There has been a lot of drama going on in Taft recently, particularly in the Philippine Women’s University campus, which was suddenly locked down just this weekend. The decision to close the school came from the PWU management, composed mostly of VPs and managers, whose main qualification for the job is that they have to carry the name “Benitez” either in the middle name or preferably their family name.
They are led by the school president named—surprise, surprise – Francisco Benitez.
If you must know, the lockdown order was in response to PWU’s creditor, the STI group, which last December declared the university to be in default of its loan, which has ballooned to P928 million.
Instead of honoring their obligations, the Benitezes opted to cover everything up with this telenovela plot: The legacy of the 96-year-old university is being attacked by the STI group. They hid and continue to hide behind students, faculty, parents, and alumni who had no idea what really led to this situation.
In the interest of public service, we are taking a deeper look into the PWU issue and how the Benitez family practically threw the school in this sorry state.
The so-called death of PWU did not start last December. In reality, it was already in a virtual ICU back in 2011. During the time, the school was in deep crisis as its original creditor, BDO, was close to defaulting PWU’s loan worth P223 million.
This P223 million loan with BDO was supposed to be used for improvements in the school, such as building improvement, computerization, and purchase of facilities. For reasons known only to the Benitezes, the money was gone and the school remained a veritable dump. Elevators had no elevator shafts, the roof was leaking, windows were broken, computers were part of the 90s era, and the electrical wiring was almost as old as the school, making the place a complete fire accident waiting to happen.
Even its basic education school, the Jose Abad Santos Memorial School in Quezon City, was in the same decrepit state. The young pupils and students were constantly at risk of getting leptospirosis because rains would raise water levels in the nearby creek, leaving the grounds and classrooms flooded for days.
Personnel was also a complete mess. The school offered an early retirement program, but it did not have the funds to pay for the retirees. It was also paying the hefty salaries of 15 deans, even though enrollees were not enough to sustain these many colleges.
So where did the P223 million go? Your guess is as good as mine.
This is the reason why back in 2011, every financial institution that the Benitezes went to gave them a glaring REJECT stamp. No one was willing to cough up money to a poorly managed school.
PWU was ready to announce its closure, until the STI group came along. Its chairman, Mr. Eusebio Tanco, wanted to preserve the legacy of Asia’s first school for women. He was willing to enter as a white knight to PWU’s problem.
But first, the Benitezes have to shape up. Finances must be put in order and the school must transform to become more competitive, especially in terms of facilities. The Benitizes were, of course, all Amens.
Long story short, STI group bought the BDO loan. BDO, in return assigned to STI all rights, titles, and interest of the PWU loan, including the undated letters of irrevocable resignation of the PWU board, which essentially says that they are willing to leave in case of a loan default.
It was a marriage made in heaven. Not only did STI save the Benitzes from its BDO loan, Mr. Tanco’s group loaned more money. The Benitezes got P198 million and another P70 million which they promised to use for renovation and upgrade of the schools. Another P26 million was also loaned to PWU for payment for the benefits of its retired employees. It was a Benitez dream that STI funded and it cost more than P500 million
The Benitezes promised STI that the loan would be paid either via shares of stocks or cash. Since the Benitezes had no money to begin with, they promised STI that they would allocate 40 percent of total shares to Mr. Tanco’s group. To make this possible, PWU – though Unlad – would raise its capitalization from P20 million to P1.2 billion to allow the fresh money to be paid through stocks.
However, the stocks that was supposed to pay the loan never happened. Three years after the dream deal, the Benitezes kept coming up with excuses to delay the assignment of stocks to STI. The Benitezes suddenly wanted to file for divorce as Conrad Benitez, in a meeting last December 5, 2014, said the Benitez family wants to discontinue the partnership.
It was a classic Benitez move. After sweet talking many debtors and investors, the family would find a way to get out of their agreements, then they would be on the lookout for new groups to make promises to. They pulled off the same scheme with Jardine Land (when the Benitezes wanted to turn all of its JASMS property on QC into a mall), with Metrobank, and with BDO. It was almost a modus operandi.
The Benitezes, in a statement by its media bureau head named (once more) Lyca Benitez Brown, said the family would find a way to pay its loan to STI—which has already ballooned to P928 million. They just want more time and better terms.
How exactly the Benitezes will pay is beyond anyone’s comprehension. No bank would want to deal with them because they are simply unbankable. They cannot use money from tuition because enrollment from its PWU campus has gone down from 12,000 in the 1990s to 2,000 today. Combined post graduate and JASMS enrollment is also barely 2,000.
Now, the Benitizes are going to the streets shouting “Save PWU!”
Save it from what? Certainly not from STI, which only wanted to preserve the legacy and improve the PWU schools. If students, faculty, parents, and alumni really want to save the venerable institution, it should not go far in waging war against the forces that are out to destroy the school. In all likelihood, the real enemies may lie within.
As kids, we were taught by our parents and teachers to honor our obligations. Filipinos in particular takes this value as “palabra de honor.” In fact, we Filipinos have a particular term for people who renege on their promises, especially when it comes to money.
We call them “Balasubas.”