The Ayalas and Manny V. Pangilinan may have been saved by a bullet, or more accurately, by a pandemic.
According to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, a criminal complaint against the Ayala family and Pangilinan was ready to be filed upon the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte when the coronavirus outbreak happened.
The outpouring of donations and assistance by Ayala Corporation and Pangilinan’s companies to the government’s pandemic response then convinced Duterte to drop it.
Roque, during a press briefing on Thursday, July 16, even said he was the lawyer tapped by the President to build the case and file it.
“Tinalaga po niya ako para magsampa ng kasong kriminal. At hindi lang po ‘yan pagtatalaga, ginawa ko na po ang kasong kriminal laban sa mga Ayalas at kay MVP,” said Roque.
(He ordered me to file a criminal case. It didn’t stop with an order. I really did make a criminal case against the Ayalas and MVP.)
This order was given around the time Duterte publicly threatened to slap the Ayalas and Pangilinan in December 2019. He had then accused water firms owned or partly owned by the businessmen of taking advantage of Filipino consumers through “onerous” contracts with the government.
“I had all the documents from different agencies. We had complete documents. We drafted, we were ready to file,” Roque said in Filipino.
But the effort reached a standstill when the Philippines found itself in the middle of a quickly escalating coronavirus pandemic in February.
In the weeks that followed, many large private companies began helping the government by purchasing rapid test kits, building mega testing centers and isolation facilities, and donating personal protective equipment and masks for frontliners.
In a rare show of humility, Duterte asked the Ayalas and Pangilinan to forgive him for his “hurting words” and promised to “be nice.”
In Roque’s tally, Pangilinan’s companies donated P6.5 billion in assistance and paid taxes and concession fees before they were due. In total, they gave the government a total of P20 billion, said the spokesman.
The Ayala Group, meanwhile, provided some P9.5 billion worth of assistance, according to Roque.
Despite Duterte’s newfound goodwill for the Ayalas and Pangilinan, Roque said they were still “not excused” and would still have to agree to new water concession deals with the government.
The President has repeatedly accused the Ayala-led Manila Water and Pangilinan’s Maynilad Water Services of taking advantage of “onerous” contracts with the government. He instructed the justice department to draft new contracts which the companies would have to accept if they wanted to continue running the water firms.
Duterte’s threats were spurred by his displeasure over Manila Water’s victory over the government in an arbitration court in Singapore.
The decision required the Duterte administration to pay Manila Water P7.39 billion for company losses arising from the Philippine government’s refusal to allow the water firm to raise its fees from 2015 to 2017.
As recently as Monday, July 13, Duterte included the Ayalas and Pangilinan in the “oligarchy” whom he said he was glad to “destroy” without resorting to martial law. (READ: Look back: Duterte’s tussle with big business) – Rappler.com