MANILA, Philippines – Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo “Albee” Benitez sought yesterday to intervene in the ongoing conflict between members of the board of the Philippine Women’s University and STI Holdings Inc. over the latter’s plan to take over PWU, which reportedly defaulted in its financial obligations.
Benitez’s family has a 40-percent equity in PWU (Manila), and Jose Abad Santos Memorial School (JASMS) in Quezon City, while STI obtained 40 percent after bailing out the schools in 2011.
The senior lawmaker, who leads the Visayan bloc in the House of Representatives, said he was not fully involved in the negotiations between members of the board and STI but was asked to come in and hold the remaining 20 percent as sort of a balancing factor under the agreement.
“I think we can all settle the matter amicably. I’ll just wait for their heads to cool a bit,” Benitez told The STAR, adding he enjoys good relations with both sides. “We just have to sit down, and I’m sure they are all reasonable people.”
“The reason why the board sought investors is to reform the school and restore it to its old glory, tap experts but along the way there was probably some disagreements of which I’ve to find out,” he said.
“But for STI, what they’re saying is ‘you have not honored obligations for three years, so either you pay us back or be in default,’” he added.
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He said all the transactions were documented so it will be relatively easy to intervene.
The BDO universal bank in 2011 was about to foreclose PWU on its P230 million loan that ballooned to nearly P1 billion until STI, led by Eusebio Tanco, bailed them out at P450 million with the Benitez family committing to turn over the 40 percent or pay for the new capital infusion.
STI said the members of the PWU board led by the Benitez family have also signed resignation letters that will take effect in the event they failed to fulfill the conditions set by their loan with BDO.
STI also said it was the Benitez family that approved the transaction to partner with Ayala Corp. to put up commercial and residential centers around JASMS before the company came in to bail them out.
“Being a publicly listed company, STI had to protect its interest and shareholders, and eventually cited the Benitez Group in default, the trigger for the resignations to become effective and for STI to gain majority of PWU s membership and board,” the company said.
The family however in a statement on Tuesday said they will oppose the move of STI to take over the PWU and JASMS. The combined area of the two properties is two hectares.
“The Benitez family is contesting the said default notice and taking legal action to fight this brazen takeover attempt of a revered educational institution,” the family said in a statement on Tuesday.
“This unfortunate turn of events on what was once a promising arrangement was brought about by a difference of principles between the parties. Over the course of three years, the Benitez family realized that Mr. Tanco’s vision to commercialize PWU and JASMS does not conform to the vision of the founders and the Benitez family’s enduring commitment to education,” the family said.
In a statement, former senator Helena Z. Benitez expressed shock and disappointment at the “high-handed manner by which the Eusebio Tanco and his group sought to take control of the Philippine Women’s University” especially at this time of the year and taking advantage that the courts are close for the holidays.
The former senator said she firmly denies claims made by Tanco and STI that she had accepted the “empty gesture of Tanco to give her position of chair emeritus of the Philippine Women’s University, the school founded in 1919 by her parents Francisca Tirona Benitez and Dean Conrado Benitez.”
Benitez said she does not want her name and prestige to be used to lend legitimacy to the STI takeover of PWU.
The Benitez statement further reads: “PWU is a non-stock, not-for-profit foundation and our commitment has always been to education. STI is for profit so our priorities are different.” The Benitez family matriarch spoke during a gathering of family members at the Benitez family home, Mira Nila (a QC landmark) on Dec. 23. Family members and friends expressed concern about the toll this hostile takeover move by the Tanco group and STI would take on Sen. Benitez who turned 100 years old last June.
She said: “Our Good Lord granted me longevity for a reason. I pray for the continued strength to lead this fight and ask all the PWU community, our family and friends to help us save PWU and JASMS.”