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Could the Philippines fall to the Pac Man?

It has been a gloomy year so far for the Philippines, a nation mired in corruption whose administration recently faced a mutiny by disaffected soldiers. But a recent court ruling against one of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos's closest allies may offer a glimmer of hope that this country can save itself after all.

IN THE HEADY days of the 1980s that ushered in the age of titanic takeovers, Wall Street's finest devised a defence strategy to ward off unwanted advances from voracious bidders. The Pac Man Defence took its name from the video arcade game that featured an insatiable pizza-shaped blob that roamed the screen devouring all in its path. Often used as a last-ditch effort to save a company from a raider, the Pac Man Defence entailed the victim turning on the assailant to acquire it instead.

An insatiable acquirer Eduardo Cojuangco Jr (pictured left), known throughout the Philippines as Danding Cojuangco, also boasts another soubriquet - Pac Man. He got it because of his insatiable appetite for acquiring smaller businesses to add to his ever-expanding empire, headed by the huge brewing and consumer goods company San Miguel Corporation (SMC). Cojuangco, a scion of one of the country's wealthy and politically powerful dynasties, recently suffered a serious setback at the hands of the local graft court, the Sandiganbayan, which ultimately might even trigger the unravelling of his empire.

A legal battle that has raged for 17 years between the government and Cojuangco emanates, as do many problems facing this archipelago nation, from the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos with whom Cojuangco had close links.

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