Who's The New Philippine Envoy? The Man Building Trump Tower Manila : Parallels U.S.-Philippine relations have been rocky. The new trade envoy tasked with improving them is a Philippine real estate magnate who's already working with Donald Trump on a major building project.
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Who's The New Philippine Envoy? The Man Building Trump Tower Manila

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Who's The New Philippine Envoy? The Man Building Trump Tower Manila

Who's The New Philippine Envoy? The Man Building Trump Tower Manila

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/502895797/502980062" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have more examples today of the ways the president-elect is mingling his public duty and his personal business. The New York Times reports that the president-elect asked visiting British politicians for a personal business favor.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

An attendee says Trump asked them to lobby against a wind farm that might affect the view from one of Trump's golf courses. Trump, who ran against corruption, later tweeted that his interests and properties are not a big deal.

INSKEEP: World leaders are leaning into their real estate connections to Trump. In the Philippines, for example, President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed Jose E. B. Antonio as his special trade envoy to the U.S.

GREENE: He is the man who is also building Manila's new Trump Tower. Michael Sullivan reports from Manila.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: It's not quite finished, but the new Trump Tower in Manila's Makati district is 57 stories tall, impressive and expensive. Some brokers online are asking $750,000 U.S. for a one-bedroom in a city where the average worker takes home about $10 a day. Like many of its ventures, the Trump family doesn't own the building. Its involvement is limited to licensing the Trump brand. But the family still went all in, pitching the project in the promotional video. Daughter Ivanka.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

IVANKA TRUMP: As a brand, we're incredibly excited about this building. The architecture is exquisite. The interior design is flawless.

SULLIVAN: And son Eric.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ERIC TRUMP: It's really just a beautiful, iconic, modern building - very tall, very chic, very sexy.

SULLIVAN: And, of course, the president-elect himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DONALD TRUMP: It's really great working with Century Properties and the Antonio family - true professionals. They really know what they're doing. Trump Tower Manila is going to be something special.

SULLIVAN: And the Century Properties chairman, whose company owns the tower, Jose E. B. Antonio, is special, too.

WILSON LEE FLORES: He is a self-made man. He started out in marketing in sales, became very successful and then became a real estate tycoon.

SULLIVAN: That's Wilson Lee Flores, a business columnist with the Philippine Star newspaper, talking about the man named special trade envoy to the U.S. Flores says Antonio's genius was in recognizing the value of branding. Sound familiar?

FLORES: He's one of the first or perhaps the first developer in the Philippines who went out of his way to go to America and Europe to get all these brand names to tie up with these companies. That is what distinguishes him from other big developers.

SULLIVAN: Names like I. M. Pei, Paris Hilton and, of course, President-elect Trump. In this interview with Channel NewsAsia's "Power List Asia," Antonio remembers meeting Trump in New York in the mid '90s when Antonio was looking for investments in the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POWER LIST ASIA")

JOSE EB ANTONIO: Mr. Trump had these problems during the savings and loan crisis in America, and some of his assets were for sale.

SULLIVAN: Antonino says he remembers the two men walking out of the restaurant where they'd met and Trump pointing to a beggar on the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "POWER LIST ASIA")

ANTONIO: And he said, that guy is richer than me. I said, how can that be? Well, that guy had five dollars in his hat, and I was negative $200 million, so the beggar was richer than me at that point. But history also now tells us that he bounced back in a very spectacular way.

SULLIVAN: And President Duterte's decision to name Antonio as a special envoy to the U.S...

BENJAMIN MUEGO: I'm impressed.

SULLIVAN: Benjamin Muego teaches comparative government at Manila's De La Salle University. He says some may try to argue a potential conflict of interest all the way around, but Muego only sees an upside.

MUEGO: If you're looking for somebody to try to smooth over strained relations, who better to serve as a conduit than someone who is known to both and enjoy the trust?

SULLIVAN: And Trump Tower - almost finished and 94 percent presold, according to the website, even before the election. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Manila.

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