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Ressa’s Orange County, New York home, according to ‘Google Street View’; inset, facsimile of a US firm’s report on her voter registration (exact address blocked out).

By Rigoberto D. Tiglao

OR con woman, con person. Whatever.

Rappler CEO and Editor in chief Maria Aycardo Ressa has successfully fooled Western media that she is a Filipino journalist with little means who is fighting her country’s authoritarian President bent on suppressing media dissent.

The reality is that she is a well-off American citizen, who acquired Filipino citizenship in 2004 to make it legally easier for her to work as a manager at ABS-CBN Broadcasting, a media company where foreigners are banned by the Constitution from participating.

The Rappler website she claims to be leading the fight against a strongman President was set up in 2011, initially as a weapon for President Aquino’s assault against the Supreme Court by removing Chief Justice Renato Corona.

It was its reckless, journalistically unprofessional undertaking of that role that got it in serious legal trouble. It posted a libelous report that Corona was using an SUV provided by a businessman, whom it identified by name and whom it claimed was engaged in “human trafficking and drug smuggling.” The businessman of course was so angry to be maligned as such, and filed the libel suit.

After that aim of removing the Chief Justice was achieved, Rappler has been the Yellow regime’s apologist, financed in so many ways by government contracts and a Yellow oligarch’s covert financial support.

US mouthpiece
Parallel to that role has been its function as the mouthpiece for US interests, its neoconservative ideology and its anti-China racism, compensated by a P100-million funding from American outfits North Base Media and Omidyar Network, two entities known to advance US political and economic dogmas in the world. (Omidyar Network promised to bankroll Ressa’s legal defense with a $500,000 kitty.)

That got Rappler into another serious legal trouble. First, in taking that foreign money, it violated the Constitution’s ban on foreign participation in media, a fact which Ressa appears to have been ignorant of as Rappler even boasted about it in an article.

Ressa tried to wiggle out of that legal trouble by claiming that the investment was in the form of securities. But she only dug her quagmire even deeper, as Rappler failed to pay capital gains taxes of P133 million in issuing those securities.

She’s lied to the world to cover up these boo-boos, claiming these suits were simply Duterte’s way of shutting her up.

Ressa has taken her citizenship duties quite seriously — her American citizenship, that is. She has voted in nearly all US national elections, the last one on Nov. 18, 2016 for the presidential elections that year. She has never voted in Philippine elections.

Under US protection
Contrary to her portrayal as a hapless journalist struggling against a powerful state, she is under the protection of the world’s most powerful nation, the US, whose embassy here quickly issued a statement after her arrest that it expected Ressa’s case “to be resolved quickly in accordance with relevant Philippine law and international standards of due process.”

Unless she perjured herself in her US voter’s registration, Ressa’s residence is in an upper-class suburb in Monroe, Orange County in New York. The median income in
Ressa’s neighborhood is $160,000, according to US census data, putting her in the top 8-percent income bracket in the US. A property a block away from Ressa’s residence was being advertised for sale at $520,000 (P27 million).

For the CEO of a website that provides beggarly salaries to its staff, who are told that they are part of a glorious crusade, Ressa, sources claimed, lives in a posh Bonifacio Global Village condominium, where the rent is at least P150,000 per month.

What bolsters the truth of this claim is that Ressa went to the extent of violating the Securities and Exchange Commission’s reportorial requirements and refused to report her residence. In documents submitted to the SEC, in which incorporators of Rappler Inc. and then Rappler Holdings are required to report their residences, Ressa reported hers as Rappler’s first headquarters (at Antel Global Center), instead of her residence.

A fraud
We have to report details on Ressa to expose her as a fraud, as she hasn’t let up on her campaign to paint the country black, as one moving towards dictatorship and successfully suppressing the press.

Only a week ago, the New York Times prominently run a front-page article titled “A Journalist Trolled by Her Own Government,” with its lead paragraph being: “Harassing journalists is one of Rodrigo Duterte’s specialties.”

How many of the NYT’s 5 million print and digital subscribers in the US and in the world will bother to investigate if the article’s preposterous claims on this unimportant country are accurate? How many will simply accept the “venerable” Times’ claims on bad things supposedly happening in this far-off country?

Ressa’s claim that she is “trolled by her government” has been totally disproven with a recent unprecedented development: Over 40,000 (as of submission deadline for this column) Filipinos here and in the US have signed a petition through the unassailable asking the Justice department to revoke her Filipino citizenship. Can she claim these 40,000 are Duterte trolls?

Just to cover up for her website’s libelous articles, and her boo-boo as a CEO that led to tax-evasion charges, Ressa has seriously damaged the Philippines’ and its media’s reputation in the world.

In contrast to Ressa, the owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer — which had been more critical of Duterte — when faced with a tax-evasion case and told to relinquish their hold on a lucrative government-owned Mile Long property, didn’t cry to the world that theirs was a case of press suppression.

Since she is an American, we can’t expect Ressa to have a sense of delicadeza. Whether the libel suit was under Duterte’s direction or not, the Rappler report claiming a businessman was into “human trafficking and illegal drugs” was so patently libelous, which Ressa as the site’s editor should not have allowed to be posted, and even updated.

Contrast her stance to that of former Top Gear Philippines editor Vernon Sarne who immediately resigned his post, when faced with a libel suit that appeared to have some validity.

Ressa has been able to get away with her lies partly because, especially in the case of American media, such claims fit their narrative — after Duterte expressed his disdain toward the US and launched his war against illegal drugs — of a global drift towards authoritarianism. Western journalists, since the Philippines is really an unimportant country for them in their world, have been too lazy to fact-check Ressa’s false claims.

In all of Western media’s unquestioning coverage of Ressa’s claims, there is absolutely no report at all on who filed the cyber-libel suit against her and what the charges entail. They simply swallowed hook, line and sinker Ressa’s claim that the charge was merely Duterte’s way of harassing Rappler, for its “critical” coverage of his administration.

Not a single Western article reported that Rappler’s libelous article was posted as part of its enthusiastic, mercenary participation in Aquino 3rd’s campaign to remove Chief Justice Corona, or that the tax-evasion case was because of its attempt to wiggle out of the constitutional ban on foreigners in media.

Ressa also speaks the way Americans do, and as a former broadcast journalist she knows how to use sound-bites, such as “hold the line” and “weaponizing” laws.

Ressa is an American citizen who even conscientiously votes in US elections, and has an upper-class residence in New York. Except once in 2004, she uses a US passport in her numerous travels to her country and in the world.

US media and even the American embassy swiftly went to her defense when an arrest warrant was issued against her. Rappler is funded by US entities, and has always echoed American views, especially that on the South China Sea territorial disputes.

There is a certainly a case for the claim that Rappler has been the US’ media instrument in the Philippines, much more intrusive and dangerous as it is in the new media of the world wide web.

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao

*** The original copy of this article appeared in The Manila Times and was re-posted here with the authorization of the Author ***



By Rigoberto D. Tiglao

MOST likely it is another case of the adage that history is written by the victors. But there are facts — now indisputable — that we didn’t know, or were hidden from public knowledge, during the February 1986 People Power Revolt and even three decades later.

Perhaps because of the disillusionment with the presidency of the son of the so-called heroine of EDSA 1, the facts have been ferreted out, or have simply become clearer. The following five facts are from documents and eyewitness accounts, and not from some “anonymous” sources, which the space constraints of a newspaper column do not allow me to list.

Fact 1: Cory Aquino had little to do with EDSA 1.
Ironically, it was Marcos’ legal and military pillar, his longtime defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile who — in a last stand to defend himself and his “RAM boys” from certain doom — was mainly responsible for EDSA 1.

The events that led to it were triggered by the botched coup attempt by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) cabal of colonels under Enrile’s aegis. It was to have been a classic coup by colonels as happened in many Latin American countries and other Third World nations. The leaders were Gregorio Honasan, Tirso Gador, Rex Robles, Tito Legaspi, Red Kapunan and Felix Turingan.

As revealed in Juan Ponce Enrile’s biography published in 2012 and in articles written by the colonels themselves since 1986, the conspirators after months of planning, decided to attack — boldly or foolishly — Malacañan Palace at 2 a.m. of Feb. 23, 1986, and capture Marcos and his family, and for its coup d’etat to take over government.

Talking incessantly to foreign and local media for months about their opposition to Marcos, it is astonishing that the RAM was so confident, or naïve, that its plot wouldn’t be uncovered.

Enrile only realized their plot had been uncovered when a hysterical Trade Minister Roberto Ongpin on the morning of February 22 called him to complain that his military security detail had been arrested by the Marines that night. Ongpin wasn’t aware that his security detail were RAM members. They were, rather amateurishly, reconnoitering the residence of Marine commander Gen. Artemio Tadiar to prepare for their planned attack on him the next day, when they were spotted by Military Police and arrested.

