BIZ COLUMN:  TWO  AND  HALF  YEARS  TO  GO,  NO MORE  TIME  TO  LOSE

MANILA, JANUARY 2, 2007
(STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - Happy New Year! The good news is, we have only two and a half more years to go. The bad news is, that’s still a long time in the life of this developing country. A lot of things can still happen, as they do happen, that could spell the difference in the quality of our people’s lives for years to come.

The thing is, we do have to live with her for the next two and a half years. The constitutional way of changing leaders is the only real way to go. The adventurism of some hot headed military officers in the past has proven to be counter productive. I think any attempt to short cut the constitutional process as we know it today will only set us back longer than two and a half years. So, let us make the best we can of what we have now and help her along even as we should remain militantly critical to keep her in the straight and narrow path.

I cannot understand why she can’t seem to understand what it means to leave a good legacy as a national leader. Surely, she doesn’t want to be remembered by history as the president Garci made. Nor would she want to be remembered for the aborted ZTE deal or the many other questionable deals that happened under her watch. Surely, she would want to leave the presidency with a net satisfaction rating more than just a little above zero.

Yet, she remains business as usual and this cannot be. She is so afraid of being thrown out of office the way her predecessor was. That’s why she lavishes perks (at our expense) on her favorite former generals and her gift bag carrying congressmen and governors. She expressed the desire to be known as the infrastructure president but her projects are mired in corruption and not being delivered as fast as she has promised.

I am hoping that 2008 will be the crucial turnaround year for our dear Ate Glue. I am hoping she woke up yesterday with a firm determination to change the course of her administration and of the nation. I have been thinking about some plus and minuses thus far in the area of infrastructure projects that matter to a lot of people and off the top of my head, I compiled this list which is as good a list to help her get really organized for action and program delivery.

The one big plus for her that will happen this year is the opening of the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway. I am told it will finally be open to the public in the first quarter of this new year. It took longer than usual because of the typical arguments and controversies that attend such large projects as well as right-of-way problems. But there it is, ready at last and expected to cut travel time in Central Luzon, promoting commerce in the region. Congratulations, Ma’am.

But the minuses are quite a number.

First of all is the seemingly abandoned NAIA Terminal 3. The DOTC has let it be known that they will no longer set a target date for opening. It seems like they have given up, even if the government has won its arbitration case at the World Bank. There is another case still pending in Singapore. But it doesn’t look right that the President of this Republic, with the powers of her office, is unable to persuade PIATCO one way or another, to cooperate and get the terminal operational.

Is that terminal destined to rot away in full view of everyone flying into the country as a symbol of how ineptly corrupt our officials are?

Why wait for the Singapore arbitration to reach a conclusion? Isn’t Ate Glue the all powerful President of this Strong Republic? Surely, she has enough persuasive powers to get a vital public infrastructure project through, specially after the taxpayers already paid P3 billion on it. Opening that terminal this year should be on top of Ate Glue’s agenda. It would do a lot to redeem her image, assuming any deal with PIATCO is defensible in Plaza Miranda.

Secondly, there is that much talked about project to link the MRT with the LRT in the Trinoma area. Why are the bureaucrats taking too long in dealing with the paper work? And even now, there is a need to expand the services of both the MRT and LRT by adding more train capacity. Commuters are packed like sardines at all times of the day. There are still too many undisciplined bus drivers along EDSA who should be thrown out of business by an expanded MRT. Dealing with public transport is an important government obligation specially as a means to encourage more commuters to go public and help cut oil consumption and pollution in our streets.

Thirdly, that overpass or as Chairman Fernando calls it, the elevated U-turn at the corner of C5 and Kalayaan in Makati is overdue. The MMDA Chairman told me that construction will start in 2008. They are just settling some right of way cases that are taking some time. Hopefully, Malacañang intervenes and get those cases settled so construction can begin. The traffic jam caused by this intersection goes all the way to Ortigas Avenue during rush hours. This infrastructure can help save fuel and cut down on green house gases from car emissions.

Fourthly, that Manila Domestic Terminal has to go. If DOTC has given up hope on NAIA 3 ever opening soon, it must do something about the Domestic Terminal. If government does not have the money, it should talk to the Gokongweis to put up the terminal on a BOT basis or some other deal since it would benefit their Cebu Pacific anyway. It is embarrassing to bring foreign visitors to Boracay because they will have to use this poor excuse of a terminal.

Fifth is the South Luzon Expressway whose reconstruction is proceeding at a terribly slow pace. Those living in the South are being punished daily by horrible traffic jams with no end in sight. Is the private concessionaire really having cash flow problems? And how difficult is it to connect the SLEX to the Star expressway in Batangas? Why is that taking forever?

Sixth is that damn NorthRail. What’s keeping them from getting started? The corruption scandal apart, Ate Glue must get them moving so the system can be inaugurated before she exits in 2010. The right of way needed for the first phase had been delivered long ago. This is a much needed companion infrastructure to the Clark International Airport.

Seventh but not in infrastructure, she should get the DOF to toe the line on foreign borrowings for this year. NEDA’s Chief already said they are ready to decline even ODA if its forex proceeds will aggravate the problem with the strong peso. Government should borrow local this year, even if this means raising local interest rates a bit (which is not too bad for retirees who depend on interest income for survival). The BSP should also be assisted in reducing its now significant losses arising from its having to buy excess dollars from the market to manage the peso’s exchange rate.

I know there are more items that should be on her priority “to do” list for 2008. This is only my top of mind list. But if she shows action on items in this list, she should be able to significantly mitigate her severely deteriorating public acceptance. Who knows… if her image improves enough, she may be able to attract more competent cabinet members other than retired generals. Public Works for instance, needs a better secretary if her infrastructure program is to go anywhere… along the caliber of such distinguished former secretaries like Toto Estuar, Ping de Jesus, DM Consunji and Aber Canlas. Or the retired army engineering general Vigi Vigilar.

Ate Glue has no more time to lose. She has to make 2008 the year she breaks with her so far dismal past… if she wants to leave a legacy that’s not tied up in the mess that she is in right now.

Two for the New Year

An optimist stays up to see the New Year in. A pessimist waits to make sure the old one leaves.

A Happy New Year to you all!


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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