS-CBN Corporation.
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