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Ooh, Lala

(Article published in the Aug 17,2011 issue of Manila Standard Today) 

Lala Rimando is used to seeing her name in print, but not the way it appeared five times in the upper fold of a whole page paid advertisement that came out last week (Aug 9) in a daily broadsheet containing a press statement from a self-styled “technocrat” during the Marcos years. 

With noticeable hump and grump, Roberto V. Ongpin, former Minister of Trade and Industry from 1979 to 1986, wrote:

In May this year, Ms. Lala Rimando of ABS-CBN News wrote an inaccurate and disparaging article on these Philex loans, very critical of myself and Mr. David.  The inexplicable thing about this article is that she interviewed everyone, but did not bother to interview me.  I can only conclude that she had a predetermined angle to her story which implicated some former DBP officials and myself, and that is why she made no attempt to interview me.  I wrote a letter to Ms. Rimando in response to her 2-part article which I asked to be published in full but which she never did.  For those who may not have seen these letters, I would be happy to send you a copy of a full set of my exchange of emails with Ms. Rimando, which explains my loan from DBP fully and accurately.”

Maintaining his peeve against against Lala, the former Marcos official continued, “I provided a copy to each member of the DBP board so they would understand the exact nature of the transaction, and not be mislead by the misinformation contained in Ms. Rimando’s articles.  But for their own reasons, Mr. Nunez and his cohorts at the DBP board ignored my letter and in fact, increased their efforts to incriminate me and other at DBP which eventually led to this tragic suicide.”


Finally, before explaining why he ought to have been interviewed, his last swipe at the poor girl was: “In order to keep the public accurately informed, let me make the following points contained in my letter to Ms. Rimando which for their own reasons, Mr. Nunez and his cohorts refuse to consider.”

“Mr. Nunez and his cohorts” are able, I am sure, to on their own meet head on the accusations of Mr. Ongpin;  I, however, though not wearing any shinning armor and not riding a white horse, rise instead to Lala’s Rimando’s defense.

The focus of Lala’s two part treatise was, as the titles suggest, sound banking practice and, in general, good corporate governance, or lack thereof, at the Development Bank of the Philippines.  Thus, the main characters of her story are the banking officials as they move around in the main scene of their place of work.  The borrowing companies are, contrary to the protestations of Mr. Ongpin who admitted to owning them, therefore simply supporting casts.  The lenders, with their tragic flaws and faults, were the primary actors; the borrowers were simply foils that provide the supporting backdrop for the plot that thickened.

That the bankers were the principal dramatis personae of Lala’s story is confirmed by the demographic distribution of the respondents in the case that was filed with the Ombudsman; of the 28 respondents, 25 were officers and employees of Development Bank of the Philippines.  Only three, namely Mr. Roberto Ongpin, Ms. Josephine Manalo, and Ms. Ma. Lourdes A. Torres were lay persons; the rest were members of the banking priesthood.

The positions that the respondents held at DBP ranged from that of the High Priest, like President and CEO Reynaldo David, to seats at the Sanhedrin, which was headed by Board of Directors Chairperson Patricia A. Sto. Tomas, to membership in the Council like Edgardo Garcia who was co-chairman of the Executive CreCom that recommended the loan to the Board, down to the acolytes, and book bearers.  Space constraints prevent me from mentioning the other honorable respondents (for as you know, they are all all honorable men); but the point is that bankers, and their foibles (if any), were the primary concern of Lala’s treatise (at least the first part) and not the sterling qualities (or lack thereof) of the borrowers.

Since bankers and banking were Lala’s points of interest, then it was but appropriate that she interviewed Mr. Rey David since David was the top DBP man, in other words, the banking goliath.  Mr. Ongpin, as borrower, though he described himself in his letter to Lala of 01 June 2011 as the “principal character in this saga”; was only second fiddle. 

This secondary role is confirmed in the official listing of the respondents in the Ombudsman case, where Mr. Ongpin is a poor second to Mr. David.  The unfortunate result of this secondary billing is that, many ages hence when law students cite this case, it will be known as “DBP v. David, et al.” and Mr. Ongpin would have to be content with the lot of just  being one of the “et al.”

Lala knew her banking and worked in banking for six years.  She knew that to ask when “extensively” interviewed Rey David.  She had sold and traded fixed income instruments while at BPI Capital Corporation in 1999-2000.  Before that, from 1994, she was Relationship Manager at the Bank of the Philippine Islands, managing a US$30 million loan portfolio of prime and middle market accounts, cultivated total banking relationships between her employer and its clients, and evaluated and implemented remedial measures for clients, who may have, unlike Mr. Ongpin, defaulted on their loans. No wonder, her two-part report was been made an integral part of the complaint with the Ombudsman.  Their marking as Annexes “AAA” and “AAA-1” were by happy coincidence only I assume, is a subliminal testimony to their worth. 

All told, I am sure, when Lala looks back at these recent days, she will consider the unfolding of DBP saga as one of the more memorable moments of her life as a journalist.  Just as memorable, certainly, as when, after being named twice a finalist, she, in 2007, garnered for the second consecutive time the third prize in the Jaime V. Ongpin Awards for Excellence in Journalism.