The fight against oligarchs continues

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The year 2019 has been, to say the least, a rollercoaster ride. And a bit too bumpy for oligarchs — President Rodrigo’s favorite targets that beyond the latter’s constant harangue, are sailing rough waters with the ensuing shifts in government’s policies against unfair contracts and trade practices.

Arguably, water firms Maynilad and Manila Water are leading the pack of this year’s roster of losers, with their oligarch owners facing the prospect of losing their hold on one vcv of the country’s juiciest water supply contracts.

The whole snafu was triggered by what would have been a victory for the Ayala-controlled Manila Water after securing a favorable decision from an international tribunal in Singapore for a PHP7.39 billion refund from the Philippine government to cover losses from denied water rate hikes.

A big oligarch win, that is, would have been placed on the backs of the mostly poor water concessionaires in the National Capital Region. But Duterte intervened, and in the process also dragged Maynilad, the Pangilinan-controlled water firm into the fray. Now the contracts of both firms are being reviewed by the Department of Justice for being supposedly onerous or disadvantageous to the public.

Two oligarchs in one stone, in a manner of speaking.

Another old family of the oligarchy, the Lopezes, are facing the possibility of their prized television outfit ABS-CBN slipping out of their hands as Duterte vowed to block its franchise. Among many other things, Duterte has ranted about the supposed biased coverage of the network, as well as nonpayment of proper taxes.

While no one foresees the closure of ABS-CBN in the near-term, the prospect is high for the Lopezes to cede portions of the ownership of the network to other players, finally withdrawing its absolute hold of the company for decades.

Breaking up ownership and dividing it among small players are one of the key hallmarks of Duterte’s oligarch-busting campaign. This is rooted in the premise that giving so much control for one family can work against the interest of the public, especially if it involves a sector as important and as influential as the media. Concentration of power among the rich and powerful in this industry has been shown in the past to be unhealthy for democracy.

For the last three years that Duterte has been in power, this and all similar moves against oligarchic class has ushered the democratization of the corporate sphere in this country, and has raised hopes that the public has a reliable defender in Malacañang to look out for their interest.

Make no mistake: the public wants–and needs–this kind of leadership in the next three years, when we envision a Philippines that is at least relatively free from the grapple of oligarchic control. Beyond that, the electorate will ensure that the next Duterte would have their interest in his or her heart and mind.

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