Tick tock

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It’s easy to wave the flag and say: “Who needs jobs in Taiwan, anyway?” Just don’t say that to 10,000 workers who have already lost good-paying work there in the past month.

It’s true that 10,000 more unemployed workers seem small in number, compared to the four million or so people who are already unemployed in this country right now. Especially when you compare the repatriated Filipinos to their 10 million or so compatriots toiling overseas, that’s practically just a drop in the overseas workforce bucket.

But when it’s your family that lost a breadwinner because of our last diplomatic row across the strait in the north, I’m sure you won’t be as sanguine. After all, 10,000 gainfully employed workers means at least the same number of families with income, income that they now don’t have.

The 10,000 who lost their jobs form the first big group of Filipinos whose three-year contracts were no longer renewed, just like Taiwan said they wouldn’t be. The non-renewal of employment contracts for an estimated 87,000 Filipinos is part of a series of retaliatory measures ordered by the Taiwanese government after the killing of a fisherman by Philippine Coast Guard personnel during an alleged poaching incident in local waters.

Taiwan has also made good on a previous promise to stop the issuance of visas for Filipinos who wish to go to Taiwan in the wake of the incident. That means those who are being sent back home after their contracts expire are not being replaced—and probably won’t be replaced, until all 87,000 Filipinos working in Taiwan are repatriated.

In the meantime, after much official to-ing and fro-ing in Manila, there is still no word from investigators from the Philippines led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima about what the government intends to do about the case, after supposed preliminary findings that the PCG men were at fault. Maybe President Noynoy Aquino, De Lima and the rest of government are still waiting for all 87,000 Filipinos is Taiwan to be sent home before doing something.

By then, of course, all the noynoying will have cost the jobs of a lot more Filipinos. And so my advice for anyone with an offended sense of Filipino pride over the incident is to keep doing what they’re doing—just not in front of someone who just lost his job in Taiwan through no fault of his own.

And for Aquino, the advice is even simpler: Tick tock.

* * *

Next time Aquino goes looking around for a government agency to browbeat and threaten, he may want to look at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Oh, I know SEC is supposed to be an independent body—but that’s what Renato Corona thought the Supreme Court was also.

SEC Chairman Teresita Herbosa and her colleagues recently ordered termination of the rehabilitation proceedings of the Uniwide Group of Companies, the dissolution of its various subsidiary corporations and the liquidation of their assets.

The SEC ruling comes at a most inopportune time and is apparently based on flawed “facts,” according to Uniwide, which says it is just about to get out of corporate rehab after nearly 14 years. SEC said in its May 30 decision that Uniwide’s debts total over P10 billion, while the former retail market leader insists that its total liabilities are now a mere P1.7 billion; the SEC en banc also upheld the assessments of its special hearing panel that Uniwide’s assets are only worth P2.726 billion, even if the company says that the appraised value of its flagship Metromall property alone is already in excess of P3 billion.

It’s been a while since Uniwide, which once raised P4 billion in a 1996 IPO and which led the retail sector with P20 billion in annual sales, has had good news. After it nearly collapsed during the 1997 Asian currency crisis, Uniwide applied for receivership and rehabilitation, to allow it to get back on its feet financially and to preserve its assets. But since the SEC-directed rehab started in 2002, the corporate watchdog has not lifted a finger to stop the dissolution of the company’s assets through one-sided dacion en pago deals and hefty commissions on these that nearly drained the once-robust company.

Over the years, Uniwide religiously paid down its debt within the 15-year rehabilitation plan that the SEC approved in 2002, settling 80 percent of all its obligations with the balance was due for settlement over the second half of the 15-year rehabilitation plan, which would end by 2015. In just eight years, the Uniwide Group paid P6.16 billion of its P7.5 billion debt to its secured creditors.

But SEC, its appointed receivers and its special hearing panel, whose assessment the commission apparently did not verify, don’t appear to be interested in getting Uniwide back on its feet. At one point, SEC even gave its blessing to a French “white knight” that it said was going to buy into the company, but which in fact wanted to buy it at pennies to the dollar.

And now, just when the pioneering retail is getting out of the intensive care unit and back on its feet, SEC wants it permanently closed and sold off for no valid reason. Of course, that’s no valid reason that anyone who wouldn’t benefit from selling off Uniwide can see, if you catch my drift.