After lunch that day, Enrile, realizing that his and his RAM boys’ plot had been uncovered, decided that rather than being ignominiously arrested and executed, decided to take a “last stand” at his headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Several of the RAM boys had been in close contact for months with foreign correspondents — a favorite source of assets for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). A 2015 newspaper article by three RAM colonels revealed that an emissary from the Pentagon promised the RAM the US government’s protection from arrest if it “refrained from employing violent methods in pursuing its reformist goals.”

Did Enrile and his RAM boys expect that the Pentagon would keep its word and intervene in some way to save them from Marcos’ wrath?

Enrile though was clever to immediately call foreign correspondents to Camp Crame to cover what he thought was his last stand, after then Vice Chief of Staff and longtime PC Commander Fidel Ramos agreed to join him in his mutiny.

Another brilliant move of Enrile was to call Cardinal Sin to ask his faithful to surround Camp Crame to form their human shield. People Power, or People Fodder?

Fact 2: Only a small faction of the military supported the mutineers.
Enrile’s RAM boys consisted mostly of the colonels he had taken under his wing as defense minister. Air Force Commander Vicente Piccio, Army Commander Josephus Ramas and Marine Commandant Tadiar were all loyal to the chain of command. The Philippine Constabulary surprisingly though, as it was headed for more than a decade by Ramos who was succeeded by his protégé Renato de Villa, was divided in its loyalties.

The Marcos military succumbed to the EDSA forces because they realized that they were helpless facing the huge crowds. Marcos had given them the categorical order which was impossible to implement — “Disperse the crowds but do not shoot them.”

Isn’t it Marcos therefore that made it possible for EDSA to be a “peaceful revolution”?

Contrast that to the political will of the Chinese Communist Party, which ordered a column of tanks and battalions of People’s Liberation Army soldiers to disperse the thousands of protesters trying to mimic EDSA 1 in 1989 in Tiananmen Square.

Fact 3: The US betrayed Marcos, shanghaiing him to Hawaii.
US authorities told Marcos that it would accede to his request to evacuate him and his family by helicopter from Malacañang to Laoag City, the capital of his home province Ilocos Norte. They instead brought him to Hawaii.

We’ll never know what Marcos — who even his archenemies concede was a brilliant strategist — intended to do in the North: Rally his army to defend him and re-take Malacañang, or to negotiate a peaceful retirement?

The Yellow propaganda, of course, deviously made a joke out of it, that Marcos thought he was going to Paoay, but was instead brought to Hawaii. That joke made most Filipinos conclude that Marcos fled to the US in fear of his and his family’s life. Paoay, however, is a fourth-class municipality that didn’t have any emotional links to Marcos, who was born in Sarrat.

The truth is that testimonies in hearings in the US Congress (which investigated what funds were used for the Marcos operation) incontrovertibly show that the US military initially had orders to take Marcos and his party to Laoag.

The helicopters, however, decided to land at Clark Air Base, telling him it had become dangerous to fly to Laoag City since they had arrived right after dawn. That was a lie: US choppers and their pilots – trained through the Vietnam and other wars – could land in any flat terrain and even in the darkest nighttime.

The truth is that the US military received a request from Cory Aquino for Marcos to be evacuated to Hawaii, which it immediately did, after clearance from the White House itself.

Fact 4: Under both the 1935 and 1973 Constitution, Corazon Aquino was not qualified to run for president in the 1986 “snap elections.”
Both the 1935 and 1973 constitutions specified that a president must be a “resident of the Philippines for at least 10 years immediately preceding the election.” Cory had left the Philippines together with her husband — voluntarily — to live in Boston in 1980.

So, why didn’t Marcos, a lawyer, and his stable of the country’s brightest legal minds raise this objection to Cory’s candidacy?

Perhaps he was confident that there was no way for Cory to win the snap elections. Or perhaps the Americans demanded that he prove his legitimacy in an electoral contest with Aquino’s widow. The country’s fate at that time was in the hands of the US-controlled International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and a group of foreign banks, mostly American, that agreed to the orderly rescheduling of the country’s foreign debts. Without US support of the program, the country would have been plunged into an economic meltdown.

The Comelec count had Marcos winning by a margin of 1.5 million votes. The partial unofficial tally of Namfrel — which was then headed by Jose Concepcion who became Aquino’s first trade secretary — had Cory winning by half a million votes. A brilliant move by RAM was to have their wives and relatives – who “volunteered” with the Comelec’s quick count as encoders – walk out of the televised tally, creating the propaganda that these “ordinary citizens” were protesting Marcos’ cheating.

All these data became irrelevant of course when Cory imposed just a month after Marcos fell, on March 25, 1986, a revolutionary government, which made her a dictator monopolizing executive, legislative and judicial powers until the 1987 Constitution was ratified.

Fact 5: Cory’s 1986 electoral campaign was handled by a US PR firm.
Sawyer Miller, an American public relations and political strategist firm that would be in the 1980s and 1990s, the most expensive and most sought-after outfit in the world after EDSA 1, handled almost in its entirety Cory Aquino’s public performance in the 1986 snap elections. This is confirmed by US documents that Sawyer Miller submitted in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Its operations during the electoral campaign to transform Aquino’s bland widow to a fiery candidate has been revealed in detail in the James Harding’s book Alpha Dogs: The Americans Who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business (2008: Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

The blurb in the book’s jacket described the firm: “A political powerhouse, directing democratic revolutions from the Philippines to Chile, steering a dozen presidents and prime ministers into office.”

Sawyer Miller’s man on the ground who coached Cory and wrote nearly all of her speeches was one British citizen Malloch Brown, disguised as a correspondent of the British newsmagazine The Economist. Brown, the book reported, even had to sit on the floor of Cory’s campaign bus to hide him from public view.

After Sawyer Miller, Brown would two decades later become United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, and then a UK government minister. Brown was knighted in 2007, after which he has been addressed as Lord Malloch Brown.

According to the book, it was Brown who got Cory to stick to a single message “with bumper-sticker simplicity: Marcos is corrupt. Marcos is a dictator.”

Brown’s messaging formed the core of the Yellow narrative of EDSA, brainwashed in the minds of a generation of Filipinos. They even inanely think they can use the same messaging in the case of Duterte.

This piece is one of five articles in the chapter “The EDSA Revolt” that debunks the myths over this episode in our nation’s history, in my book Debunked: Uncovering Hard Truths about EDSA, Martial Law, Marcos, Aquino, with a Special Section on the Duterte Presidency, available in most bookstores and through online ordering,

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao

**The original copy of this article appeared in The Manila Times and was re-posted here with the authorization of the Author ***



The second part of the investigative article on Rappler’s investor and Ressa’s protector.

By Rigoberto D. Tiglao

DON’T fall for the Yellows and US media’s portrayal of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa as a poor, helpless journalist being persecuted by the powerful state apparatus of the Philippine government.

As an American citizen, she is protected by the most powerful nation on earth. Its embassy indeed issued a statement right after her arrest that said that it hopes “her case will be resolved quickly in accordance with relevant Philippine law and international standards of due process.”

But Ressa is being protected not just by her government. Pierre Omidyar, one of the US’ richest men, and founder of eBay (with its subsidiary Paypal) and now also a Hawaii and California property tycoon, will be paying for Ressa’s lawyers.

The shadowy tycoon’s Omidyar Network and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) which he funds “have set up a $500,000 legal defense fund for Ressa,” according to a two-part investigative article in, a website that has gained a reputation as an independent news outfit with formidable research skills (Read the article here:

It was also Omidyar Network which, together with North Base Media, that saved Rappler from going under in 2015 when the two entities invested P100 million into the firm, which had been nearly abandoned by its initial funders.

Violated Constitution
But that got Rappler into deeper trouble as it was clearly a violation of the constitutional prohibition on any foreign money in, and management of, a media company. As a result, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) early last year ordered Rappler dissolved. Rappler has appealed to the Court of Appeals. (One of North Base Media’s founders, Sasa Vucinic, is believed to have been involved in the destabilization of Yugoslavia that led to its disintegration in 1992. Three years after, Vucinic set up the Media Development Investment Fund with seed money from billionaire George Soros, who has been well-documented to have an appetite for regime change in countries that break away from US vassalage.)
Rather than crusader for press freedom in the Philippines, Ressa and her Rappler are part of a network to advance US interests in the globe, under the guise of spreading democratic principles.

Who is Omidyar? The article authored by respected investigative journalists Alexander Rubinstein and Max Blumenthal pointed out:

“Behind the image he has cultivated of himself as a ‘progressive philanthropreneur,’ Omidyar has wielded his media empire to advance the Washington consensus in strategic hotspots around the globe. His fortune helped found an outlet to propel a destabilizing coup in Ukraine; he’s helped establish a network of oppositional youth activists and bloggers in Zimbabwe; and in the Philippines he has invested in an oppositional news site that is honing corporate surveillance techniques like a ‘mood meter…to capture non-rational reactions.’ Meanwhile, he has partnered closely with the leading arms of US soft power, from the US Agency for International Aid and Development to the National Endowment for Democracy — acting as a conduit for information warfare-style projects in countries around the world.”

