By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor
The losses inflicted by President Rodrigo Duterte on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) are in the billions of pesos but his verbal attacks and threats continue unabated.
Last week, Duterte’s threat to have Fernando Zobel de Ayala and Manuel Pangilinan (MVP) arrested in the dead of night much the same way that the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos arrested a number of businessmen when martial law was declared in 1973 took a further toll on the PSE.
The PSE index slid by 2.2 percent, or 169.98 points to 7,552.60. The market reacted to the President’s reiterating his threat to take over the Ayala-owned Manila Water Co. and MVP’s Maynilad Water Services.
The previous week, shares of Ayala stock dropped by seven percent, which analysts blamed on the non-stop verbal attacks by the President. While the President has singled out Fernando, he is actually co-CEO of the various Ayala companies with his elder brother Jaime Augusto.
Last December, the PSE said that loses in total share value had hit PHP127 billion (about US$2.54 billion) due mostly to Duterte.
Among others, the President said several times that he wanted to see “billionaires in jail,” which he repeated last week.
Duterte has turned a deaf ear to warnings from various quarters that his comments were placing the local bourse at risk.
While MVP became a billionaire in recent decades and is believed to represent the Salim Group of Indonesia, the Ayalas have been doing business in the country for more than a century and is considered the oldest conglomerate in the Philippines.
Duterte’s verbal abuse of the Ayalas and MVP began in the last quarter of 2019 after the government lost in a case filed by Manila Water before a Singapore court. The government was told to pay Manila Water and Maynilad some PHP10 billion (about US$200 million) in damages.
While the Ayalas and MVP agreed to forego the payment, Duterte continued his abuse of the heads of the two business groups.
Duterte has also attacked the Lopez family, owners of ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest broadcast network. Significantly, the then patriarch of the Lopezes was among the first to be arrested when Marcos declared martial law.
The President said he would block the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise and he advised the Lopezes to just sell their network.
Duterte tried to explain his anger at the business titans for different reasons.
He said the Lopezes accepted payment for his ads when he was running for president but never aired those ads.
(Between the century-old Ayala companies and the more recent MVP companies is the Lopez group, which first entered the broadcast industry in the 1950s.)
As for the Ayalas and MVP, the President said that constant complaints regarding water service in Metro Manila led him to look at the contracts the two groups had with the government.
Duterte said they were guilty of “economic sabotage” for overcharging Metro Manila consumers. He has also threatened to end their franchise and even have the Armed Forces take control of the two water concession areas.
More recently, he ordered the Justice department to review the contract signed by Manila Water and Maynilad with the government’s Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System.
The three business groups have taken different approaches in their face-off with Duterte.
The Ayalas have not spoken out in public, while MVP said Maynilad was not for sale. As for ABS-CBN, the Lopezes have let their known talents speak out in their behalf. An assorted group of celebrities have pleaded with the government to allow the TV-radio network to continue operating, as to block their franchise will result in some 10,000 employees and contractual talents losing their jobs.