Duterte makes peace with Philippine tycoons, thanks them for helping in coronavirus fight

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte presides over a meeting in Malacanang Palace, Manila, on April 8, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has offered an olive branch to the country's tycoons he attacked months ago, thanking them now for helping the government in its coronavirus response. Shares of their companies jumped.

Duterte said he's now willing to talk with the family of Jaime Augusto Zobel who controls Ayala Corp and tycoon Manuel Pangilinan who oversees Metro Pacific Investments Corp after threatening to sue and arrest them as recently as March for water contracts the president alleged were disadvantageous to the state.

"With the kind of response that you gave, it's a humbling experience also for me," Duterte said in a televised address late Monday (May 4), referring to their contributions to fight the pandemic. "I apologise for the hurting words."

Ayala advanced as much as 6.4 per cent, while unit Manila Water Co Inc surged by 11.3 per cent as of 10.47am. Metro Pacific climbed by as much as 10 per cent while its water venture partner DMCI Holdings Inc rose as high as 3.6 per cent.

Between them, their firms have a telecoms duopoly and major interests in real estate, retail, renewable energy, healthcare, power, education and infrastructure.

The Philippine leader last year stepped up his attacks on elites and sought a probe on deals with big businesses, causing stocks to fall due to concerns of regulatory risk.

"We have always believed in building a strong partnership between the private and public sectors in addressing our country's problems and in investing in the country," Zobel and his brother Fernando said in a statement.

Pangilinan, who is also chairman and president of PLDT Inc, in a Twitter post thanked Duterte and assured him of his group's commitment to be a partner of government amid the pandemic.

The Philippines was among the first countries to enforce strict home quarantine measures against the coronavirus, which has infected at least 9,485 people in the country and killed 623 of them.

The capital, Manila, and several other urban centres have been under a strict lockdown for nearly seven weeks.

Private firms have donated much-needed protective gear and other supplies to hospitals and the public, plugging some gaps in government efforts.

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