The root of all evil

There is an oft-misquoted saying that goes, “Money is the root of all evil.”

It’s not. The correct saying is, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

This, unfortunately, is absolutely true. Every day we see examples of this, of normally good persons turning bad because they want nothing more in life than to stash away more and more cash, sometimes more than they can ever hope to spend in their lifetime.

The most tragic are cases when one forgets his or her parents, children, and siblings all in the name of the almighty dollar, yen, dinar, or peso as the case may be.

As a business journalist of more than three decades now, I have seen numerous examples of Filipino families torn apart because one sibling wanted more than the others, and in some cases wanting it all to the point that their blood brothers and/or sisters are left deprived.

Very recently I got wind of one more tragic case involving a family whose patriarch founded what would eventually become a top 100 Philippine corporation, a nationwide drugstore chain no less.

At the time that patriarch passed away about two years ago, he had built a nationwide empire whose brand name is known to 99 percent of Filipinos. His company would be the equivalent of the US chain Walgreens.

When he passed away, he quite naturally left what should have been a huge estate, one that would have been split equally among his heirs, all things being equal.

This does not seem to be the case.

The founder of the chain allegedly left this mortal plane with not a single share of stock in the company that he built. He supposedly had no real properties to speak of. No real estate, no vehicles to his name and a very meager sum of money in the bank. Yet at the time he passed away, he was living in a mansion in one of Metro Manila’s very exclusive villages, and was known to travel around in a luxury car and vans.

So what gives?

Of course it is not unusual for big businessmen to distribute their wealth to their children before passing on. The proper distribution of wealth has been happening with the Ayala family for decades now, and the late Henry Sy pretty much made sure that his kids would get their equal shares long before he retired.

This does not seem to be the case with the drugstore magnate.

What he left behind was essentially a closed family corporation, so the public is not privy to the goings on in the company and its affiliates. Yet there are records that are available to interested parties.

Cash, stock dividends paid to stockholders and even transfers of shares of stock are still on record, or should be. All pertinent documents should be available at the SEC.

Supposedly, what was left behind by the multi-millionaire (or billionaire) are only publicly traded shares of stocks and void of any stock in the company he founded.

In fact the total value of his estate is even less than 15% of the value of his mansion at the time of his death.

So either the family left behind has solid estate planning, or maybe they have gotten away with not paying the correct amount of taxes. Yes, estate taxes are pretty hefty in the Philippines, and the law may be harsh, but that’s the law.

In the US, where the family also has (or had) properties since the wife was a longtime US resident and may have been a US citizen upon her death some 20 years ago, it is not clear whether or not the proper estate taxes had been paid, both in the Philippines and in the US.

It’s a lot easier to get away with, shall we say, fiscal mumbo jumbo in the Republic of the Philippines. But in the United States of America? I don’t think so. Heck, even Al Capone could get away with cold blooded murder, but not tax fraud.

Even Donald Trump might not evade the IRS if it ever runs after him.