“Pierre Omidyar has partnered closely with many of the US-funded outfits that fulfill the role the Central Intelligence Agency used to play during the Cold War in backing opposition media and civil society in countries targeted for regime change,“ the article claimed.

The second part of the investigative piece also pointed out: “While quietly partnering with USAid and a firm at the forefront of the fight to keep the agency ‘relevant,’ Omidyar, along with a select group of fellow billionaires, is also performing a critical service by providing a private funding channel for cultural vehicles that advance the agenda of Western foreign policy.”

The article also disclosed: “Omidyar’s political empire consists of a web of organizations overseen by its center of administration: the Omidyar Group. Each outfit appears to be an independent entity with its own staff and directors. Taken together, however, these organizations pursue a mission that reflects the vision of the billionaire behind it.”

It listed seven such entities, with Omidyar Network described as follows:

“With offices in Washington, Silicon Valley, and six foreign countries, the Omidyar Network propagates the neoliberal ideology of its billionaire namesake through ‘impact investing’ and a ‘property rights’ initiative. Outside the US, the Omidyar Network funds an array of foreign media outlets, like Ukraine’s Hromadske and the Philippines-based Rappler, that have participated in pro-Western information warfare-style campaigns against ‘rogue’governments. In Zimbabwe, where the Omidyar Network supports a series of oppositional youth organizing initiatives through the Magambe Network, an Omidyar employee was arrested, accused of attempting to stir up a revolt through online organizing, and ultimately released.. .This February 12, Rappler editor-in-chief Maria Ressa was arrested as well, accused of ‘cyberlibel.’ The Omidyar Network and the Omidyar-funded Committee to Protect Journalists have set up a $500,000 legal defense fund for Ressa.”

Neoliberal ideology
For lack of a succinct term, I call Omidyar an “ideological imperialist,” a billionaire who seeks not only to impose the American neoliberal ideology on Third World nations, but to set up entities in such countries by locals who disseminate his worldview. Here, National Endowment for Democracy has been a funder of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and Vera Files.

Another website funded by Omidyar, The Intercept has actually been playing tag-team with Rappler to demonize Duterte in order to build up American public opinion against the President, the usual part-one tactic of the US “deep state” to remove a leader in some country that has declared its independence from the US.

It was The Intercept that disclosed to the world in May 2017 the confidential telephone conversation between President Trump and Duterte. The article was titled: “Trump called Rodrigo Duterte to congratulate him on his murderous drug war: ‘You are doing an amazing job.’” The piece was subtitled: “A call with a killer.”

To protect itself from legal liability for violating our wiretapping laws, Rappler gave the transcript of the conversation it got from Yellow stragglers at the foreign affairs department to The Intercept to first publish. It then reported it, claiming it was merely re-publishing the report of that US Omidyar outfit.

The investigative piece also noted that it was at the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) annual event that Ressa was given a press freedom award. But the CPJ is also heavily funded by Omidyar, just as Rappler has been. “It was another case of logrolling between two members of the billionaire’s media empire,” the article noted.

I have written many columns on Rappler since 2016 because I had sensed then, after Omidyar and North Base Media invested in it that year, that the website had metamorphosed from being a platform that supported the regime of President Aquino 3rd (especially his project to remove Chief Justice Renato Corona) to one financed by American interests, and advanced the US imperial worldview in the Philippines.

This was especially so after Duterte openly declared his independence from US vassalage, and drew closer to the superpower in the region that the Americans hate so much, the People’s Republic of China. Rappler has been the main venue for the anti-China views of such personalities as former foreign affairs secretary Alberto del Rosario (whose bungling led to our loss of Panatag Shoal to the Chinese) and Justice Secretary Antonio Carpio, who has been practically saying that China will be invading the country in our lifetime.

This Ressa brouhaha is not about press freedom. It is really the nation’s struggle to free itself from the clutches of the American eagle, as it tries to control in our country even the newest form of mass media, the Internet, which probably would become the most dominant media influencing public opinion.

In response to former Special Assistant to the President Bong Go’s potshot at an unnamed critic, who he said had the gall to criticize President Rodrigo Duterte even if the person wasn’t a Philippine citizen, Ressa tweeted: “Pilipino po — at hindi po tinatago … unlike the fantasies of your minions. Have never hidden my dual nationality. And since I reclaimed my PH citizenship in 2004, I enter & exit the PH getting both passports stamped.”

While she made the tweet a day after my column revealing her US citizenship, Ressa most probably hadn’t read my detailed exposé on her, and therefore thought she could fool people. Her tweet is a total lie.

First, as any dual citizen would know, a traveler can have only one passport stamped here or any port of entry in the world. You might even be arrested if you show two passports indicating your different nationalities in some countries.

Second, and more importantly, my sources had disclosed that since she became a citizen shortly after her family migrated in 1973 to the US, she has been using four US passports, religiously renewing each one after it expired after 10 years. Out of her 500 arrivals and departures in the Philippines, she used a Philippine passport only once — in 2004, after she got to be a Philippine citizen — suspiciously within a week, I was told, after the dual-citizenship law took effect that year.

Was it an expression of patriotism for her to get Filipino citizenship?

ABS-CBN sources claim that she was told by the network’s lawyers to better get Filipino citizenship fast as she was already working as its News Division head for a few months — without the required work permit for a foreigner. The network’s lawyers were also worried that somebody would file a suit as the Constitution not only bars foreign money in a media outfit, but also foreign managers.

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao
Archives at:

**The original copy of this article appeared in The Manila Times and was re-posted here with the authorization of the Author ***



By Rigoberto D. Tiglao

IF not for Maria Ressa and Rappler’s vilification campaign against President Duterte and the Philippines, and her success in getting foreign media entities to portray her as a heroine of press freedom, her journalism career would have crashed years ago.

Ressa is, therefore, unlikely to give up her portrayal of herself as a victim of the suppression of the press in a country which, she says, has a media that has been cowed.

In the description of her by Rappler and other foreign award-giving sites, she is portrayed as a distinguished journalist who has been given more than seven awards by international media outfits, including one as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.”

This were all given only in 2018 after Ressa, with the help of Yellow forces, managed to portray internationally as instances of Duterte’s alleged authoritarianism the actions of two state agencies in upholding our rule of law.

First, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s ruling that it had violated the constitutional ban on foreign money in media. And second, the National Bureau of Investigation decided to pursue a private citizens’ libel charge against Ressa.

That is, in just a year of her efforts in portraying the Philippines as under authoritarian rule, Ressa got at least seven awards and international acclaim (or sympathy). In contrast, she couldn’t get a single such award in her 16 years with CNN.

(The Wikipedia entry on Ressa reports that she received an Overseas Press Club Award for Best Documentary and the National Headliner Award for Investigative Journalism, presumably before 2018. The two awards’ websites, though, do not report her receiving such honors.)

Three elephants
I had admired Ressa for her audacity in going into broadcast media which, especially in the US, has three elephants in their news studios, which would have quickly trampled her.

First is its bias against non-whites. Second is the bias for staff whose physical features conform to Anglo-Saxon notions of beauty. And third is the bias against women. A cursory research makes this point obvious. CNN has about 200 anchors and correspondents. How many are black females? Two. How many of Asian descent? Three. How many aren’t Anglo-Saxon lookers? None.

This is not my opinion but the result of numerous scholarly studies on US media and its biases. US media outfits’ rush to defend Ressa, I suspect, is an instance of their hypocrisy and their collective guilt for their bigotry.

Ressa managed to stay long at CNN because a major concern of US and its media minions had emerged: The outbreak of Islamic terrorism in the Philippines and in Indonesia. CNN exploited her: Ressa’s looks and her family links in the two countries (one parent is Indonesian, I was told, but cannot confirm) made it easy for her to access sources among terrorists and government.

Despite her coverage though, the three elephants in CNN’s news studios eventually got to kick her out. I was told that she was given that “resign-or-be-fired” kind of message by CNN early in 2003, when she was Jakarta bureau chief. And she thought she could be CNN’s next Christiane Amanpour, her career idol. Did you notice that CNN as an institution didn’t issue a statement in support of its former staff?

Resign or be fired
ABS-CBN recruited her in 2004 to head its news division, the idea of its president then, a purportedly marketing genius, Freddie Garcia, who argued that Ressa would give the oligarch-owned station the “CNN sheen” of excellence. Chairman Gabby Lopez was said to have been delighted that he would be seen as the Philippines’ Ted Turner.

