House to resume probe on DBP loans to Lopezes after Duterte speech

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 09 2021 07:40 PM

MANILA — A House of Representatives panel will resume next week its investigation into loans given to the Lopez Group of Companies from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), a lawmaker said Tuesday. 

This, after President Rodrigo Duterte again lashed out on Lopez-owned ABS-CBN Corp. in a speech Monday, saying he won't allow ABS-CBN to resume broadcast operations even if Congress grants it a fresh franchise until the Lopez-owned company settles its obligations to the government.

The company's main broadcast business has been shut since May last year, and a House panel denied its franchise renewal bid in July.

Tension was palpable at the chamber when Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Mike Defensor, who was among those who voted to reject a new franchise for the network, seized upon Duterte’s speech and addressed the House plenary to question loans provided by state-owned DBP to the Lopezes, noting the House leadership’s failure to act on it. 

The lawmaker said the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) had flagged the Lopez Group’s loans, citing documents that those were supposedly condoned by the DBP, despite the latter denying this

“Doon po sa aming pag-uusap sinabi ng BSP na 'yung mga loan na ito ay walang elegibility, 'yun po ang nauna. Ang pangalawa po sinabi po nila ay walang mga dokumento at nawawala na daw, ang hindi alam ng DBP eh meron po tayong hawak na dokumento dahil ang isyu po na ito ay lumabas na isang dekadang nakaraan,” he explained. 

(During a conversation, BSP said these loans do not have eligibility. Secondly, they said that the documents are missing and the DBP doesn’t know where they are but we have documents to prove it, even if this happened a decade ago.)

During a congressional hearing last month, the DBP denied allegations that it had condoned or written off loans of the Lopez Group.

DBP president Emmanuel Herbosa said there was nothing irregular in the bank's disposal of the non-performing loans (NPLs) and non-performing assets (NPAs) by the companies belonging then to the Lopez Group. 

The Lopez Holdings Corp. had said it did not have "any unpaid obligations to the Development Bank of the Philippines or other government financial institutions."

"All debt papers, including those sold by DBP to the SPV (special purpose vehicle) were eventually settled by the company," the company said.

The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability Chairman Diwa Party-list Rep. Mike Aglipay, who is handling the investigation on DBP’s loans, meanwhile said that the hearing would resume on Feb. 17. 

Aglipay also explained that House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco ordered him to resume the inquiry sooner than the one-month allowance he gave to all parties to produce their evidence regarding the matter, but that he objected to this. 

“Ang instruction niya na tayo maski hindi pa Feb. 18 mag-hearing na. ‘Yung utos po na 'yun Feb. 3, sabi ko Speaker kailangan po kahit konting oras mabigyan natin kasi 15 years ago pa po ‘tong mga papeles na ito so napagkasunduan po namin Feb. 3 and na-instructionan ko po ang ComSec (Committee Secretary) na i-prepare ang hearing sa Feb. 17, 'yun po ang napagkasunduan ng lahat,” he said. 

(He instructed me on Feb. 3 to conduct the hearing even if it’s not Feb. 18. But I told the Speaker we need more time because those documents were from 15 years ago. I instructed the ComSec to prepare the hearing on Feb. 17 because everyone already agreed on that.)

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LAWMAKERS SLAM DEFENSOR 

Deputy Speaker Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera told Defensor that she wanted him to comply with the House rule barring plenary deliberations of matters still pending before a committee.

Herrera said the lawmaker should not have used the floor to discuss the topic because it was already at the committee for deliberation. 

“Hindi po tama na he is using the time here in plenary to discuss things that are up for investigation at the Committee on Good Government kaya ko po siya tinitingnan para pigilan po siya dahil hindi po tama na dini-discuss natin ang bagay na ito, ang subject matter na ito,” Herrera said. 

(It's not right that he is using the time here in plenary to discuss things that are up for investigation at the Committee on Good Government, that's why I was looking at him to stop him because it is not right to discuss to the plenary these things.)

“He gave us his assurance earlier that he will not violate the rules of this floor of the plenary para hindi po magkaroon ng due advantage doon sa kaniyang posisyon (so that he won’t have a due advantage in his position)” she added. 

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Deputy Speaker Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza also assailed the propriety of Defensor’s statements, describing his "crusade" against ABS-CBN and the Lopezes as something personal. 

“That issue is not my concern and I'd like to be dissociated from his position and I'm questioning his citing collective privilege. This issue is very personal one for him,” Atienza said. 

“Buti pa sinabi niya personal privilege and I will respect that pero collective I do not [feel] belonging to what he's citing here he’s citing again his personal crusade against the ABS and the Lopez companies,” he added. 

(He should have said that this was his personal privilege.)

Deputy Minority Leader Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte then moved to strike Defensor’s comments off the plenary records because he was “carried away.” 

“I’m sure it was unintended by the Honorable Defensor to get carried away that far and cause these reactions,” said Belmonte. 

Deputy Majority Leader Sharky Palma, who was managing the floor, joined Belmonte’s motion to strike Defensor’s comments. 

Palma would later on explain that they were not striking out everything Defensor said, just the parts already covered by the pending investigation. 

“I would like to assure the good gentleman that we are moving that. What we moved for the striking out of the statements are those statements that pertains only to the subject matter that is being deliberated now by the committee,” said Palma.

The non-renewal of its franchise last year forced ABS-CBN to lay off thousands of workers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and left households in rural areas without a stable source of information amid calamities.

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