Standing with MVP, the Ayalas, and Lopezes
"The business community should push back against this abuse of power."For most of my professional life, as an environmental activist and public interest lawyer and as a former senior government official, I have 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. My priorities—environmental sustainability and social justice—would be different from those of 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 by business and corporate interests, I have never made the fight personal. I have resisted being judgmental and have 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 co-opted and being 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 Rodrigo 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 are 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 the 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 make business vulnerable to presidents like Duterte. The water contracts, for example, do need correction. I have said so myself in my writings. I reviewed these contracts in 1997 when I was a government official 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 in 2008. Again, the water companies resisted. It took a Supreme Court decision last year once again to resolve the sanitation 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.
No related stories matched this topic.