(July 16, 2020) – In a desperate attempt to justify Congress’ vote to take away jobs in shutting down the country’s largest broadcast corporation, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman on Thursday blamed its owners for not contributing enough to the government’s pandemic response.
Harry Roque said the popular leader was serious in his campaign to bring down powerful oligarchs in the country but reconsidered filing charges against prominent families and tycoons after they donated billions to the coronavirus response.
Roque said the ABS-CBN contributed a meager amount, explaining to journalists a controversial statement he made a day earlier, comparing its 200 million pesos donation to billions made by other businesses.
“Nilalagay ko lang ang konteksto kung bakit napatawad ni Presidente yung oligarchs ng mga Ayalas at MVP group of companies,” Roque said on Thursday, mentioning he himself had already prepared the charges against the heads of the two largest water concessionaires in the capital.
Roque has been explaining his controversial statements to justify the president’s comments when he spoke to soldiers in Jolo about dismantling the oligarchy without imposing martial law.
He tried to deflect criticism by saying the president was not referring to ABS-CBN as there were other wealthy businessmen he was running after, like Lucio Tan, Manuel Pangilinan and Ayala and Consunji families.
However, audio recordings of the president’s speech in Jolo had surfaced where he categorically identified ABS-CBN as the oligarchy he was referring to after Congress voted 70-11 to reject the broadcast network’s franchise renewal.
ABS-CBN was the only company which lost a franchise but the other businesses, which Roque said the president was also after, continued to operate under existing franchises.
Besides, all the wealthy businessmen and families which Roque had identified as oligarchs were never involved in politics. The Lopez family, which controlled ABS-CBN, used to wield political power from the post-war period until the declaration of martial law in 1972.
Roque’s only excuse was he was not with the president in Jolo on Monday. Duterte also said he would “forget” filing cases against all three of them.
Businessman Manuel Pangilinan and his companies had given 6.5-billion pesos plus advanced taxes and concession fees, for a total of 20-billion pesos; and the Ayalas donated at least 9.5-billion pesos for COVID response, Roque said.
“Yun ang konteksto noon. Bakit nahabag ang presidente na bagamat handa na ang kaso, bakit hindi niya tinuloy? Eto yung dahilan,” Roque explained.
A day earlier, he said: “The difference is they delivered in time of crisis. Hindi ko naman maintindihan kasi why ABS-CBN did not do that,” Roque said in an interview.
“I know you donated 200 million of your own money but the rest you raised from your TV programs through your calls for donation,” he said, “I don’t know why ABS-CBN could not have done more like what the Ayalas and MVP did.”
Roque said the two water concessionaires are not completely off the hook.
“Kailangan amyendahan ang water concession agreement at ibalik ang dapat ibalik sa taong bayan,” he added.
However, it is not the obligation and responsibility of the large corporations to fund the pandemic response as the government had borrowed billions of dollars from multilateral financial institutions, like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to address the coronavirus crisis.
The large businesses had voluntarily helped to alleviate the impact of the health crisis despite their own losses due to the weak economy which was a result of the government’s lockdown.
ABS-CBN said it has been losing 35 million pesos daily since the shut down in May and has announced a retrenchment plan by next month.
Roque said the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will set up a one-stop shop center to help those who would lose their jobs.
“Para bigyan ng pagkakataon ang mga nawalan ng trabaho sa ABS-CBN, but this is also open to everyone,” Roque said.
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