Ressa, though, proved to be a big headache for Lopez, insiders in the network reported. (See for instance

Did you notice that neither ABS-CBN, nor its media bigwigs like its president Charo Santos, Luchi Cruz-Valdes, Karen Davila and Charie Villa have spoken a word in defense of their former colleague, a “kabaro” at that? Yellow leader Mar Roxas – if not for his wife Korina Sanchez – would have raised a howl over Ressa’s “persecution,” but didn’t.

All these women despised Ressa, for various reasons, and bugged Lopez to fire her. Many in the network, even Lopez’s conservative relatives, were allegedly also scandalized over Ressa’s open lesbian relationship with Lilibeth Frondoso — married but separated — who became some kind of power in the network because of her closeness to the controversial news head. Gabby’s mestizo executives and friends incessantly asked him: “Are you really comfortable with Ressa being the face of ABS-CBN?”

Gabby Lopez, I was told by insiders, got the excuse to give Ressa the “resign-or-be-fired” message when he got undeniable proof that she was moonlighting, that is, giving interviews, for a fee, on Philippine developments with CNN and other US media outfits (whom she would later tap to raise a howl against the libel charge against her). Her services to ABS-CBN were exclusive, according to her contract.

End of career
That would have been the end of Ressa’s career in broadcast media. The Philippine broadcast industry is a small, gossipy world, and no other media enterprise — even Manuel Pangilinan’s new Channel 5 to whom she sent feelers to join — would take her in. Al-Jazeera, which had been pirating CNN broadcasters, was run by British executives and had the same three elephants of bigotry in their studies.

While her work in covering terrorists in the Philippines and Indonesia got her to be a consultant in academic and intelligence institutions in the US, her expertise in Islamic jihad became gradually doubted because of her exaggeration of the extent of the network of the Islamist jihadists in Southeast Asia, and her conclusion that these were all directed by al-Qaeda.

For instance, in her 2012 book Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center,” Ressa claimed that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was really a part of al-Qaeda, and that its Camp Abubakr was a sprawling training camp for the Bin Laden terrorist group.

She even stridently criticized former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for undertaking peace talks with the insurgent groups, and even reported claims that her military sold arms to the MILF. In a self-serving way since she had covered two countries in the region that had Muslim terrorists, Ressa’s thesis was that Southeast Asia — because Indonesia had the biggest Muslim population while the Philippines was weak in fighting terrorists — would be the center of Islamic jihad in the world.

Obviously, subsequent events — the peace agreement with the MILF and the decline of al-Qaeda as well as Bin Laden’s killing — made Ressa’s expertise passé, if not inaccurate. The US and the West’s main concern became the rise of the Islamic State, which was far, far beyond Ressa’s world of Southeast Asian jihadists. Her narrow field of expertise in journalism, Islamic jihad in Southeast Asia, became useless.

That would have been the end of Ressa’s journalistic career, which would have been devastating for her immense ego described by those who have worked with her, compensated for her diminutive size and looks.

She found a new career when the Benigno Aquino 3rd camp, after he assumed power in 2010, had the brilliant idea of setting up a news website to control the emerging world of social media, and to form a tag team with the Philippine Daily Inquirer the Yellows had their thumbs on.

The plan became urgent when Aquino decided to undertake the unprecedented project of removing the Chief Justice, Renato Corona. It was his clan’s last-resort move to control the Supreme Court so it would rule that the agrarian-reform compensation for his clan’s Hacienda Luisita would be P10 billion, not the P200 million the Agrarian Reform department calculated it should be.

Rappler officially went online Jan. 1, 2012, a few days before Corona’s impeachment trial started, with even its first major story — symbolically? — a false one that claimed that the chief justice cheated to get his PhD, which is still posted by the website.

As my colleague Yen Makabenta wrote yesterday: “Rappler served as cheerleader for every sordid turn in the impeachment trial up to the very end; it said nothing when the prosecution was caught manufacturing evidence, and when Aquino was exposed in his bribery of the senator-jurors.”

Vicious, false articles
Rappler competed in posting having vicious, false articles that demonized Corona with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

It was, in fact, Rappler’s enthusiasm in vilifying Corona to justify its existence to its Yellow overlords that got it into trouble

It reported in May 2012 that Corona was using an SUV owned by a Filipino businessmen involved in “human trafficking and drug smuggling.” Of course, that angered the businessmen so much he has pursued a libel case against Rappler.

Ressa has cried to the world that it was just Duterte wanting to suppress Rappler.

Given its huge technology expenses to build a big audience in cyberspace and its above-industry salaries for Ressa and his gang, Rappler got to the brink of bankruptcy, especially when the Yellows lost power in 2016. The Yellows had difficulties bankrolling it either covertly or overtly such as through contracts with the Tourism department. (Because of its success in portraying Duterte as an authoritarian though, Rappler appears to have been recently infused with new Yellow money: Its two new board directors were with Cory Aquino’s high officials, Solita Monsod and Fulgencio Factoran.)

An American, Ressa tapped her contacts with the help of Yellow supporters in New York, and got two US outfits, Omidyar Network and North Base Media to invest P100 million in the website to save it from going under.

SEC ruling
As an American, Ressa probably had never read the Philippine Constitution with its ban on foreigners in media, or she had such a culture of impunity that she thought she could ignore the laws of this puny nation. The Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that, indeed, Rappler was in violation of the Constitution and must be dissolved.

Ressa panicked and claimed first, that the foreign money was donated to its managers. When that proved impossible (the managers told her they couldn’t pay for the taxes for such gifts), she claimed that the investments were in the form of securities, the kind PLDT and ABS-CBN use to go around the constitutional ban on foreign money in media.

Oops! The Bureau of Internal Revenue read about her explanation, studied it for months, and ruled that Rappler’s issuance of securities generated capital gains, which, therefore, must be taxed. Rappler evaded such payment of P133 million in taxes, the BIR concluded. The Justice department had to agree with the BIR and filed a tax evasion case against Ressa and her executives.

Ressa cried to the world that she is being persecuted. Ressa has vilified her country of birth for her egoistic ambitions.

American media are automatically biased against a Third World leader who doesn’t pay obeisance to the US, and after all, this puny country is not that important to fact-check the lies a fellow American tells them.

**The original copy of this article appeared in The Manila Times and was re-posted here with the authorization of the Author ***

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao



By Rigoberto D. Tiglao

Part 1

RAPPLER CEO and editor in chief Maria Angelita Aycardo Ressa is an American citizen, who of course uses US passports that identify her nationality. She has been deliberately, yet cleverly, hiding this fact.

So have US media which rushed in, believing her lies against the Duterte administration, either because of their journalistic laziness or perhaps after all, proud that an American is lecturing this Third World country somewhere in the Pacific on press freedom and is being persecuted for it.

No wonder that American press institutions that want to impose their beliefs on Third World nations have showered Ressa with awards that a “brave Filipina” is fighting for press freedom in this country with a spineless local press.

It is so disgusting that Vice President Leni Robredo, Yellow senators like Risa Hontiveros, Church officials, and even academic institutions like the Ateneo and La Salle gave the benefit of the doubt to an American rather than to Filipinos patriotically serving the country like Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who ordered Ressa to be charged with cyber-libel, and Judge Reinalda Estacio-Montesa, who issued the arrest warrant against her.

Guevarra is such a respected legal eagle that Duterte appointed him to his post, even if he was formerly former President Aquino 3rd’s deputy executive secretary. Estascio-Montesa on the other hand is the country’s foremost expert in the novel field of cyber-crime, and was our sole representative in the European Union’s Global Action on Cybercrime. Her independence and integrity are obvious in that she was first appointed as trial court judge by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2006 and then by Benigno Aquino 3rd as regional trial court judge in 2012.

Are these the type of people whom President Duterte can tell what to do, to “weaponize” – Ressa’s term – our laws?

US embassy

Right after Ressa was arrested, the US embassy issued a statement — a rare one, her media outfit Rappler itself reported — which said: “We hope the charge against journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa will be resolved quickly in accordance with relevant Philippine law and international standards of due process.”

The statement was not due to US concerns over a purported attack on the press, as Rappler implied. It was simply because Ressa is a US citizen, and US embassies are required to publicly express concern over a high-profile citizen being arrested and charged in local courts.

If Ressa had to spend more than a day in detention, we would have seen a US embassy officer visit her to check on her situation, as is standard operating procedure for American embassies.

Going by the success of Ressa in spreading lies around the world, the framers of our Constitution were men of foresight when they put in our nation’s basic law: “The ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly owned and managed by such citizens.”

Oath of US allegiance

Ressa became a US citizen shortly after her family migrated to the US in 1973, and swore the oath of allegiance required of naturalized Americans, the very first sentence of which declares:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.”

No wonder Ressa has no qualms about lying to the world that the Philippine president is a dictator and is attacking the press. She just isn’t a Filipino, in the deeper meaning of the term.

