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Atienza: Stop probe on Lopez loan condonation

Francis Wakefield

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The House Blue Ribbon Committee holds the hearing on the loan condonation by the DBP. (HoR)

House Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza has called for the immediate stoppage of the inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the alleged loan condonation of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) in favor of companies controlled by or affiliated with the Lopez family.

During the hearing by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, chaired by DIWA Party-list Rep. Michael Edgar Aglipay on Monday, Atienza reiterated that in the absence of concrete evidence/s proving that the DBP condoned or wrote off the Lopez Group’s loans, there’s no use to continue with the probe.

He noted that the entire investigation is based on mere allegation alone.

“I am now speaking as an officer of the 18th Congress kung ang mga nag-a-alleged ay based on their own conjecture and they have nothing to prove, bring in this committee, and bring to this Congress. I would suggest that they should be required–produce your papers of irregularity for this committee to continue deliberating on it–and for the plenary to even take whatever comes out of this committee,” Atieza said.

“Otherwise, if you are asking the DBP to produce papers which will be detrimental to them, I think that is a dream, a vision. That is unfair to say the least. We’re asking them to penalize themselves. Kung meron tayong pruweba, ituloy natin. Kung wala naman tayong pruweba, huwag naman natin aksayahin ang panahon ng Kongreso sa mga allegations na wala naman dokumento.”

“At this point in time, I rest my case. Having (elicited) from the DBP officers, there is nothing irregular in the exercise of the SPV and the seller or the owner of the document do not make money in the transaction. Kung meron gumagawa ng pera dito, ‘yung bumibili, Now rightfully because they have the capital and that’s their business to make money out of financial transaction. Pero ang DBP hindi rin naging… kumita dito dahilang nangyari binenta nila ‘yung pagkaka-utang sa kanila, sinalo naman ng mas mayamang financing institution,” he added.

During the hearing, DBP President and CEO Mr. Emmanuel Herbosa, refuted claims that they wrote-off the unpaid loans for its former subsidiaries Benpres Holdings Corp., now called Lopez Holding Corp., Bayan Telecommunications, Maynilad Water, and Central CATV (also known as SkyCable) when it sold these debts in an asset sale in 2006, or 14 years ago. Herbosa explained that non-performing debts, or those which are behind amortizations for over 180 days actually sold or transferred to Lehman Brothers Asia Limited on 16 October 2006.

DBP Legal Officer Atty. Soraya Adiong, explained that the loans form part of a collective P9.55 billion debts from over 2,000 borrowers which were sold to a third of the cost to Lehman Brothers Asia for P3.83 billion.

Adiong said in order to trim the bank’s losses from unpaid overdue loans, there was a need to avail of the tax incentives by selling BayanTel and Central CATV’s loans through Republic Act 9182 or the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) Act of 2002.

She added that the Commission on Audit (COA) and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) have not found any irregularities in the sale of the asset.

“It was audited by the Commission on Audit and in the annual audit report there was no finding of irregularity. On the second issue, Mr. Chair, as soon as the accounts were transferred to the SPV, DBP no longer had any transaction at least with respect for those accounts, Mr. Chair,” Adiong told lawmakers.

“If I may explain the context of the law and the situation then, these were non-performing assets already. So in the sense that they are non-performing already, you expect that losses will be incurred. With respect to the total bulks sale transfer to PI1 and PI2, the outstanding balance then  was P9.55 billion. and it was sold to Lehman Brothers Asia Limited which was subsequently transferred to PI1 and PI2 in the amount of P3.88 billion,” she added.

For her part, BSP Director Director Mary Anne Cube also told lawmakers during the committee hearing that they have no record of DBP write-offs.

However, Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Michael Defensor was not convinced by the explanation given by the resource speakers and insisted that DBP officials committed wrongdoing.

In his opening statement, Aglipay underscored that the panel would not only look into the loan condonation issue, but also investigate and review existing policies and guidelines of the DBP.

At the same time, Aglipay stressed that the start of their hearing forms part of their fight against corruption in government which is also in line with the platform and policies set by the national government.

“Today, we began our journey towards the attainment of truth and justice, in line with our fight against corruption, with the successful holding of the first meeting of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, better known as the House Blue Ribbon Committee, under my Chairmanship,” Aglipay said.

“The sole agenda in today’s meeting was House Resolution (HR) No. 1040 on the alleged loan condonation or write-off made by the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) in favor of companies controlled by, or affiliated with, the Lopez Group of Companies. I reiterate that, while this Resolution was filed during the ABS-CBN franchise hearings, this Committee did not solely look into the subject condonation that allegedly benefitted a single corporate conglomerate. Rather, the House Blue-Ribbon Committee sought for the review of the policies and guidelines of DBP to ensure that these are acts sanctioned by law,” he added.

Aglipay said his goal as chairman of the House Blue-Ribbon Committee is simple, and that is to investigate corruption in government in aid of legislation in strong adherence to the principles of due process and fairness; in support of truth and justice as appointed representative of the Filipino people.

He also stressed that politics is not involved in the ongoing hearing.

“This is in line with the platform of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte who has ordered a relentless crackdown on corruption. As proof of his resolve, our president famously said that he shall not tolerate slight whiff of corruption and he has recently ordered the DoJ (Department of Justice) to probe corruption in the entire government,” Aglipay said.

“The mandate of this committee is in line with the President’s fight against corruption. Let me emphasize that there should be absolutely no politicking in this committee. It is the speaker’s directive for this committee to act independently and strictly adhere to its mandate of investigating all matters relating to three things, malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance by public officials. It is apparent that no stones must be left unturned in our investigations of public officials,” he added.

During the ABS-CBN franchise hearing last year, DUMPER PTDA Party-list Rep. Claudine Diana Bautista said that the House should find out if the Lopez firms unjustly benefited from the loans condoned by the DBP “to the prejudice of the government.”

According to Bautista, based on the document submitted by ABS-CBN and the presentation the firm made on Philippine Depositary Receipt, it appears that Lopez Inc. and Lopez Holdings Corp. both holds substantial shares and interest in ABS-CBN Corp.

“I have come to learn that Lopez Holdings Corp. which was given rights over a considerable number of ABS-CBN Corporation shares benefitted from a large condonation or write off by the DBP along with other companies controlled by the Lopez company,” she said.

She claimed that the loans amounted to P1.6 billion.

President Rodrigo Duterte in a speech in September 2019 slammed Lopez group for the alleged DBP loans that were written off a decade ago.

“The Lopez Group of Companies never paid a single centavo. It was condoned by the government. Who condoned it, who authorized it, I really don’t know, but maybe one of these days, I’ll start to dig in,” Duterte said.

According to reports, the loans to Lopez companies were written off in 2006.

p: wjg

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