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Opinion

The oligarchs likely to benefit most under Bongbong Marcos

Incoming president's initial cabinet appointments give some clues

| Philippines
Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. during his proclamation on May 25: The new president will most likely forward their business interests through favorable government contracts and policies.   © AP

Alvin Camba is assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and a faculty affiliate at the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University.

Which business groups or oligarchs have the strongest ties to the incoming administration of President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.?

In Philippine politics, as is true in many countries in the Global South, most, if not all, major business groups will keep faith with the new administration in order to obtain permits or access to business incentives. However, some business groups will be closer to the administration than others.

First, the initial cabinet appointments give some clues as to the ties of some oligarchs. Marcos Jr. has announced that Manuel "Manny" Bonoan, president of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) Tollways, will become the secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Real estate is one of the largest sectors up for grabs and Ramon Ang, the ninth wealthiest Filipino, is president of San Miguel. However, Inigo Zobel, the 21st wealthiest Filipino, is the president of Top Frontier holdings, which owns 66% of San Miguel. Inigo, a well-known friend of Marcos Jr., and his cousin Enrique Zobel, the fifth richest, is also a shareholder in Ayala Corp., one of the wealthiest companies in the Philippines.

Bonoan's appointment can be interpreted as replacing the Villar family, who benefited immensely during the Duterte administration. Manny Villar, a former presidential candidate and the richest Filipino, chairs Vista Land & Landscape and owns the largest stake in real estate company Golden MV Holdings.

Cynthia Villar, Manny's wife, switched from Benigno Aquino III's political coalition to that of Rodrigo Duterte in 2016. In return for their support, Duterte appointed Manny and Cynthia's son Mark as DPWH secretary.

Just as Mark Villar used state power to disproportionally benefit his family's real estate business as head of DPWH, Bonoan will likely forward the interests of the Angs and Ayalas in the real estate and construction sectors. Marcos Jr. has yet to appoint secretaries in the departments of Environment of Natural Resources and Energy, two of the country's most lucrative departments.

Other oligarchs have been out in the open, appearing at Marcos Jr.'s May 9 victory party. Greggy Araneta, the spouse of Irene Marcos, a Philippine senator and the President-elect's sister, holds executive positions in multiple companies across a range of sectors: Filipino conglomerate Dito CME Holdings, formerly known as ISM Communications, real estate developer Alphaland, LBC Development Bank and Asia International Travel.

Other close Marcos associates include Kevin Tan, son of billionaire Andrew Tan, is the CEO and Vice President of local real estate giant Megaworld, with dozens of real estate ventures across the country. Sabin Aboitiz of Aboitiz Equity Ventures holds substantial investments in power, real estate, banking and biofuel.

Some of these individuals have a strong relationship with the outgoing Duterte administration. For instance, Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly praised the Aboitizes and Ayalas, despite his tirades against some families like the Lopezes and Ongpins.

Others have issues with some government agencies, such as the taxation case against Megaworld and the Aranetas have a case before a special appellate collegial court known as the Sandiganbayan, which has jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases involving graft and corrupt practices.

With Marcos Jr.'s victory, it is highly likely that these cases will be put aside, and the new president will most likely forward their business interests through favorable government contracts and policies.

Expect other oligarchs who laid low under Duterte to now resurface, given their long-term relations with Marcos Jr.

Roberto Ongpin, the 22nd wealthiest Filipino and former Trade Secretary under the President-elect's father Ferdinand Marcos Sr., is likely to benefit from the Marcos administration. It was Duterte who branded Ongpin an oligarch when he took away the online gambling privileges of PhilWeb, Ongpin's gaming company, and opened the sector to foreign companies.

This resulted in the online gambling boom between 2016 and 2020, enriching the real estate and construction business groups whose families include the Sys, Ayalas, Villars, Consunjis and Gongkongweis.

Since laying low, Ongpin has shifted his focus to luxury resort investments and is slated to make a comeback. The Atok Big Wedge, Ongpin's company, is developing a 500-megawatt wind farm power project on Patnanungan Island, which is close to his business resort in Balesin.

This wind farm is three times bigger than the Burgos' wind farm, which was developed by the Lopez family during the previous decade. Marcos Jr. is bound to be supportive of Ongpin since Ilocos Norte, the Marcos dynasty's home province, holds one of the largest wind farms in the Philippines. In addition, Louise "Liza" Araneta Marcos, the incoming first lady of the Philippines, is a good friend of Ongpin.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his wife Louise, left, in front of the Supreme Court in Padre Faura, Metro Manila, in April 2018.   © Reuters

Finally, outside the wealthiest Filipinos and other known oligarchs, mining and tourism interests under the control of powerful politicians are likely to flourish under the new administration. For instance, Gibo Teodoro, a former secretary of defense under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001-2010) and a candidate who ran and lost under Marcos Jr.'s Uniteam senatorial slate, is the chairman of Sagittarius Mines, which owns Tampakan mining.

Since 2010, the provincial government has banned Sagittarius Mines from conducting open-pit mining in Tampakan, the largest copper-gold mining concession in Southeast Asia. In May 2022, provincial officials voted to overturn the ban and open the concession once again. Marcos Jr. can also help Sagittarius Mines find foreign investors to expand Tampakan.

Christina Frasco, the former mayor of Liloan municipality, has been announced to be the secretary of tourism. She is the daughter of Gwendolyn Garcia, the current governor of Cebu province and one of the most influential in the Visayas islands. Because many of Cebu's cities and towns rely on tourism, it is likely that Christina will support tourism-related policies that primarily benefit her mother's province.

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