MANILA - Udenna Corp president Raymundo Escalona became emotional on Thursday as he faced members of the business community and the media to answer accusations thrown at the firm and its officials, especially Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy.
“You know Filipinos, sometimes, when they hear something negative in the press…The saying ‘if there’s smoke, there’s fire’ - it's really unfair,” Escalona said.
The Udenna official also denied allegations that Uy, who was one of the biggest contributors to President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2016 campaign, was a crony of the President.
Since Duterte’s rise to power, Uy’s business empire has grown at a breakneck pace, catapulting him to the ranks of the richest men in the country. The meteoric growth of Uy’s empire sparked accusations that he receives preferential treatment from the state.
Recently, Uy partnered with China Telecom to set up the country's third major telco DITO Telecommunity, in a direct challenge to PLDT and Globe Telecom.
A recent acquisition is the Malampaya gas field project, which is now being probed in the Senate.
Udenna, through its subsidiaries, acquired 90 percent of Malampaya after buying the shares of Chevron and Shell. This sparked complaints from private parties and a Senate investigation.
Udenna however has maintained that the deal is legal and above board.
Escalona said Uy does not deny having close ties with the President and former Davao City Mayor.
But Uy is "not political", Escalona said, and proof of this is that the Davao tycoon hired him despite being in the camp of Senator Grace Poe in 2016.
"If Dennis (Uy) is truly a political person, ask yourself… Dennis knows I’m critical about, with all due respect with the Duterte administration, would you even think he would consider me joining the group? One having to have a major role in the Udenna conglomerate?" he said.
"If that’s a person who is political, why would he consider me to join, and yet he did because Dennis is also a dedicated professional," he added.
But how did Uy's empire grow explosively in the last 5 years?
Escalona said it was because of the businessman's sheer belief in President Duterte.
“He said ‘I know the Mayor and I know his sincerity and I believe in my heart that the economy will improve in the next 6 years. Now is the time that we should take a gamble and explore doing other businesses.’”
The Udenna official added that if Uy was getting special favors from the government, the company would have secured private-public partnership deals.
“If Dennis is indeed one that will get favors in government, don’t you think it easy to get the approval of PPPs, which will certainly merit more cash flow for the group? We never got approval,” he added.
Like other conglomerates, Uy's firms are subject to government scrutiny, sometimes even stricter reviews than other companies, Escalona said.
He pointed to DITO's technical audits, which stipulate that the telco’s license can be revoked if it doesn’t meet its commitments.
Globe Telecom and PLDT were never subjected to similar technical audits, he said.
Like other large firms, Udenna is also having financial problems because of the pandemic, Escalona said. This is aggravated by controversies such as the allegations against the Malampaya deal.
“It’s already affecting my and the group’s ability to be able to financially close pending transactions,” he added.
He said these accusations could be attacks on those who are close to the administration like Uy.
Escalona said the public should give Udenna and Uy the benefit of the doubt and study the facts before making accusations.
Uy has not released a statement on the matter.
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