Standing with MVP, the Ayalas, and Lopezes

Most of my professional life, as an environmental activist and public interest lawyer and as a former senior government official,  I had clashed with many business and corporate interests.  It comes with the territory as I usually represent other interests – indigenous peoples, local communities, and the general public, and my priorities – environmental sustainability and social justice – would be different from my business and corporate colleagues. So through the years, I have fought with mining and logging companies, opposed coal-fired power plants and destructive reclamation projects, pushed for consumer rights and fair competition, etc.

Still in more than three decades of attacking and being attacked business and corporate interests, I have never made it personal. I have resisted being judgmental and has always sought ways to change the minds of my counterparts. I have also tried to listen to them and learn as much as possible from business and corporate colleagues while avoiding being coopted and be an accomplice in greenwashing.

And so while I may have differences sometimes in the business decisions that Manny Pangilinan, the Ayalas, and the Lopezes make, I stand with them on the vitriol and abuse that is being inflicted on them by President Duterte. It might not be the popular thing but it is the right thing to do.

I did the same thing when Bobby Ongpin was targeted at the beginning of the Duterte presidency. I wish the business community also stood with Ongpin in those early days as that was clearly a preview of the things to come.

While I will not claim any close working or personal relationship with them, I have engaged enough with MVP, JAZA, the Lopezes, and their executives to make a definitive judgment that they are good people and that they love this country, care for the poor, and is willing to take responsibility for the environment. This conclusion is based on having engaged with all of them on many of  their philanthropic and corporate social responsibility initiatives. Occasionally, I have also been asked to give input on sustainability issues these companies face. There is no doubt in my mind that they mean well and are motivated to do the right thing. While the notion of oligarchs still prevails, I can say for sure that Pangilinan and the Ayalas and Lopezes I know are not oligarchs but patriots of the highest degree.

This is not to excuse situations of business excesses and regulatory capture that must be corrected not just by the government but also by the business community. In fact, it is such excesses and regulatory capture that actually makes business vulnerable to Presidents like Duterte.

The water contacts for example do need correction. I have said so myself in my writings. I had reviewed as a government official these contracts in 1997 and saw clearly that the environmental and sanitation provisions were terrible as it allowed the companies to escape from these responsibilities. I was not in a position to change those terms at that time. They were sent to my office the day before the signing as my boss, then Environment Secretary Victor Ramos, was going to sign it as  a witness. The justification given for the disregard of the environment was the costs, which I thought was not acceptable. In any case, we had the chance to correct that when the Supreme Court ordered the clean-up of Manila Bay n 2008 but again the water companies resisted.

It took a Supreme Court decision last year once again to resolve the sanitartion issue in Maynilad vs DENR by introducing the public trust doctrine to make the water companies realize that water is a natural resource and not a contractual matter and that putting in place sanitation facilities quickly is an overriding concern that must outweigh all other considerations so the obstacles are overcome.

My misgivings notwithstanding about the water contracts, there is a way to correct them without resorting to bullying and threatening MVP and the Ayalas with syndicated estafa. I can say for sure as someone who once taught criminal law that there is no factual and legal basis for such an accusation. I was the government that drafted and approved the contracts, and in the case of MVP and Metro Pacific and its partners, they were not even involved at that time. This is nothing but a shakedown to coerce concessions from the Ayalas and MVPs for whatever reason. We will have to see if the fear this is being done to favor cronies will materialize.

As for ABSCBN, this is clearly also not right and an abuse of power for Congress and the executive branch to refuse without due process – which requires hearing of evidence and due consideration – the renewal of its broadcast franchise. Yes, franchises are a right and not a privilege but the Congress and the executive branch does not have absolute discretion on the matter as that would be an abuse of power.

What we need in this country is for the business community to push back on this abuse of power. This is rehash of the Marcos playbook in 1972. Do we really have to wait for a change of administration to combat such abuse?

Hopefully, the business community can also be enlisted against the crime  against humanity being committed against the poor in the war against illegal drugs. And since I am on this issue of rule of law, perhaps they can also be courageous in speaking out against the illegal detention of Senator Leila De Lima and against the massive displacement of indigenous peoples and the urban poor because of Build Build Build. Because we allowed this government to go after and disregard the rights of Ongpin, De Lima, Trillanes, poor addicts and their families, environmental and human rights defenders,  social activists, the Aetas in Clark, the Dumagat in Kaliwa River, and the Lumad in Mindanao, there is no one left to protest when business leaders are threated and bullied.

I stand with MVP,, the Ayalas, the Lopezes, and the business community. I hope they too will stand with others whose rights have also been and will be disregarded under this administration.

We do not need rule by law but the rule of law. The former benefits only the rulers while the latter favors all.

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