While she acquired Philippine citizenship in 2004 under the country’s “dual citizenship law,” this has been only for convenience, for her to own property in the country. There is no oath similar to the US oath of allegiance (to “abjure” allegiance to one’s former country) in such re-acquisition of Filipino citizenship by a former Filipino.

Dual citizenship proved to be a huge advantage for Ressa as she claimed to be a Filipino in becoming a major stockholder of Rappler (and later Rappler Holdings), a firm in media, an industry where foreigners are totally banned from both investing in or managing.

So unlike Poe

Talk of “transparency” Ressa incessantly says this country needs: She has never disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission nor anywhere else that she swore to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to” the Philippines. This is so unlike Sen. Grace Poe, who renounced her US citizenship to run for office in the country of her birth.

Ressa considers herself an American, and has been ashamed to claim to be identified as a Filipino when traveling abroad. Except once when she tried out her new Philippine passport issued under the dual citizenship law in 2004, Ressa has always used her US passports, four so far since the first was issued in the 1970s (US passports have 10-year validities).

She used her US passports in all of her 350 arrivals and departures in the Philippines in the past 14 years. With such frequency of travel, leaving the country almost every month, either Ressa has a secret job as international correspondent, spy – or so homesick of America she visits it so often. (I wonder if she charged her trips to Rappler.)

No wonder Ressa is so bold in spreading lies against Duterte. Behind her to defend her is the most powerful nation on earth. If ever Ressa is convicted of the crimes she is charged of and ordered jailed, she could just flee to the US.

Despite the Philippines’ extradition treaty with the US, the imperial power has had a track record of refusing to extradite its citizens hunted by police authorities or convicted by courts for some crime. This happened for instance even in the face of public outrage, as in the case of American Rod Strunk, the prime suspect in the murder of his wife Nida Blanca in 2001, whom the US has refused to extradite to the Philippines despite the charges against him.

Hid nationality

US media foundations which showered Ressa with so much praise as a courageous fighter for press freedom struggled to hide her nationality.

For example, the Committee to Protect Journalists announced that its 2018 “International Press Freedom Awards go to a Vietnamese blogger, Venezuelan reporter, Ukrainian broadcaster, a Sudanese freelancer, a Cameroonian radio correspondent, and a Tibetan documentary filmmaker.”

How did it refer to Ressa who was given Columbia University’s Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award?

Just as “Rappler editor,” without identifying her nationality. The Columbia University functionary, Sheila Coronel, who lobbied for Ressa’s award, and who prides herself on being a top-notch investigative journalist, portrayed Ressa as a Filipina, that she “was born in the Philippines, migrated with her family to the US, and then returned to Manila in the 1980s.” She omitted to mention what would have been a significant information: That she assumed American citizenship in the 1970s and never gave it up.

Ressa though is not a rare creature in this sorry country. Not a few Filipinos who abandoned their country by becoming US citizens or to work abroad (even to purportedly teach investigative journalism in an Ivy League school) delight in bashing the country, without even doing research to verify information spewed in such publications as Rappler.

What’s happened to our country? Why do we allow an American to run a company in an industry totally reserved for Filipinos? Why do we allow this American to tell lies to the world that press freedom is under attack in this country, and that only she and her Rappler are bold enough to oppose a dictator? Why are so many among our political and intellectual elite so gullible to believe an American’s lies against this country and its government?

next Part 2: How Ressa salvaged her distressed career by being a tool of the Yellows and then bashing the country and Duterte

**The original copy of this article appeared in The Manila Times and was re-posted here with the authorization of the Author ***

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao



Left, Zobel doing what he likes best, playing polo; right, Mauritius’ financial district where his partners incorporated their firm.

By Rigoberto D. Tiglao

The fifth of a series
IÑIGO Zobel, the country’s 11th richest billionaire, together with his secretive partners, own at least 40 percent of the company United Graphic Expressions Corp. (UGEC).

The Aquino regime handed over to UGEC secretly and without any bidding the anomalous, but extremely lucrative P38-billion, 10-year contract to print the country’s new electronic passports. Zobel is a cousin of the property and telecom tycoons Ayala brothers, Jaime and Fernando, the former ranked by Forbes magazine as the fourth richest man in the country.

In just three years of the UGEC’s arrangement with government, it generated P3 billion in income, more than five times its P193 million investment in the enterprise. It would be making P11 billion in its 10-year contract with government.

Zobel, through his family’s holding firm E. Zobel Inc. and his shadowy partners, invested in the formerly Malabon-based UGEC printer only in July 2012, right before or after the secretary of the foreign affairs department, Alberto del Rosario, cancelled — unknown at the time to the public — its contract with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and its French sub-contractor Oberthur Technologies to print the passports, after a barrage of bad publicity that that there were major delays in the delivery of that vital document.

UGEC, which for two decades had been a small printing shop owned by one Henry Cureg and his Chinese-Filipino wife Edna Yee, reported in August 2012 to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that in the previous month it had increased its authorized capital stock from P80 million to P500 million, and took in new investors.

E. Zobel Inc. — the holding firm of Iñigo and his family, and represented by his son Jacobo — put in P31 million, or 30 percent of UGEC’s subscribed capital, while a “Haldane Investments NV” invested P10.2 million or 10 percent.

The firm’s corporate filings with the SEC showed Haldane’s nationality as “Mauritius” (not Vanuatu as I previously reported). This island nation is not only a tax haven but one where rich individuals set up their companies in order to conceal their identities. This is possible because of Mauritius’ strict laws that make it impossible to identify the owners of a company registered there.

Source: UGEC

UGEC’s original owners Cureg and his wife’s Yee family were reported in that 2012 filing as owning 24 percent of the firm. A new investor, however, United Heptagon Corp., became the single biggest stockholder, holding 36 percent of UGEC.

While this firm is represented by the original owner Henry Cureg, its shareholders haven’t been disclosed. I wouldn’t be surprised if those government officials who had planned, executed, and would profit from this colossally anomalous deal had lodged their payback-schemes in this company.

UGEC since 2012 has gradually increased its subscribed capital, from P102 million in 2012 to P301 million by November 2017. The same ownership distribution though was maintained, with Zobel and Haldane together owning 40 percent.

The UGEC contract to print the 45 million passports was concealed by the Aquino government through the setting up in November 2014 of a dubious “joint venture” between the government firm APO Printing Unit (APU) and UGEC, purportedly for the latter to assist the state entity to set up a high-security printing plant. The JV though was a farce, as APU owned only 10 percent of it while UGEC had 90 percent. APU also got only 10 to 30 percent of the outfit’s profits, while UGEC got 70 to 90 percent.

When then Foreign Affairs Secretary del Rosario ended the BSP’s contract to print the passports, he awarded this to the APU in October 2015. APU though turned over the job to the JV, violating the order of the Government Procurement Policy Board for it to directly print the passports. As the Commission on Audit disclosed: “While the printing contract were between APO and DFA, the actual printing and account of income generated…are performed and lodged with the JV.”

The passport-printing business is a monopoly, UGEC being the only company that prints the Philippine passports sold to one customer, the foreign affairs department. It therefore generated monopoly profits, with the private firm UGEC getting more than 70 percent of the JV’s income as well as rentals of P670 million annually for the JV’s use of its printing machines.

UGEC would be the most profitable venture ever of Zobel, who is not known to be an aggressive businessman since he really doesn’t have to, what with his dividends from his late father Enrique’s huge number of shares in San Miguel Corp. and in Ayala Corp; reportedly amounting to P500 million yearly. Zobel in fact is known in the country’s elite circles to allegedly spend more time playing his sport polo as well as enjoying midnight-to-dusk parties than working in the office. Why on earth would he go into the printing business, which would now turn out to taint his clan’s name?

The UGEC contract is an open-and-shut case of corruption, and those who executed it had the gall to do it in the belief that they will get away with it as they would still be in power after the 2016 elections.

The state-owned APU’s contract to enter into a JV with UGEC as well as the lucrative job given to it to print the 45 million passports was not bid out. This was in blatant disregard of the mandatory practice for bidding to get the best price. The BSP for instance in 2010 sought bids from 18 firms for the subcontract to produce the passports.

What the APO Production Unit did was a blatant violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Acts.

The law declared as corrupt practices the “giving [to] any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence”.

But not only that, the law declared as a case of corruption the “entering, on behalf of the government, into any contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the same, whether or not the public officer profited or will profit thereby.” That means that even if the two officials who executed the deal — APU chair Milagros Alora and her immediate boss, then Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma, Jr. — did not receive any bribe from UGEC, they are still are liable for corruption.

Coloma in a letter to Foreign Secretary del Rosario early in 2015 asking him to give the passport-printing contract to APU, reportedly said it would be the biggest legacy of the Aquino administration

In the way that he didn’t mean it, it certainly will.

I have strived directly and through intermediaries to get the side of Coloma, Alora and Zobel in the writing of this series of articles. They have not done so.

