OPINION: Kris Aquino, Ninoy, PLDT, and Joe McMicking

Buddy Gomez — Cyberbuddy

Posted at Dec 01 2017 02:34 AM

A somewhat esoteric combination, would you not say? Well, let me untie this pretzel-like heading and bring it down to popular eye-level.

Fairly recently, Kris Aquino---Philippine’s “Queen of all Media” and tax payer extraordinaire--- was launched as the most recent brand ambassador of PLDT, the country’s oldest and still biggest telephone and communications organization. The public face of a corporate behemoth. 

Kris’ statement, in her signature bubbly style, was: “This is super exciting for me because PLDT is really a big part of our home and family….etc. etc.” 

Well, Kris…. just how big?

Odds are there could be no way that Kris Aquino might have known of this little vignette. This might then come as a surprise to Kris and perhaps to her siblings because it happened years before she was born. 

Had the political rhythm of the country not been molested by a dictator’s bloody rapacity, who knows? Kris Aquino’s dad, Ninoy, might still be around! Not as a politician but as a legendary business executive. The CEO! Thus, the world of the Aquinos (and the Cojuangcos!) might not have unfolded in the manner by which it did!

“In the loneliness of my cell, I often wondered how I could have saved myself of all sufferings if I quit politics when you advised me back in 1965 and joined a business firm. But then, can one escape one’s destiny?” so wrote Ninoy in his “Dear Uncle J:" letter of January 1980.

“Uncle J” was Col. Joseph R. McMicking, (JRM) the visionary and builder of McKati! And the “white knight” that revived the national corporate heirloom we know today as the Ayala Corporation. The “business firm” to which Ninoy was invited to join was, of course, Ayala! 

Joe McMicking was truly fond of Ninoy and highly impressed with his abilities to have offered Ninoy a berth in the high echelons of the venerable House. But it was not to be so. Here is the extent of my recollections.

It must have been sometime in 1965 when General Telephone and Electronics Corporation of New York decided to divest its holdings in the Philippines. GenTel had been the controlling interest and operator of PLDT. Knowing of Ayala’s interest in going into public utilities (having established and operated the country’s first "tranvias" and failed to land Meralco), GenTel approached Col. McMicking. A phonecall, a handshake, and then serious takeover talk.

It was a personal philosophy on the part of JRM that no corporate interest can afford to dabble in public utilities in the Philippines if one did not possess and/or have access to reliable political armor. Such is the Philippines. 

Naturally, speaking of Philippine politics, Ninoy is closest to “Uncle J’s” heart. I surmise that this was JRM’s rationale and opportunity in having offered Ninoy an Ayala/PLDT posting.

Despite Ninoy’s elation, he politely and respectfully declined, stating that his calling and future was in public service through Philippine politics. Advancing the fact that he was not cut out for managing commercial enterprise, he instead recommended his brother-in-law. Pedro “Cong Pete” Cojuangco had an MBA from Harvard and was already President of the First United Bank. 

JRM accepted Ninoy’s suggestion and invited Pete Cojuangco over. And so, on to discussions over acquisition, takeover strategy and future plans for PLDT under Ayala. 

I recall that early in 1966, there were several meetings held in JRM’s office suite at the old Makati Stock Exchange building, same floor where I also held office. In attendance were JRM, of course, and Enrique Zobel. Both were senior general managers. Ayala was not yet a registered corporation but a partnership. 

First time I ever saw Pete Cojuangco. Ninoy joined some of the meetings. Also Col. Jaime C. Velasquez, a non-family member general manager of Ayala y Cia. Perhaps, as Fate deemed it, what may have been a smooth transition towards the Filipinization of PLDT suffered an irreparable hitch for Ayala. 

This was a decision taken by Col. J.R. McMicking that displayed his business ethics and moral values in an episode that is hardly ever remembered. I remember it and I am in awe!

