Donald Trump’s potential conflicts of interest in the Philippines center around one man

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump with Jose E. B. Antonio, the Trump Organization’s business partner in the Philippines.
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump with Jose E. B. Antonio, the Trump Organization’s business partner in the Philippines.
Image: AP Photo/Pat Roque
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While apartment buildings in New York are shedding the Trump name, the Philippines is due to get its first Trump Tower next year. The man responsible for building what will be the tallest residential skyscraper in the country isn’t Donald Trump, though, it is his local business partner Jose E.B. Antonio.

Antonio is the chairman and C.E.O. of Century Properties Group, Inc. (CPGI) and was named the 40th richest man in the country in this year’s Forbes list, with a net worth of about $195 million. Days before the US election, he was named the “special trade envoy” to the US, and his relationship with the president-elect could present serious conflicts of interest for Trump.

According to a Bloomberg report, CPGI had to pay as much as $5 million dollars to be able to use the Trump name. The building is one of many international collaborations the developer has, a roster that includes I. M. Pei, Versace, and Paris Hilton. The Trump Organization’s international deals bring the company a substantial amount of money, with some developers required to pay 25% of their yearly revenue to the group.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka narrates the promotional video for the new building, which is being built in Manila’s business district.

The fact that the US president-elect is on the payroll of a member of Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte’s government could potentially affect US-Philippines relations. There are deep military and trade ties between the two countries. The US is the Philippines’ second-largest trade partner after Japan, and accounts for 15% of its exports, and also contributes the second-highest amount of foreign direct investment.

Unlike Barack Obama, who spoke against the thousands of ex-judicial killing during Duterte’s war on drugs, Trump has not issued an official statement about the issue. Instead he expressed approval of the situation in a private phone call, according to Duterte.

The Trump connection has already proved beneficial for Antonio, though. CPGI’s stock price rose by 20 percent on Nov. 9, thanks to what analysts call a “psychological buy” based on the company’s link with the Trumps. This came even as the Philippine Stock Exchange index dropped after the U.S. election.

Duterte assigned the post 11 days before Trump’s win. In a statement, the country’s foreign affairs secretary, Perfecto Yasay explained that Antonio’s business credentials would be assets to the job and that he was tasked to “enhance business ties and strengthen the economic affairs.”

Antonio used to be the Philippine ambassador to China, but in the Philippines he is known primarily for his business ventures.

In some ways, he is a lot like Trump. Apart from CPGI, he is also the chairman of Prestige Cars, Inc., an authorized dealer of BMW cars and Philtranco Service Enterprises, the oldest bus company in the Philippines. His children, all graduates of top institutions like UPenn’s Wharton School and Stanford are immersed in the family business and act as the COO, CFO, and managing directors of the company. At least one of his children even matches the lavish lifestyle of the soon-to-be first family. His son, Robbie was featured in Vanity Fair for commissioning artists like Julian Schnabel, Marilyn Minter, and David Salle to create portraits of him for a private gallery in his $15 million house designed by Rem Koolhaas.

But the similarities end there.

While Trump started his company with a $1 million dollar loan from his father, Antonio began working as a bank clerk at a young age, a suggestion from his grandfather who he said liked to emphasize the importance of hard work. After graduating from college, he eventually established Century Properties as a real estate marketing firm that focused on sales and not development. Their first building came just a year later, a project he took on with help from a bank loan.   

The two also seem to have differing views on globalization. In a 2010 interview with The Philippine Star, Antonio talked about his experience working on the Centurion condominium in Manhattan. “But you know why America — despite the present economic problems there — is still attractive to foreign investors? There’s a level playing field in the US. It doesn’t matter whether you’re American or non-American, you can do business there as long as you follow the rules,” he said.