Duterte’s billionaire friends
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2020 - 12:00am

He may be bashing the country’s so-called oligarchs at every turn, but in real life, President Duterte does not intrinsically hate the rich.

It seems he just disdains those from imperial Manila – especially Ivy League-educated, cigar-smoking aristocrats who can’t speak straight Filipino – or at least that’s how the narrative goes these days.

In contrast, President Duterte is fond of his rich friends in the Philippines’ D.C. – Davao City – and those from the rest of Mindanao and the Visayas.

Last week, for instance, the President happily graced the 86th birthday of transport magnate Olivia V. Yanson – billionaire matriarch of the warring Yanson family – at L’ Fisher Hotel in Bacolod City. Popularly known as OVY, Yanson is the widow of the late Ricardo Yanson Sr., founder of Vallacar Transit Inc. (VTI), the country’s largest bus company.

In his message during the party, Duterte acknowledged the support of OVY and the entire Yanson clan to his administration, particularly in the 2016 presidential election.

‘Utang na loob’

“They allowed me to talk to their employees then. Kaming mga Bisaya, malaking bagay ang utang na loob. Malaki ang utang na loob ko kay OVY (For us Visayans, ‘debt of gratitude’ is most important. I owe a huge ‘debt of gratitude’ to OVY)”, the President said.

During the party, which reportedly lasted until 4 a.m. the next day, Duterte being Duterte belted out “Ikaw” and other songs he personally dedicated to OVY.

Other VIP guests at the event were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo and Senators Bong Go, Cynthia Villar and Imee Marcos.

The celebrant

The center of attention during the party, of course, was OVY, who was overjoyed by Duterte’s presence.

As many know by now, OVY is the mother of six warring Yanson siblings caught in the midst of an ongoing intra-corporate war. Two opposing camps are battling for control over the management of the family-owned Yanson Group of Bus Companies, the country’s largest bus firm operating across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Vallacar Transit is the biggest company under the Yanson Group which operates more than 4,000 buses nationwide, employs 18,000 workers, and serves 700,000 passengers daily.

Opening for reconciliation?

For the first time since the siblings’ bitter war broke out last year, a window of reconciliation seemed to have opened.

During OVY’s birthday celebration, the Yanson matriarch said her birthday wish is for the intra-corporate dispute to be resolved soon.

She appealed to her children to set aside their differences for the benefit of Ceres and Sugbo bus passengers across the country.

Even President Duterte shares OVY’s wish. Presidential spokesman Sal Panelo said the President told OVY about his wish that her family would reconcile on her birthday.

And why not? Given the bus company’s strategic importance in transporting goods and people across the country, it’s not surprising for the President to be keenly interested in the company’s stability.

With his persuasive powers, it’s not even far fetched for Duterte to broker peace among the warring Yanson siblings. After all, the smooth operation of the transport firm is in the country’s best interest.

But will the warring factions within the Yanson family accept the olive branch and end their bitter feud? That’s something everyone, including OVY, President Duterte and thousands of workers, are hoping for.

ABS-CBN’s fate

Speaking of billionaires, I heard that some of the country’s richest tycoons – both from imperial Manila and non-Manilenos – are quietly waiting in the wings in case the Lopez Group sells ABS-CBN.

Even those who are not in the business of media affairs or showbiz are suddenly eager to buy the beleaguered network should the Lopez family decide to sell. People close to The Palace believe that the network’s franchise would be renewed if the Lopezes will give up ownership.

But that would be absurd. I’m still hoping that Congress would approve the Lopez-owned network’s franchise renewal.

There are tens of thousands of jobs that are at stake. Between 10,000 and 11,000 people will immediately lose their jobs if the franchise is not renewed, said the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines.

As I said before, ABS-CBN is not perfect. With its nonsense soap operas and slapstick jokes in its variety shows,  it is partly to blame why the masses do not think critically and why they are easily lured into voting people into public office  even if their only track record is to be a heroic vigilante leader in Ang Probinsyano.

But I stand with the network because press freedom in the country is clearly at stake here. I would rather call on them to improve their shows rather than see them off the air.

I have added my signature to an online campaign at Change.org calling for ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. I hope we all do.

I hope we all realize that a free press is necessary for democracy to flourish in the country and that threats against the press are also threats to our individual civil liberties.

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

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