It must have been mid-1966 when Enrique Zobel (EZ) (“Enriquito” to his peers), already established as the chief executive/heir apparent of Col. McMicking, received a summons from Malacanang. 

President Ferdinand E. Marcos wanted to see him. But of course, this was a command appearance and very promptly, Enrique Zobel in his white cotton/linen twill business suit, was at the reception ante-room of the Republic’s Presidential suite. This was a late morning appointment, as I recall.

By mid-afternoon, “Don Enrique” (we were used to addressing him as such) returned to the office and buzzed for me. My desk at that time was just a few feet away from the rear entrances to his and JRM’s suites, which were next to each other. 

To the best of my recollection, EZ related to me with some exasperation in Tagalog. “Pinag-hintay ako ng dalawang oras!” ( I was made to wait for two hours!) And almost immediately, as he was ushered in even before shaking hands and being seated, with an element of masterful irritation President Marcos intones: “Enriquito, what is this I hear that you folks in Ayala are planning something big and your President is not even told about it!” 

The President was obviously in the know of the negotiations between Ayala and GenTel. 

The Presidential won't was emphatically stated, as I recall EZ sharing with me. The President: “I do not want Ayala out of the deal. You can continue with it, but I will provide you with your partners in PLDT. I do not like your proposed partners,” or words to that effect. 

About a year after, influential columnist J.V. Cruz ( a favorite of Marcos and Imelda) was to write in his Manila Times column (Sunday, May 7, 1967): “A few months back, PLDT was on the verge…of being taken over….by a faction of the same Central Luzon family which is now poised to assume control of the communications firm.” 

“This earlier faction was….the ‘wrong’ half of the family, as far as political relations with the President was concerned.” JV was speaking of the Cojuangcos of Tarlac. OUT! with the Cojuangco in-laws of Ninoy Aquino and IN! with the Cojuangcos of Danding (Eduardo---who was to eventually control San Miguel), ab initio, Marcos’ preferred partners for the pending Ayala take over of PLDT.

In a matter of days, Enrique Zobel was to return to Malacanang to formally inform President Marcos that Ayala was giving up and ceding to the President the ongoing negotiations to buy Gentel out of PLDT. I am not privy as to how “Enriquito” delivered the news to Marcos, but I remember only too well the sentiments of Col. McMicking. 

JRM’s decision was something like….."We (Ayala) were the ones who invited our prospective and chosen partners, if we can only proceed with PLDT’s acquisition by leave of the President and jettisoning our desired partners, then it is far better that we had nothing to do with it completely.” 

As a witness to this unfolding event, I hold the personal opinion that Col. McMicking displayed conscientiously honor and gallantry with that decision to preserve amity and business comradeship over political convenience with a President already flexing his muscles. 

Such classic act remains unheralded. And such is the background of how Marcos and the Ramon Cojuangco “faction of the same Central Luzon family” was able to own and control PLDT. 

Moving on with an abiding glance at the past----“Enriquito, what is this this I hear that you folks in Ayala are planning something big and your President is not even told about it!”--- the President’s admonition must have had such an impact upon Enrique Zobel. Such impressive presidential posture, embedded in Enrique initial discomfiture, would eventually guide his relations with Malacanang and prompted him to inform the President of his designs over San Miguel. 

As the nation famously knows San Miguel ended up in the corporate stable of Mr. Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, courtesy of Enrique Zobel. 

“Had the political rhythm of the country not been molested by a dictator’s bloody rapacity, who knows? Kris Aquino’s Dad, Ninoy, might still be around! Not as a politician but as a legendary business executive. The CEO! Thus, the world of the Aquinos (and the Cojuangcos!) might not have unfolded in the manner by which it did!”

“……can one escape one’s destiny?” Ninoy asked. And from way out the field, this early, let me shout out: “Kris, please handle your destiny with care……greatness may also be in ardent wait for you!” 

Kristina Bernadette C. Aquino is Ninoy’s youngest child. She is the most like her Dad!

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.