NOTE: My book Debunked is sold out. will be able receive new orders only at the end of the month. I’ve been told though that several copies are available at National Book Store, Fully Booked, and Popular Book Store.

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao

**The original copy of this article appeared in The Manila Times and was re-posted here with the authorization of the Author ***



Aquino inaugurating the facility that would print the 45 million e-passports for P38 billion, which he didn’t mention was 90 percent owned by a private firm, UGEC. (Photo from Rigoberto Tiglao column printed in The Manila Times)


(Fourth of a series) 

ONE of the clearest indications that the P38-billion scheme for the production of the new machine-readable passports that former President Aquino 3rd and his officials engineered was rotten is the following.

They strenuously concealed that it was a private firm United Graphic Expressions Corp. (UGEC), and not the government corporation APO Production Unit (APU), that would print the 45 million passports at a cost of P38 billion from mid-2016 to 2026. Such monopoly operations would generate for UGEC a staggering P11 billion in profits.

The scheme represents one of the biggest deceptions ever to conceal corruption of the highest order. Aquino and his officials — mainly Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma Jr. and APU Chairman Milagros Alora — set up in November 2014 a dubious “joint venture,” without any bidding, with the formerly Malabon-based printing outfit UGEC.

Billionaire Iñigo Zobel, the country’s 11th richest man, according to Forbes magazine, has been reported to have become only in 2014 its biggest stockholder through his family’s E. Zobel Inc. Zobel has not responded to these reports.

APU is one of only three state entities — the other two being the National Printing Office and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas — that the government has authorized to print “high-security” materials, such as excise-tax stamps and passports. APU, however, turned over its printing contracts, first, with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and trade and industry department, and later the gargantuan 10-year P38 billion job for the printing of the e-passports to the JV.


The JV is a farce. APU is a token partner with just 10 percent of its ownership, with 90 percent held by UGEC. Ninety percent and then 70 percent of its profits, under the terms of its agreement with APU, would go to UGEC. Even as UGEC charges the JV for the use of its machines, for P700 million annually.

As a result, this shadowy private firm generated P3 billion in income from 2015 to 2106, and if it continues this scheme, will get another P8 billion.

In effect, Aquino and his officials — mainly Coloma and Alora, both high officials in Cory Aquino’s government — had transformed a government firm into a façade of a private firm that has and will generate billions of pesos on the back of profit margins on the printing of 45 million Philippine passports.

This colossal case of corruption has been successfully concealed, with mainstream media apparently looking the other way when these were first exposed in a congressional hearing in 2018. It is so strange — or maybe not — that party-list representatives, Akbayan’s Ibarra Gutierrez in 2016 and Bayan Muna’s Carlos Zarate in 2017 had vociferously condemned early last year the passport scam, the latter even filing a resolution asking Congress to investigate. Quite suddenly though, the two became totally silent on the controversy.

A prime example of how Aquino went to great lengths to conceal the scheme was when he inaugurated on June 20, 2015 what he and his officials called the “APU High Security Printing Plant” at the Lima Technology Park in Batangas, which started producing en masse the e-passports in July 2016. Aquino was issued the first such e-passport on the day of his visit to the plant.


In his speech, Aquino boasted that under his watch the APU had been turned around to generate income and that it had set up a high-security printing plant that could print the DFA’s new e-passports.

Aquino didn’t mention at all though that the plant was almost entirely owned through the JV by UGEC and would get 70 percent of its net income for 10 years. APU’s equity in the JV was in the form of the one-tenth of the valuation of the land it had leased from the export-processing zone. Ninety percent of the JV’s managers and workers were employees of UGEC, with the APUs employees being there merely as fixtures to portray it as a joint venture.

He could have boasted that the plant was a good example of a partnership between a government agency and an efficient hi-tech private firm. That he didn’t can only be explained by the fact that he deliberately wanted to keep from the public the fact that a crony firm really owned the plant and would get the P38-billion printing contract from the DFA.

PCOO’s head Coloma — under whose supervision and authority APU was — in several media interviews claimed the “APU’s High Security Printing Plant” as a stellar achievement, but never disclosed that it was run and was 90 percent owned by a private firm.

In the APU’s 2015 annual report — the last under the Yellow regime and by its chairman Alora — no report at all was made of that P38-billion e-passport contract from the DFA, its biggest print job ever, and its de facto sub-contracting to UGEC. Its only mention of the firm was that APU “received an unsolicited proposal from UGEC for a joint venture for the purpose of upgrading APO Lima’s plant into a high-security printing facility.”

No reply

I asked Coloma, just before and after I wrote these articles on this fraudulent case, to give his side, with my messages relayed to his colleague at the Manila Bulletin where he is executive vice president. There has been no reply.

I also asked Alora, an old acquaintance of mine as she has been a PR practitioner since the 1980s, to similarly respond through Facebook’s Messenger platform.

Alora answered four questions, the most important of which was on her justification for the subcontracting of the passport-printing to UGEC: “What APU and UGEC have is a joint venture and not subcontracting and approved by NEDA, Govt procurement board, DBM and DOST and other pertinent agencies.”

The Commission on Audit though claimed that one of the major “misrepresentations” — that is, lies — that APU told government regulators was even contained in its JV agreement, that the UGEC offer for a JV was “superior and more advantageous to APU“ than other offers.

The CoA said that there was no other offer made to APU. It was in fact secretly negotiated, agreed to, and implemented.

After those four questions, Alora blocked me from sending her messages in Messenger.

Most abominable

I have investigated and written columns on several other scams and instances of corruption during the Aquino government, among them the grant of a P5-billion MRT-3 maintenance contract shepherded by a Liberal Party finance officer, the P4-billion purchase of the defective Dengvaxia vaccine, and the Disbursement Acceleration Progra that was really the hijacking of government funds to projects that Aquino chose at his whim.

This e-passport printing case is the most abominable. This is not only because of the magnitude of profits — P11 billion — it would generate to enrich the already rich, at the expense of 45 million Filipinos needing that main document signifying one’s membership in the Republic.

It is most damnable in that the scheme was designed to be implemented whether or not the Yellow candidate won in the 2016 elections, since it practically hostages the government.

In fact, former Foreign Affairs secretary Alan Cayetano declined to end the corrupt scheme even after he knew about it. He feared the fate of his predecessor Pefecto Yasay Jr. whom the Yellows successfully took out of his post because he wanted it ended. The ambitious Cayetano also didn’t want to risk his career being damaged if there was a disruption in the passport issuances.

Will the present foreign secretary who has built an image that he’s got huge balls end this colossal case of corruption?

The Duterte presidency would be blamed if it doesn’t stop the scam. The Yellow forces would even throw Coloma and Alora under the bus, and spread the lie that it was under Duterte’s watch that the scheme was implemented, and he and other officials profited from it.

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao

(The original column was printed with The Manila Times)

Third Part



WHO’S BEHIND IT? From left, previous UGEC proprietor Henry Cureg from Malabon and Zobel who became the biggest stockholder. Is there a secret stockholder?

(Third of a series)

AFTER poring over the Commission on Audit’s detailed reports from 2015 to 2017 on the passport-printing contract given without any public bidding to a private firm, I was, to be honest, shocked at its brazenness.

I can only describe it as a crony deal, since a contract that would generate P11 billion in profits in 10 years was handed over on a silver platter to a private firm.

The contract doubled the price for Philippine passports from P520 to P950, which generated for the firm involved monopoly profits of P3 billion from 2016 to 2018 and would give it, by a very conservative estimate, P8 billion from 2019 to 2025.

Aquino and the officials who executed the transaction—Presidential Communications Operations Office head Herminio Coloma, Jr. and APO Production Unit (APO-PU) chairman Milagros Alora—kept the P38 billion deal secret (more on that on Wednesday),

It was so brazen that the Commission on Audit demanded that the government agency amend or rescind the contract, according to its 2016 report. The APO-PU ignored the COA, probably thinking that the Yellows would win in the 2016 elections, and therefore they could keep the lid on the anomalous colossal deal through its 10-year term.

Shepherded, according to a reliable source, by one of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s closest confidantes, the scheme started off when the then Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario ended his department’s contract for the printing of Philippine passports with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in March 2014. The DFA then gave the contract in October 2015 to APO-PU, which was under Coloma’s supervision.

Obscure businessman

Kept secret all the time though was the fact that APO-PU subcontracted the passport printing to a private firm, United Graphic Expressions Corp. (UGEC), disguised as a joint venture with APO-PU, set up in November 2014. Reports had billionaire Iñigo Zobel as UGEC’s biggest stockholder. UGEC was a nondescript printing shop based in Malabon, owned by an obscure businessman named Henry Cureg. Sometime in the 2014 to 2016 period though, billionaire Zobel appears to have become though his clan’s firm E. Zobel its biggest stockholder.

