He was defending press freedom, not ABS-CBN’s owners, Senator Franklin Drilon said yesterday, shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte lambasted the lawmaker in last night’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).
In his speech, Duterte clapped back at Drilon for saying a month ago that if the president truly wanted to dismantle the oligarchy, he should ban political dynasties — an obvious jab at the fact that three of the chief executive’s children are politicians. Duterte has publicly said several times that he was out to destroy the Philippines’ oligarchs.
Duterte accused Drilon during the SONA of defending the Lopez family, owners of media giant ABS-CBN, which was shut down by Congress.
But the buck doesn’t stop there. Duterte also accused the senator of lawyering for Ayala Water, a company which supposedly gave the government “onerous” decades-old contracts. Drilon was working for ACCRA, a major law firm, which supposedly drafted the 1997 contract for Ayala Water, the president claimed.
In a statement released last night, Drilon said that he was “defending freedom of the press, not the Lopezes. The closure of ABS-CBN sent a chilling effect.”
He added that for democracy to thrive, the country needs a free press, and that it was important for ABS-CBN to continue airing to provide information about the COVID-19 pandemic and give jobs to its thousands of workers.
“I aired my support for the renewal of franchise of ABS-CBN because undeniably the network complements other stations in providing timely and accurate reportage even in the farthest locality unreachable to others, even to to the government. I was defending the 11,000 people and their families who would lose jobs amid the pandemic, not the Lopezes,” he stressed.
Drilon also rejected the president’s allegation about his involvement in Ayala Water’s government contract. In an interview yesterday with Rappler founder Maria Ressa, Drilon said that he had already retired from ACCRA back in 1990, or at least seven years before the government contracts were drafted.
“I can say with a clear conscience that I was not involved in that water concession agreement. I was no longer with ACCRA at the time the contract was signed,” he said.
The senator also added that that he was surprised by the president zeroing on him in the SONA.
“I was surprised, to be candid about it. I am not the enemy, our enemy is the pandemic,” Drilon said.
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