Television and radio audiences recently saw and heard two “apologies” directed to President Duterte said before a Senate Hearing by the top executives of two of the largest business interests in the country.
The first was last year. It came from the head of Manila Water in the aftermath of an abrupt water supply interruption in its service area in Metro Manila in March, 2019.
The second was just a few weeks ago. It came from the chief executive of ABS-CBN Corporation. The “apology” was delivered on the occasion of a Senate hearing regarding the broadcasting giant’s plea for its expiring franchise to be renewed.
The two are a study in contrast.
The “sorry” on behalf of the Ayala Group-owned Manila Water Company was delivered by former President Noynoy Aquino cabinet secretary Rene Almendras.
Ayala Group insiders say the brothers Jaime and Fernando nearly forgot all about Almendras so that after Noynoy’s descent from the Presidential throne, there was no job waiting for the former cabinet secretary within the conglomerate.
The rumor was Almendras had an offer from the Pangilinan Group instead. It was only after someone close to the Ayala brothers had whispered to the two that they may have forgotten to invite Almendras back to the fold that an offer was made.
The post dangled to the latter was to head to group’s Corporate Communications group. Some viewed the post as a “pampalubag-loob” – a consolation. Others say it was perfect for Almendras who is said to have instantly evolved into the compleat public relations guy.
It appears, however, that the best PR feat done by Almendras was for himself. Ayala insiders say former President Noynoy’s favorite henchman “packaged” himself as an expert PR strategist and “the only man to whom the two brothers listen for PR and business strategy advice”.
Some say they overheard Almendras saying that one of the brothers had even apologized to him for not having listened to his advice regarding a corporate reputation matter.
Our view is that Almendras may have violated a cardinal rule in public communication: never believe your own propaganda.
It appears Almendras’ advice to brothers regarding the Manila Water crisis was to ease out its top honcho Ferdinand dela Cruz and to replace the latter with – guess who – himself. After dela Cruz was “retired early”, Almendras then positioned himself as the “face of Manila Water”.
President Duterte’s wrath against the Ayala Group and the Ayala brothers in particular due to the unexpected water supply disruption was compounded by the demand by the Manila Water that it be paid billions of pesos in settlement by the government.
This followed its victory before an arbitration court in Singapore. Duterte threatened to withdraw the extended concession agreement and to smash the face of the Ayala brothers.
Almendras came to the rescue of the brothers and apologized profusely to the President during the Senate hearing. While he may be a PR specialist, Almendras is no public speaker.
His voice and demeanor were nervous and hysterical. He was a stark contrast to the calm and composed demeanor of the guy he eased out – Ferdinand dela Cruz – who appeared before the Senate at the height of the water crisis.
Almendras may have also overlooked the fact that the Palace sees him as more yellow than the Dijon Mustard. He was Noynoy’s prefered lackey.
This is a classic PR mistake.
Almendras may have claimed that his PR stunts are responsible for creating a temporary calm for Manila Water.
However, the fact is the arrest of the downward spiral in the share price of the beleaguered concessionaire is better credited to the entry of the Razon group.
It was Filipino billionaire Ricky Razon who saved the day, not Almendras’ hysterical and sorry “sorry” delivered at the Senate.
In contrast, it appears, the ABS-CBN “sorry” to the President achieved what it needed to.
The broadcasting giant had the perfect person to deliver the apology – its current CEO, the soft-spoken Carlo Lopez Katigbak, or CLK in business circles.
Katigbak’s answers to the solons’ questions during the hearing were coherent and logical, even factual. Unlike Almendras, the PR specialist, Lopez had no hysterics and no dramatics.
The absence of the theatrics made the apology authentic.
In the end, the President’s allies in the Senate appear to have seen the franchise issue from the ABS-CBN perspective. More important, Katigbak earned rave reviews from peers in the business sector and in social media. It appears his demeanor spared his organization from embarrassment from the senators’ present.
More important, it looks like Katigbak’s appearance at the Senate move public sympathy closer to the network’s side. The ABS-CBN CEO has proven to be an effective face for the interest he represents.
The same cannot be said of the PR specialist Almendras. At the end of the day, his strategy merely proved that the Ayala is one great business organization. As such, that is what it will do – protect its business.
Our sources from the Ayala group say Almendras had attempted to initiate a million-signature campaign and a candlelight vigil to rally public support for his beleaguered company.
The PR stunt appears to not have taken off. It looks like the group knew it could not rally sympathy from a public it failed to serve in accordance with the service standards set in the concession agreement.
No problem. After all, the Ayala group did not need a million signatures. It needed only one – that which came from the fountain pen of a white knight named Ricky Razon.