SONA 2020: Duterte hits Drilon for defending Lopezes amid ABS-CBN shutdown

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 27)— President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday took a swipe at Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon for defending the embattled Lopez family following the shutdown of media giant ABS-CBN.

At the beginning of his fifth State of the Nation Address at the Batasang Pambansa, Duterte called out parties supposedly taking advantage of a “preoccupied government” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, naming Drilon in the process.

“It is sad that while government focuses its attention, resources to battle the coronavirus, there are those who take advantage of a preoccupied government,” Duterte said in the first part of his address.

“One of them is Senator Frank Drilon. In an interview, he arrogantly mentioned among others that oligarchs need not be rich. Then he linked the anti-dynasty system with oligarchy, and the topic was my daughter and son… Obviously, he was defending the Lopezes, that they are not oligarchs,” he added.

The Lopezes are majority owners of the publicly-listed media company.

Drilon earlier called for the passage of an anti-dynasty law, noting that political dynasties have allowed oligarchs to thrive.

The President, however, hurled strong words against the senator.

‘You are a hypocrite. You know that you cannot pass an anti-dynasty law. Ikaw nandiyan sa Congress, ikaw mauna (you’re the one who’s in Congress). But to take it against me for protecting my country is something which I really resent,” Duterte said.

Apart from the ABS-CBN issue, the President also questioned Drilon’s supposed ties with the ACCRA law firm when the government’s water contract with the Ayalas was being drafted.

Defending press freedom, not the Lopezes

In response, Drilon clarified the reasons for his actions.

“I was defending freedom of the press, not the Lopezes. The closure of the ABS-CBN sent a chilling effect,” Drilon said in a statement.

“I aired my support for the renewal of franchise of ABS-CBN because undeniably the network complements other stations in providing timely and accurate reportage even in the farthest locality unreachable to others, even to the government… I was defending the 11,000 people and their families who would lose jobs amid the pandemic, not the Lopezes,” he said.

Drilon’s colleague Sen. Richard Gordon echoed the Senate minority leader’s statement that he is arguing on the issue of press freedom in his critique of the government’s action towards the non-renewal of ABS-CBN franchise.

“The President took it personal. The President should know better than that,” Gordon told CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon on Monday.

A number of ABS-CBN workers are set to be laid off by August 31 after the network failed to obtain a fresh congressional franchise. The media company did not say how many employees will be affected, but noted they will be given separation pay and retirement benefits.

Duterte a ‘casualty’ of Lopezes?

Aside from Drilon, Duterte also called out the Lopez family.

He said he was a “casualty” of the Lopez influence in the 2016 election.

“Media is a powerful tool in the hands of oligarchs like the Lopezes who use their media outlets in their battles with political figures,” Duterte said.

Duterte in previous speeches has repeatedly slammed ABS-CBN— his remarks reportedly stemming from the network's alleged failure to run his campaign advertisements during the 2016 elections.

The chief executive has since accepted the company’s apology.

Reforming the old and new oligarchy

Political expert Julio Teehankee emphasized that all kinds of oligarchs, whether old like the Lopezes or the new ones, should be targeted by the government fairly.

“If you start targeting one or two big corporations and precisely if you concentrate all your political resource to bringing down the biggest broadcasting corporation in the Philippines and then you ignore the other corporations that have similarly transgressed rules and regulations then that is not actually a reform of the oligarchy. That is simply partisan politics,” Teehankee said.

Teehankee reiterated that it was Duterte’s campaign promise to dismantle the oligarchy, but noted that new oligarchs are rising under his administration.

“If you look at the fortune list of billionaires, the Lopezes are not even part of that,” he added.

The political analyst said the Duterte administration’s handling of oligarchs may also affect investor confidence to those who want to put businesses in the country.