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We Now Have, the Bernard Madoff of the Philippines

ust as the United States had Elvis Presley and Perry Como, so too did the Philippines have Eddie Mesa and Diomedes Maturan—the Elvis Presley and Perry Como "of the Philippines." Celso delos Angeles, Head of the Legacy Group and 12 defunct rural  banks across the PhilippinesDuring the late fifties and early sixties, Eddie and Diomedes mimicked the American originals so well, they had many local lasses swooning over them as well. Now, more than half a century after independence from the US, Filipinos still seem to be aping Americans—even in ways we may not be too proud of.

On the heels of Wall Street's Bernard Madoff scandal where US$50 billion in hedge-fund investments seem to have vanished into thin air; over in the Philippines, Celso (Boss Boy) delos Angeles, a former banker with a checkered past and lots of friends in "high places" will end up forcing the Filipino taxpayer to pony up a staggering PhP14 billion for the failure of his 12 rural banks and related financial businesses scattered throughout the country. Most of his banks offered unsophisticated, sometimes greedy investors a "double your money" scheme that equated to a 20 percent yield on their money. There was also an unspoken rule among those investors that each bank account they opened not exceed PhP250,000 in deposits as that is the maximum amount the PDIC (Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation) would reimburse if the bank failed. Bernard Madoff, for years a Wall Street icon. Responsible for $50 billion in lossesNow unlike Bernie Madoff's investors who were left holding the bag, Celso delos Angeles' investors will get reimbursed by the government—it will be the Filipino taxpayers who will be left holding the bag.

Former PDIC president Ricardo Tan stated that when they looked into delos Angeles' banks “What we found were fictitious deposits, [rotating] collateral from one bank to the other, unsafe and unsound [banking practices] and improper documentation.” A recent article in PhilStar also stated that small rural banks were "horribly run—or systematically looted" by their owners.

Government regulators however were stymied or blocked at every turn by delos Angeles who surrounded himself with an array of lawyers as well as powerful friends in high places. Tan recounts an episode in 2005 where he was invited for dinner by Rep. Prosper Nograles (now Speaker of the House) and to his surprise, Celso delos Angeles joins them at the table. Nograles and delos Angeles both hail from the same school—the Ateneo de Manila, and that dinner just happened to take place at a time when the PDIC was closely investigating delos Angeles' banks. House Speaker Prospero Nograles denies interceeding for schoolmate Celso delos Angeles. Also claims to have lost his investment in Celso's banksSpeaker Nograles of course disputes Tan's recollection and even says he stands to lose several million pesos of his own money which he invested with delos Angeles.

Whatever the truth is and however you slice it, the sad fact is that the Filipino people are left to foot the bill: a bill that will most likely top PhP14 billion when all is said and done. And that amount of money, for a third-world country like the Philippines—in the midst of a global financial crisis—is a very heavy burden indeed. Philippine government regulators could have put a stop to it back then but didn't. As Ricardo Tan recollects, "when I left PDIC [in April 2006], our exposure to [De los Angeles’] 12 banks [in terms of insured deposits] was P4 billion.” Had delos Angeles been stopped then, it would have saved Filipino taxpayers a whopping ten billion pesos!

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