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MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday defended the sale of an oil and gas concession to a firm controlled by a tycoon ally after a senate panel approved the filing of charges against energy ministry officials.

“I am convinced that this was a private transaction between private entities that must be respected,” Duterte said, adding that the national interest has been protected.

Udenna Corp, a company owned by Dennis Uy, a friend of Duterte, acquired Chevron Corp’s 45% in the country’s Malampaya gas-to-power project worth $565 million in 2019.

Uy, the biggest contributor to Duterte’s presidential campaign in 2016, has seen his empire rapidly expand through acquisitions and entry into businesses such as casinos, shipping and telecommunications.

A senate resolution on Thursday approved the filing of criminal and administrative charges before the anti-graft body against Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and 11 other energy officials in relation to the sale.

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