Some conclusions from President Rodrigo Duterte’s penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27, 2020:
• Despite being poorly delivered, one hour 40 minutes, and 8,000-word long, it is the best of the five SONAs of Duterte and one of the best of any Philippine president’s.
• Duterte is not done with the old-time oligarchs yet. He equates oligarchy with corruption. Corruption not in the traditional sense of bribery but using government franchises like broadcast to play politics and using concessions like telco, electricity and water to create profits and capital without investing so much, parlaying the subscriptions or fees paid by users to sustain the business.
The President hollered: “The oligarchy that exists in this country is the oligarchy that existed during the Spanish time. And the Spanish lands and the friar lands and all the benefits that were passed on to the Insulares who did not go back to Spain or to the Spaniards and into their… But that was long ago, it has been forgotten. This is the oligarchy that controls the Philippines by what? By taking control of the water and the electricity and power. Iyan ang oligarchy mo (Senator Frank) Drilon.” These words were applauded.
In his SONA, Duterte threatened the telco companies with expropriation and ask Congress for an enabling law. After all, television airwaves, telco rights, and power concessions belong to the government. You can always get back what you own, well, after the usual due process, which can be as expeditious as he desires, or prolonged and painfully slow, as the courts usually do it.
Duterte has already denied renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN Corp., the broadcast behemoth of the Lopez family. It seems the government machinery is not done with the Lopezes yet.
Some influential congressmen want to check into the Lopez family’s ownership of the ABS-CBN building and the land on which it stands, at Mother Ignacia Avenue. They think it was owned by JUSMAG (the joint US-Philippine military advisory group) which was turned over to the Philippine government which happily went into the possession of the Lopezes. During 12 hearings of Congress, ABS-CBN failed to produce original titles to the properties.
Only three oligarchs?
• Duterte seems to think there are only three oligarchs in the Philippines—the Lopezes, the Ayalas, and Manuel V. Pangilinan, the top honcho of the Hong Kong-based First Pacific Group of Indonesia which in turn controls PLDT, Smart, Maynilad Water, tollways concessions north and south of Manila, and properties.
The Ayala family and MVP Group own two major concessions—telco and water.
• Duterte has given Ayala’s Globe Telecom and MVP’s Smart to improve their service substantially by Christmas 2020, for two reasons: One, he wants to greet Jesus happy birthday on Dec. 25, and two, he wants cheaper and faster telephone service as his Christmas gift to the Filipino people.
Additionally, the President wants cheaper electricity rates, as part of his Yuletide gift package to the people.
Impact of pandemic
With the pandemic, the economy has collapsed, resulting in massive joblessness, massive hunger, massive poverty, and massive misery.
How do you make people merry then? Give them cheap, fast and reliable utilities—telco, water, and power. These three utilities, if you think about it, could burn as much as 60% of an average household’s expenses.
About 70% of the people are locked up in their houses—jobless, hungry, poor, and bored.
The poor people need water for hygiene and drinking water. That is the best way to fight COVID—through water—wash your hands, clean your body, drink lots of it.
The rule of telco and power
during a pandemic
Now as to cheap, fast, and or/reliable telco and electricity: It has something to do with entertainment.
When people are suffering, give them entertainment. That was the role of ABS-CBN. Without ABS-CBN, there is telco to turn to—it is an immense medium for entertainment—texts, photos, videos, movies, and tsismis (remember, PNP said they will tap tsismosas for contact tracing).
Coincidentally, using telco and electricity is the best way to economic recovery—thru computers, wifi, online business, digitalization, the Internet of Things. But with expensive, slow and bad telco service, you cannot achieve recovery fast enough.
Doing things at home means you don’t need to physically go out, take mass transport and queue endlessly at pay stations of public utilities—telco, electricity, and water. If you ask me, their service could be bad. They can be overzealous in enforcing collection, for bills that are not even due yet.
• The three oligarchic families—Lopez, Ayala, and MVP—can do a lot to burnish the image of Duterte as president. The pandemic has proved that his administration has many shortcomings and it has had its share of the incompetent, the corrupt, and the abusive, most of whom he coddles.
Also, Duterte has a growing dynasty and his own share of oligarchs.
• Duterte delivering cheap and reliable wireless telephone, water, and power ensures that his popularity ratings remain in high double digits.
Duterte seems bent on creating larger and larger bureaucracy. There will be a new cabinet department for OFWs and another for pandemic management. There will even be an authority to manage Boracay.
That is one lesson of pandemic management—create layers of bureaucracy by naming so many czars. The idea is to cut up responsibility and spread the blame.
— Tony Lopez