The contract was cunningly disguised as a “joint venture” between APO-PU and UGEC. The COA rent asunder the joint-venture façade. It pointed out that UGEC owns 90 percent of the “JV,” and got 70 percent of the JV’s profits starting from 2016 and up to 2025. The masquerade of a joint venture was necessary since the contract under government regulations had to be bid out, if it was to be undertaken by a private firm.

With that lopsided sharing of profits, UGEC—with anomalous additional revenues of P670 million annually from leasing its machines to the JV—got about P3 billion in profits from 2016 to 2018, 15 times its P193 million investment in the scheme.

The “JV” disguise though couldn’t work even if it was a real joint venture. The COA pointed out that, probably suspicious that something rotten was being planned, the Government Procurement Policy Board – the inter-agency body that sets guidelines on government procurement of service and products – in its Resolution 26-2015, “required the APO-PU to directly print the electronic passports.” To justify its proposal to print the passports, the APO-PU had told the board that it had all the expertise to undertake the job.

The Palace legal counsel and now presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo in April 2017 claimed that he had given President Duterte his legal opinion on the UGEC contract, which he told a press briefing, was “void for being ultra vires,” meaning it is “an act committed by an entity beyond the powers conferred upon it by law.” He explained that under the memorandum of agreement between APO-PU and the DFA of Oct. 5, 2015, APO-PU was “required by law, rules and regulations to use its own facilities, equipment and machinery in printing the passports for the DFA.”

Died down

For some reason, the furor over that contract that prodded Panelo to make his remarks has died down.

The passport scheme has a similarity to the scheme by a Marcos corny during the Martial Law regime, when under the purported aim of raising money for the modernization of the coconut industry, a government entity imposed a levy of P3 for every kilogram of copra sold in the country. However, a huge chunk of the funds raised was used to buy nearly all of the shares of San Miguel Corp. and set up various businesses, which came under the control of Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco.

The similarity is that the amounts involved seem small: The P3 levy per kilogram of copra during the Marcos era, and now the P400 difference from the old P520 passport fee to the new P920. Even a poor OFW would not raise a howl over the increase, thinking that the amount was minuscule considering what he would be earning abroad.

In both cases, though, the amounts raised are staggering, given the millions of kilograms of copra on which the levy was imposed, and in the case now in question, the tens of millions of passports to be issued.

The COA audit disclosed that the “purchase order” APO-PU gave to the “JV” was for 45 million passports from 2016 to 2025. For 2016, the “JV” sold to APO-PU, for delivery to the DFA, 1.2 million passports at a cost of P960 million.

Revealing figures

These figures unearthed by COA are revealing. That means the JV sold the passports at P800 each to the DFA which got just P150 per, for its work in processing these for the individual applicants. Sources claimed that the production cost of the passports is only P400 per. The JV’s profit margin was an unbelievable 100 percent, to make products sold to what the COA itself termed as a “captured market.”

“What printing deal can anyone get here in the country to print 45 million pamphlets, acquired with no bidding at all?” a printer explained. “And you have such huge economies of scale there, which means cost of production drastically falls, with the only cost really is for the paper.” No wonder the JV generated P3 billion in just three years of operation.

This brazen passport scheme was cleverly executed. The DFA has been portraying the new machine-readable electronic passports as high-tech, and therefore more expensive than the old passports. When the printing contract with the BSP was ended, there was a huge backlog of passport issuances, which, according to congressmen when the controversy was investigated early last year, was deliberately done to justify the transfer of the deal.

“The e-passports cost practically the same, and the chips embedded there were as cheap as cellphone SIMs, so cheap that the cellphone firms don’t charge anything for these,” they said.

With the COA’s voluminous data and damning conclusions, I don’t think there is any question that the passport deal was so anomalous it could only be a case of brazen corruption during the past regime.

The mystery is who is really the major stockholder of UCEG whose profits from the deal would amount to a staggering P11 billion in 10 years? Iñigo Zobel is already the country’s 11th richest billionaire, mainly because of his inheritance from his father Enrique, who has no track record in doing business with government. And Zobel being known to be a fun-loving partygoer, why would he go into such serious stuff that would risk a criminal, graft charge for him? Was he just doing a favor for somebody powerful in the previous Yellow regime?

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao

Part 2

Part 4



SO FITTING: Then-PCOO Secretary Coloma giving to Aquino the first e-passport, produced under an anomalous contract


(Second of a series)
THE only other explanation for this highly anomalous contract is that former President Aquino 3rd and his officials were so stupid beyond belief that they handed over to a private firm the lucrative monopoly to print the country’s new electronic passports.

That contract will generate for the company an income of at least P10 billion in the 10 years that started mid-2016.

The scheme was planned and the contracts signed in 2014. However, actual printing of the passports under the anomalous set-up started in July 2016 right after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office. If he doesn’t stop the contract though, he will undoubtedly be blamed for it, even for just allowing such a scandalous rip-off to continue.

I was told that in 2017 then Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. and Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar have asked Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to recommend to Duterte that the contract be rescinded. The recommendations were unacted on, though. Former foreign affairs secretary said he was aware of the issue, but had been told that it was being dealt with by the executive secretary.

Not even during Ferdinand Marcos’ 13-year strongman rule did government hand over to so-called “cronies” such a huge moneymaking contract, secretly and without public bidding.

The passport printing contract — which the Commission on Audit said involves P38 billion in sales of passports to the foreign affairs department in 10 years — dwarfs the other anomalous deals the previous Aquino regime undertook, among them the P3-billion purchase of the defective Dengvaxia vaccines or the P5-billion MRT-3 maintenance contracts that failed.

Aquino officials in late 2015 gave the go-ahead to print the new so-called hi-tech “e-passports” with readable biometric chips to a purported joint venture (JV) between the government-owned APO Production Unit (APO-PU, which was under the PCOO) and United General Expression Corp. (UGEC), an unremarkable printing outfit. The printing of the passports by what was called the APO-UGEC Security Printing Joint Venture started in July 2016.

Biggest stockholder
It later turned out that UGEC’s biggest stockholder with 30 percent of UGEC is reportedly the family (through E. Zobel Inc.) of billionaire Iñigo Zobel — the country’s 11th richest billionaire with a $2.5-billion net worth, according to the Forbes magazine roster. However, 10 percent of the firm was reported to be held by Haldane Investments, a rather shadowy firm based in the tax-haven country of Vanuatu.

Zobel hasn’t responded to that report, published in this column and in another newspaper. It would be interesting to find out who the other stockholders of UGEC are. It is not clear when Zobel and Haldane invested in UGEC, which had been controlled by an obscure businessman from Malabon.

There was no public bidding at all for what company would be APO-PU’s partner, and the creation of the JV was practically kept secret — until now. The JV and APO-PU’s partner were not reported in its published annual reports nor in its website which portrayed its high-security printing plant that was operated by the JV as entirely an operation of the APO-PU. UGEC in its website does not even mention what has been its biggest moneymaker, the printing of the e-passports.

The JV is a total farce, intended to skirt government regulations that the passports must be printed directly only by three state firms (other than APO-PU, the National Printing Office, and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas).

Joint venture disguise
The Commision on Audit (COA) in 2016 even pointed out that the JV’s printing of the passports violated the Government Procurement Policy Board’s Resolution 26-2015, which categorically “required the APO-PU to directly print the electronic passports.” It demanded that the JV contract be amended. The APO-PU ignored the COA.

The JV is hardly a joint venture in that APO-PU’s share in the enterprise’s capital was just 10 percent, made in kind as the valuation of its leasehold rights to the property where the JV housed its printing plant. The COA, however, even pointed out that this was anomalous as this represents only 10 percent of the value of APO-PU’s lease over the 10-year period of the contract.

The distribution of the JV’s profits tears apart the disguise that is it is a joint venture. Under the JV’s 10-year contract, UGEC would receive 90 percent of annual profits if these are below P600 million; 80 percent, if these amount to P600 million to below P900 million; and 70 percent if P900 million and more. The JV’s profits amounted to P82 million in 2015, P223 million in 2016, and P468 million in 2017.

The COA pointed to the huge anomaly in such profit distribution: “APO’s contribution in the form of a captured market was not considered especially as it was one of the three state printing enterprises allowed to produce the passports.” In short, why would UGEC get 70 to 90 percent of the JV’s profits if without APO-PU, it could not supply the captured market the COA estimated to be worth P38 billion?

The profit distribution meant super-profits — a feature of any monopoly — for UGEC. According to the COA, in 2015 (when the JV printed only BIR and DTI forms), and then 2016 and 2017 (when it printed the passports), UGEC had revenues from the deal totaling P543 million — more than double its P193 million investment.

But, UGEC’s revenues didn’t come only from its huge shares of the JV’s profits. The COA discovered that the JV was leasing from UGEC for P670 million per year the machines it was using. Including those lease revenues, UGEC’s profits totaled P1.4 billion for 2016 and 2017.

