MANILA - Experts on Tuesday questioned what President Rodrigo Duterte meant when he said he has “dismantled the oligarchy” in the Philippines without having to declare martial law.
"Without declaring martial law, sinira ko ‘yung mga tao na humahawak sa ekonomiya at umiipit at hindi nagbabayad," Duterte said in a speech in Jolo town, Sulu earlier Tuesday. He did not identify anyone.
Some believe he was referring to the ABS-CBN Corp., which was denied a new broadcast franchise by lawmakers, in a move seen as a fulfillment of his earlier threat against the network.
But Presidential spokesman Harry Roque claimed that Duterte was not referring to the Lopez family, the major shareholder of ABS-CBN, but to tycoons Lucio Tan, Manny Pangilinan, and the Ayala group. The President has accused the Ayalas and Pangilinan of allegedly taking advantage of water concession agreements with the government.
Calixto Chikiamco, president of the Foundation for Economic Freedom, however said that Duterte's statement was confusing, explaining that if the President was really referring to the Lopezes, there was no real reason for him to call the family as oligarchs.
"Wala namang pag-aabuso ang pinakita ng [Lopez family], 'di ba? Maskina sabi ng BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) nagbabayad sila ng taxes," he told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
Despite the accusations thrown by lawmakers opposing ABS-CBN's fresh franchise, multiple government agencies like the BIR and the Securities and Exchange Commission cleared ABS-CBN and the Lopez family of any wrongdoing during the House's franchise committee hearings on the network.
Citing claims that it was not the Lopez family whom Duterte was referring to, Chikiamco noted that the President's earlier apology to Ayala and Pangilinan made Roque's statement confusing.
"In fact, doon sa kay Manny Pangilinan at kay Jaime Zobel de Ayala, 'di ba nagpaumanhin siya (Duterte) later kasi sabi tumutulong naman daw dito sa laban sa COVID e, 'di ba? Hindi ko maintindihan 'yung sinasabi ni spokesman Harry Roque na 'yun ang tinutukoy nila," the economy reform advocate said.
Chikiamco lamented ABS-CBN's shutdown, saying the "disappointing" closure of the country's biggest media network was a warning to the Duterte administration's critics and opponents.
"Matatakot ang ibang tao to be on the wrong side politically. 'Yung accountability ng mga politiko natin male-lessen kasi that's one voice that has been silenced," he said.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple meanwhile said lawmakers who opposed the renewal of ABS-CBN's franchise should expect a backlash.
"Negative ang epekto niyan. Dahil ang pagkakilala sa kasalakuyang gobyerno ay anti...naglabas sila ng anti-oligarchy na position, pero wala namang ganun na malawakan na posisyon ang mga mamamayan. In fact...paborable sa ABS-CBN ang positioning," he said, citing a survey which found out that 3 out of 4 Filipinos want Congress to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise.
These politicians will be affected negatively in the 2022 national elections, Casiple added.
Opposition Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan earlier rejected claims that oligarchy is a national "problem" in the Philippines, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"COVID, gutom at kawalan ng trabaho ng milyun-milyon nating mga kababayan ang problema, hindi itong mga oligarchs, kuno," Pangilinan said in a statement.