(First of 2 parts)
AT AROUND 6 a.m. on Dec. 19, 2014, some 100 armed men on board five motorized outrigger canoes approached the Harbour Centre Port Terminal Inc. at the Manila South Harbor from the sea and opened fire on the port facility’s security personnel.
The seaborne assault was repelled in the ensuing firefight after one of the “pump boats” was disabled, and the rest of the raiding party fled on the four remaining high-speed vessels.
When the smoke cleared, 49 of the men were arrested and turned over to the responding elements of the Manila Police District. Recovered from the suspects were high-powered firearms, ammunition and 10 hand grenades.
More tellingly, the “attack” happened a day after a regional trial court in Pasig City ordered the group of ports and real estate magnate Reghis Romero II to return control of the facility to his estranged son, Michael, whom the former had ousted from the firm a few months earlier.
The elder Romero believes that the attack was ordered by his son in a bid to retake control of the port after being removed during a boardroom coup that was prompted by supposedly persistent reports of financial anomalies during the latter’s nine-year stint at the helm of the company.
The incident was but one of many in a series of events that has seen the father and his high-profile son—known to friends as “Mikee”—in an increasingly public spat for the control of the P3-billion Harbour Centre, which holds a virtual monopoly for the handling of breakbulk cargo (that is, any shipborne cargo that is not transported in metal containers) in the Port of Manila.
The fight has brought out accusations and counteraccusations from both parties against each other about lavish spending, high living, business mismanagement, theft and even psychological issues that have divided what used to be a tightly-knit family.
The Inquirer spoke to both the elder and younger Romero about the dispute that also had both camps accusing the other of bribing court officials to secure favorable judgments for their respective cases.
“At the root of all this is money, nothing more,” Mikee said in an interview last week. “My dad wants money. He said I should pay him for the company. But this is already mine. I paid him for it a long time ago.”
According to the younger Romero, he bought his father out of Harbour Centre for P300 million a decade ago, but allowed him to stay on as chair of the company’s board, a largely titular position.
To prove this, Mikee showed the Inquirer a photocopy of a 2011 deed of assignment, which stated that Reghis’ real estate firm, R-II Holdings Inc., showing that the father had turned over to the son 403.8 million shares of Harbour Centre worth P403.8 million. It was equivalent to 40 percent of the port operator’s outstanding capital stock and supposedly proves that control and ownership of the contested firm had passed from father to son—if the document is genuine.
The elder Romero claimed, however, that his signature had been forged. Speaking to the Inquirer a day earlier, he predicted that his son would show the public a deed of assignment to buttress his position. To counter this, he executed a specimen signature to demonstrate how he signed his name on documents. It was broadly similar to—but had key differences from— the signature affixed on Mikee’s deed of assignment.
“My signature was forged, and we can prove that,” Reghis said.
“He signed that in my presence,” Mikee countered a day later.
Whatever the truth is, the fact is that the elder Romero now has physical control of Harbour Centre’s 10-hectare facility on Manila’s waterfront—something he claims he had to do after years of ignoring reports from well-meaning friends about how his son was allegedly plundering the company for his personal gain.
“Mikee bought a private jet—a [Cessna] Citation—a helicopter, he bought 20 to 30 horses, he has a polo team, he put up a basketball team to promote Harbour Centre. Why would a port operator need a jet? And why would you need a basketball team to promote a business that’s practically a monopoly [for breakbulk cargo in Manila]?” Reghis asked.
In his typical soft spoken manner, the father detailed how close their family used to be, to the point of having the houses of both his sons—Mikee and Nathaniel—built on properties adjacent to his own in the exclusive Greenmeadows gated community in Quezon City.
“Maybe I was too lax with him when he was growing up,” Reghis said, shaking his head. “Maybe I should have been firmer.”
The father added: “Sa kanya din naman mapupunta itong kompanya eh. Pero hindi nakapaghintay. Nagmadali siya masyado. (This company would’ve gone to him anyway. But he couldn’t wait. He was too much in a rush.)”
Asked about his father’s comments on his lifestyle, Mikee replied with an exasperated sigh: “The truth is that my father envies me. He cannot accept my achievements—that I built this company.”
(To be concluded)
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