Dinner with Duterte
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - April 8, 2019 - 12:00am

Hump day last week for some of the country’s business tycoons was spent at a dinner with President Duterte inside the glittering Malacañang Palace.

It’s been a while since the President met with the tycoons. The last time was two years ago, said a source who was in both meetings. But now seemed timely amid pressing issues such as the yellow alert in the Luzon grid, the recent water supply crunch in the east zone area and our never-ending airport woes.

Water, agriculture and airport

True enough, the President discussed the recent water problem, among many other issues, my sources said.

The President reportedly wants some changes in the existing water concession agreements, saying that some provisions are disadvantageous to the government. I’m not sure if changes can happen at this time though given that these agreements have long been signed and are already being implemented.

If a review does happen for future contracts, I hope this would be beneficial to consumers.

It’s not clear to me which specific provisions were discussed.

But of the two water companies in Metro Manila, only the west zone water concessionaire, Maynilad Water Services Inc. was represented during the meeting and by its chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan, no less.

The Zobel brothers Jaime Augusto or JAZA, and Fernando, who are at the helm of east zone water concessionaire Manila Water did not make it to the dinner.

When I asked JAZA about this, he said they were hosting some guests from Myanmar, which had been arranged months before.

“Fernando and I were hosting a whole CEO and board team from Myanmar that was set up months before as we want to invest in their company. I advised Joey Concepcion about it weeks ahead. Unfortunately, the dinner got set close to the date. We’ll have to wait for the next one. Nothing more than that,” he said.

Aside from water, there were also discussions on agriculture, irrigation and what more can be done to help improve productivity of the country’s farmers, sources said.

There were also discussions on the different airport projects, which I believe should really be the priority of both the government and the private sector given the sorry state of our gateways especially the congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Some of the country’s airport players were in the meeting including erstwhile bitter rivals Megawide and Filinvest Development Corp. which both vied for the redevelopment of the Mactan Cebu International Airport some years ago.

Megawide chairman Edgar Saavedra and Filinvest Development president and CEO Josephine Gotianun-Yap were both at the dinner, seated in the same row just three seats apart.

The seven conglomerates which have proposed to rehabilitate NAIA were also represented although sources were mum on whether or not there were specific solutions on how to resolve an apparent impasse between the NAIA consortium and the government.

Good mood

Overall, the meeting, which my sources said was arranged by the indefatigable Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, went well. I am sure PA Joey will give a detailed firsthand account of what happened in the meeting in his column soon.

I heard though that the President did express his frustration over rampant corruption in the country and said he would soon remove another official from his Cabinet because of corruption.

“The President emphasized his strong drive against corruption in government and anti-illegal drugs to create peace and to have a safer country to attract more investments. He is removing one more official soon, he said, due to corruption,” Trade Secretary Mon Lopez told me.

There were also a lot of discussions on how to improve the business environment and the need to create more economic zones.

The President, said a source, wants an environment that is conducive for businessmen because they help create jobs for Filipinos.

This year’s billionaires’ dinner with the President was like a Forbes’ list of sorts – there were billionaires who joined the occasion for the first time while others were noticeably absent. Fortunately for those who couldn’t join last week’s tete-a-tete, there would be other times. I’m told the President wants to meet with them more often, even over coffee.

Among those who joined the meeting were Udenna Group chairman Dennis Uy, International Container Terminal Services Inc.’s Christian Gonzalez, Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. president Henry Lim Bon Liong, SM Prime Holdings director Hans Sy, Filinvest’s Josephine Gotianun-Yap, Robinsons Retail Holdings Inc. president and CEO Robina Gokongwei-Pe, Aboitiz Equity Ventures COO Sabin Aboitiz, Megawide Construction Corp. chairman and CEO Edgar Saavedra, PLDT chairman and CEO Manny Pangilinan, GT Capital vice chairman Alfred Ty and LT Group Inc. president and COO Michael Tan.

Initially, sources said, some tycoons were jittery. They were perhaps anticipating some trademark tongue-lashing from the President but none of that happened.

As one source said in jest, “good mood naman si Boss.”

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales.

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