UGEC’s share of profits will be increasing in the remaining eight years of its contract as over 40 million Filipinos get the new e-passports, which had boosted the JV’s sales P139 million in 2015, to P1.7 billion in 2016, and P3 billion in 2018. If we make the conservative assumption that UGEC’s income will be increasing only by 5 percent every year in the next eight years, from P327 million in 2017, and its revenues from leasing it machines to UGEC remain constant, how much will it have earned at the end of the contract, including its lease of the JV’s machines?

A staggering P10 billion (see table).

Source: COA annual audits
*Assumptions: UGEC share constant at P328 level in 2017; lease constant at P670 M amount in 2017

That dwarfs any contract given without bidding by government to any firm in our history. That mammoth income of course would be at a cost to the 40 million Filipinos who paid or will pay for the new e-passports. If Iñigo Zobel is really UGEC’s main owner, he’d likely be bumped up to rank 5th in Forbes’ richest Filipinos.

Do you think that Aquino’s officials who made possible such a colossal income for a private firm will be getting just Christmas baskets from it?

Responsible for the deal
Those responsible for this deal were the following:
Then Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario who ended the contract of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to print the DFA’s passports, and awarded it instead to the APO-PU;

APO-PU chairman Milagros Alora and the firm’s board of trustees which set up the dubious JV with UGEC that had the monopoly to print the new e-passports. The other members of the board were Amando Dimacurot (also its president and CEO), Jaime Aldaba (its general manager), Allan Capulong, Cecilia Manikna, Luz Rodriguez, and Victor Signey. Alora had been the late Cory Aquino’s assistant press secretary, and was reportedly close to one of the most powerful figures in that regime and in Aquino 3rd’s Maria Montelibano; and PCOO secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., who allegedly lobbied for the DFA to give APO-PU the printing contract (which was sub-contracted in effect to UGEC) and who at the very least, could have stopped the deal as he was the agency’s supervisor.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, the current APO-PU chairman Michael Dalumpines (who had been a sales executive of a pharmaceutical firm in Davao) is clueless about the massive anomaly going on right under his nose. He said last week that “UGEC does not print passports,” and that “ it only helps with APO’s finances and the acquisition of equipment, which are operated entirely by APO personnel.”

That is totally false, with the COA — whose reports he should have read the day he assumed office — pointed out that APO has only six personnel at the plant producing the passports which has a staff of over 500. The APO-PU also has only one representative in the JV’s six-man executive board. And if UGEC ‘’only helps,” why would it get 90 percent to 70 percent of the plant’s profits?

What a country. The Philippine passport is the prime document identifying a person as a citizen of this republic. Yet it is turning out to be the biggest instance of government corruption ever.

Main sources of data for this column are downloadable by anyone at Commission on Audit’s annual audits of APO Production Unit for 2015, 2016 and 2017.

(** Original article appeared on The Manila Times)
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao

Part 1

Part 2



By Rigoberto D. Tiglao

(First of a Series)

IN his acerbic, sound-bite style, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted that he’ll “eviscerate alive the Yellows who did the passport deal.”

I’m sure he wasn’t aware — deliberately misinformed by his officials, most probably — that those responsible for the controversial contract given to a private firm were his close colleagues and friends in Malacañang during the Corazon “Cory” Aquino administration when he was Cory’s trusted confidante and spokesman.

“The Yellows” — to use Locsin’s own term — who gave the extremely lucrative passport-printing contract without bidding to a private firm United General Expression Corp. (UGEC), reportedly controlled by billionaire Inigo Zobel, were:

— Milagros Alora, then chairman of the APO Production Unit (APO-PU) to which the Department of Foreign Affairs had given the contract in October 2015 to print its new e-passports, but which in effect sub-contracted it to UGEC. Alora was assistant press secretary during the Cory administration, and in the years after that a diehard “Coryista,” a PR operator who had befriended many editors, and an anti-Arroyo and anti-Duterte propagandist.

— Herminio “Sonny” Coloma, secretary of the Presidential Communication Operations Office during the previous Benigno Aquino 3rd government, who supervised the APO-PU. Former foreign affairs secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. has claimed that Coloma — who had been very close to President Aquino 3rd — lobbied for the transfer of the passport-printing contract from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to APO-PU. Coloma was a favorite of Cory, appointed as undersecretary of the agrarian reform department, then of the transport and communications department, and finally head of the Presidential Management Staff.


— Aquino 3rd’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario who ordered in 2015 — “without compelling reasons,” Yasay claimed — that the printing of passports be removed from the BSP and transferred to APO-PU, which then subcontracted the job to UGEC.

I trust Locsin will embrace former president Estrada’s famous saying, “Walang kai-kaibigan at walang kamaganak-anakan.”

From scratch

The passport controversy erupted in the past week after Locsin disclosed that DFA needed to rebuild “from scratch” its data base of passport issuances as the previous contractor had refused to give this to the agency when their contract was terminated. As a result, DFA has required applicants for passport renewals to submit their birth certificates, which raised a howl in social media. While he did not identify the contractor, Locsin was said to be referring to the French-based Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciare.

However, Yasay claimed that Locsin didn’t seem to have been informed that it was the APO-PU that was given by the DFA the contract to print the passports since 2015, but which it subcontracted to UGEC just before the new Duterte government assumed office on July 1, 2016.

A source in Malacañang claimed that in Duterte’s first meeting of his Cabinet right after he assumed office in 2016, Yasay reported that the sub-contracting contract with UGEC was anomalous, and extensively explained why this was so.

Yasay vociferously objected to the awarding of the contract to a private firm by APO-PU, on legal and moral grounds — that the award wasn’t bid out to get competitive prices and that the huge profits from the contract would be going only to a private firm. The contract is estimated to generate at least P1 billion for UGEC if it remains the passport printer for 10 years, which is the length of the term of DFA’s contract with the APO-PU.

At the initial hearing of a joint congressional inquiry into the troubled passporting process last March, lawmakers noted that the joint venture has earned UGEC at least P630 million in profits annually for the past three years, with its investment amounting to only P193 million. Indeed, the contract has been so profitable for UGEC that it announced plans of listing its shares in the stock market last year.

Two options

Yasay presented the President with two options to correct the anomaly by which private firm UGEC would generate huge profits from what is a monopoly — the printing of passports.

One option was for the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) (which had supervision over APO-PU) to amend its contract with UGEC to make it advantageous to government, and to limit its term. A second option was for the Finance Secretary to convince the BSP’s Monetary Board to revert the printing of the passports to its unit. Yasay also recommended that Duterte order the justice department to investigate the printing deal with UGEC to determine if there was corruption on the part of APO-PU or PCOO officials.

Yasay claimed that he had no choice but to let the UGEC continue the printing of passports on a provisional basis for six months so that passport issuances would not be disrupted, considering that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have tight deadlines to get such travel documents and to report to their work abroad. When UGEC and even APO-PU refused to amend the printing contract, he ordered it terminated in November 2016. But he never got to effect the termination when the Commission on Appointments rejected his designation to his post.

Yasay claimed a powerful lobby was undertaken to remove him from office because of his opposition to the UGEC contract. Josephine Sato, a member of the Commission on Appointments and who was the Liberal Party secretary general, reportedly spearheaded the blocking of Yasay’s confirmation as foreign affairs secretary.

Ignored analysis

Yasay’s successor, Alan Cayetano, totally ignored his predecessor’s analysis and recommendations and did not move at all to amend the UGEC contract. He even defended it amid concerns raised by congressmen early last year that UGEC had increased the cost of production of the printing of the passports from P700 to at least P900, because of the private company’s profits. The congressmen alleged that it was a security and privacy risk, since UGEC would have access to the records of 70 million Filipinos who were issued the passports. Their fears have proven right, with Locsin first disclosing — but later backpedaling — that there were leaks in the passport holders’ data.

When I asked Alora to comment on the controversy, she replied that APO did not sub-contract UGEC to print the passports. Rather, APO and UGEC have a joint venture for the passport printing favorable to the government agency. This joint venture, she claimed was “approved by NEDA, the governent procurement board, DBM and DOST and other pertinent agencies.”

Alora may have inadvertently disclosed how the scheme by which a private firm without any public bidding was given by the Yellow administration access to the private data of 70 million Filipino passport holders and the monopoly to print this crucial document that declares an individual to be a citizen of the Republic.

What makes this scandalous is that this firm is owned by billionaire Iñigo Zobel — whose wealth owes almost entirely to his inheritance — and to a secretive firm Haldane Investments, based in the tax-haven microscopic island nation of Vanuatu. That means the 3 million OFWs and Filipinos with dual citizenships requiring passports are and will be fattening the bank accounts of a Spanish mestizo billionaire and shadowy foreign capitalists.

The exposé on that scheme on Friday.


Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

Twitter: @bobitiglao

** article originally printed on the January 16, 2019 issue of The Manila Times

Part Two