FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

The daughter also rises.

The latest Pulse Asia voter preference survey confirms what was detected since late last year. Sara Duterte has emerged as the leading contender for the office her father now holds – and by an impressive margin.

This confirmation will shape how alliances will form and how other candidacies will be built in the two months before the filing deadline. The voter preference trend is not likely to dissipate.

Five national political parties, seeing how the wind is blowing, have invested in alliances with Sara’s local party, the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP). For most veteran political players, a Sara candidacy is a given. Even the leading lights of the faction-ridden PDP-Laban concede to that.

The turning point towards an inevitable Sara candidacy happened long before. Her proficiency as a political player caught national attention when she cobbled together a broad coalition to oust the ill-starred Pantaleon Alvarez from the Speakership. That event signaled the end of Alvarez’s career in national politics and the beginning of Sara’s.

President Rodrigo Duterte, at least in his public utterances, tries to discourage his daughter from entering the political ring. It is a ruthless arena, he says, citing experience. But that is not likely to influence his fiercely independent daughter.

Sara grew in her father’s shadow. But she is not his shadow. She benefits from his name but has gone out to build her own constituencies. Genes do matter. Sara is as stubborn as her father.

When the elder Duterte considered a run for the presidency in 2015, Sara opposed the idea. She shaved her head to underscore her opposition. When the father ran anyway, Sara supported him with passion. It is probably Rodrigo’s turn to shave his head.

Sara is the outcome of a confluence of factors. She benefits from her father’s popularity. But she has also stayed away from the powerbrokers in his party. Instead, she cultivated friendships with local executives, especially women executives. This is the rising tide that lifts her boat.

Local governments, set to inherit a larger share of the budget because of the Mandanas ruling, are the new seats of power. The balance of power has shifted. Sara is invested in the future.

There is a riddle the anti-Duterte groups need to sort out. The more inevitable Sara becomes, the smaller the role Rodrigo plays in shaping the political outcomes. If he is reduced to lame duck status, credit his daughter for that. Without much effort, Sara has emerged a new political star with its own gravitational pull.

As this becomes evident, it will be more difficult to sell the narrative she is “just another Duterte.”


Sen. Sherwin Garchalian has raised concerns about two companies affiliated with Udenna Corporation acquiring about 90 percent of the Malampaya gas operation. These two companies are Malampaya Energy and UC Malampaya Philippines.

The natural gas extracted from the Malampaya field is a vital resource. It accounts for about 40 percent of power in the Luzon grid. The original gas field, however, will be depleted in a few years unless new exploration and new wells are done.

At a recent hearing of the Senate energy committee, Gatchalian grilled energy officials about Udenna’s take-out of the shares of Chevron and Shell. He wondered how it was possible that the company instrumental in the takeover was registered in Singapore with only $100 in paid up capital.

Gatchalian, coming from a business family, should have known that paid-up capital and actual corporate working capital are two very different things. In a public statement, Malampaya Energy pointed out shareholders of the company had advanced P750 million. In addition, both Chevron and Shell had over P10 billion in their bank balances when they were acquired.

On top of that, Malampaya Energy enjoys corporate guarantees from the Udenna Corporation, the mother company, in the event more funds are needed to support exploration and drilling activities.

Gatchalian worries that the acquisition by a local company of the shares of the two multinational oil giants might be a “lost opportunity” for the country. Malampaya Energy begs to disagree.

On the contrary, the acquisition by a local company means the investment decisions regarding gas and oil exploration will be guided by the nation’s energy needs and not by the imperatives of the huge portfolio of investments managed by the multinational firms. For instance, Shell’s and Chevron’s disposal of their Malampaya shares were decisions taken at the headquarters of the two multinational companies, obviously dictated by more profitable options elsewhere.

If Gatchalian is worried by the potential loss of expertise with the departure of the two multinational corporations, Malampaya Energy offers some comfort. The new Filipino owners announced they have retained the full complement of Shell. This includes expertise in drawing natural gas as well as the expertise required to explore for new deposits.

The new Filipino owners commit to continuing operation of the wells. The change in ownership will not mean disruption in the vital supply we need to keep our economy energized. Handover of the facilities is planned for November 2021.

Malampaya Energy promises an “exciting new era for the future growth of energy supply in the Philippines.” We all hope so. Meeting the country’s energy needs down the road requires massive investment in such sources of natural gas on which our power generating plants depend.

It is not short-term disruption that should worry us. It is the long-term availability of natural gas supply.

It is right to keep closely observing this change in ownership. We cannot afford to gamble with our energy security.

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