Duterte’s rant prompts House ally to call to revive Lopez ‘tolerated’ loan investigation

Xave Gregorio (Philstar.com) – February 9, 2021 – 6:52 p.m.

Colleagues point out that committee hearing is already set

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s new tirade against the Lopez family and ABS-CBN TV channel prompted one of his allies in the House of Representatives to call on House leaders to relaunch the investigation into the loans from the Lopez group of companies that would have been tolerated by the state-run Philippine Development Bank.

This, even if the DBP already refused that he tolerated or canceled the bad loans of the Lopez group of companies in the early 2000s.

“What we do in Congress regarding this investigation will affect our reputation, integrity, duties and responsibilities,” Representative Michael Defensor (Anakalusugan party list) said in part Filipino during the House plenary session on Tuesday. “The good governance committee must continue the investigation until its final conclusion.”

But it turned out that he didn’t need to call for resumption of hearings, as the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability has already scheduled a hearing on the matter for February 17.

Representative Michael Aglipay (DIWA party list), chairman of the panel, said resource persons had only one month to put together the documents the committee had requested from them. The panel held a final hearing on January 18.

‘Out of order’

This prompted some lawmakers to point out that Defensor’s speech was out of order, as it concerned matters still under deliberation by a House committee.

“It is not fair that he is using his time here in plenary to discuss matters that need to be investigated in the Good Government Committee,” said Vice President Bernadette Herrera-Dy. (BH party list) partly in Filipino.

Vice President Lito Atienza (Buhay party list) supported this and joked partly in Filipino: “What is the right of Congressman Defensor to stand up and question what is going on in the committee? Have we changed our rules? “

Representative Kit Belmonte (Quezon City) then decided to delete recordings of portions of Defensor’s speech that referred to issues still under discussion by the panel.

“I guess he got carried away in dealing with issues that were already the subject of committee deliberation,” Belmonte said.

But Defensor opposed the motion, warning the chamber that deleting her speech would mean she “fights the president’s goal and intent.”

He eventually relented and allowed the House to strike parts of his speech after being told that only parts of his statement would be removed from the records.

The House of Representatives is dominated by Duterte’s allies but is part of a separate branch of government.

Duterte says, House does

Duterte once again used his weekly address on the government’s response to the pandemic to touch on an entirely different topic – this time the Lopezs and their ABS-CBN television network.

He claimed without giving further details that the Lopez had committed “criminal acts”, which he said included apologizing for loans by the DBP. He characterized the loans as unpaid taxes.

He pointed out that Congress opened an investigation into loan tolerance, but stopped when it came to the Lopez issue.

“So we have a problem there,” Duterte said in Filipino. “What I can do here is I think I’ll pass it on to the mediator. For me, the Mediator is the most independent body that can solve this problem. “

Duterte’s words carry weight in the House, where he has a qualified majority. His statements and policies, for example on ABS-CBN, were generally followed by the lower house.

Some lawmakers, including Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Vice President Vilma Santos Recto (Batangas), have tabled bills to give ABS-CBN a new franchise, but these stand a slim chance to pass given Duterte’s explicit rejection for the network to obtain a new license.

The House Legislative Committee on Franchises in July 2020 rejected ABS-CBN’s request for a new franchise, which was widely viewed as an attack on press freedom.

The shutdown has forced the network to lay off thousands of its workers as the country grapples with the pandemic that has caused an economic downturn and massive unemployment.

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