'Lopezes paid Aquino govt to regain Meralco'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 22 2008 05:48 PM | Updated as of May 23 2008 01:48 AM

Philippine Ambassador to the United Kingdom Edgardo Espiritu on Thursday said the Lopez family paid the government of then-President Corazon Aquino to regain ownership of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) after the first EDSA People Power uprising.

Espiritu's statement disputes the earlier claim of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile that the Lopezes regained Meralco for free shortly after the 1986 revolt.

The former finance secretary said that the Aquino administration formed a review committee specifically to determine the price of Meralco shares of the Lopezes which were then under the control of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) headed by Jesus Estanislao.

Espiritu, who was then president of Metrobank Corp., was the chairman of the five-member review committee. He eventually became the chairman of the National Power Corporation (NPC).

He said that the Lopez family paid an extra P2 billion on top of its earlier payments to regain substantial shares in the company.

"President Cory sustained our report of an additional P2 billion to the existing price. So on that basis, the President said, 'OK you can get back the Meralco shares provided that you pay this price.' Then the Lopezes agreed," Espiritu said.

Underprice rumors

Espiritu said that the review committee was created after news reports insinuated that payments by the Lopezes on the substantial Meralco shares were "underpriced."

"I know that they will never be able to get it [Meralco] back if they won't agree because it was published in the newspaper that there is an additional P2billion that needs to be paid. They paid that before they got the shares back," the ambassador said.

He, however, could not recall the original price paid by the Lopezes prior to the committee report.

But this, he explained, can be verified with the other members of that review committee.

Espiritu said the other members of the committee were Estanislao, former Social Security System (SSS) president Jose Cuisia, former Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) president and now-Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte and former Land Bank President Sonny Vistan.

Espiritu also recalled that the Lopezes had loans with the Marcos government, and were forced to either sell or surrender the Meralco's distribution shares.

He said Marcos then divided the distribution and generation aspects. The generation side was placed under the control of NPC, run then by Marcos brother-in-law Benjamn Romualdez.

"Somehow, in this sale, the remaining Meralco operations were transferred to the Romualdezes. In the meantime, the generation power of Meralco was transferred to Napocor, including the assets," Espiritu added. Danny Buenafe, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau