INQUIRER & PHILSTAR EDITORIAL/OPINION

EDITORIAL: PIKIT TOWN 'CRY OUT TO THE HEAVENS'   

OCT 13 ---PHOTO FROM PHILSTAR: Two persons were killed while three others were wounded
 when a grenade exploded in a chapel in Pikit town here Wednesday night. It was Wednesday evening, and the midweek service at the Pikit, North Cotabato church of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines was about to end. But the thanksgiving that usually brings the service to a proper close got cut short, lost in loud and sudden chaos. A rifle-shot grenade had exploded inside the church, killing two church members and wounding three others. It was about 7:35 p.m. The unfortunate dead—Felomina Ferolin, a hospital head nurse, and Gina Cabilona, a teacher—were seated near the back, where the grenade landed. The three other victims also sustained shrapnel injuries: Virginia Manolid, a teacher; Jeremias Dandan, a businessman; and Jerome Dandan, an engineer.

The pastor, Jerry Sanchez, said he didn’t know why his church was attacked. “We have no idea why this thing happened. We condemn this act.” The police chief, Senior Insp. Mautin Pangandigan, was just as puzzled. “We are still unsure of the motive, we are still investigating.” There is still no firm lead as of press time, but there can be no doubt about the proper public response to the brutal act: We must condemn it in the strongest terms, while standing in solidarity with the UCCP. Yesterday, leaders and members from other UCCP churches joined Sunday services at the damaged church. An official statement released on Saturday explained: “The UCCP condemns the dastardly act of bombing the UCCP Pikit worship service; and yet, we journey to Pikit with a most important intention to comfort the bereaved and join as a presence of solidarity and support to our church members.” * READ MORE...

ALSO: Aquino-Roxas combat in 2016?

OCT 14 --By Amando Doronila. CANBERRA—Apparently shaken by the Pulse Asia survey
results showing that 62 percent of Filipinos oppose a run for reelection by President Aquino, Malacañang had been forced to plead for a second opinion in the polls.
Speaking as if the administration was facing a life-threatening scourge of the likes of the bubonic plague that swept medieval Europe, a Palace spokesperson indicated to the Inquirer that one survey is not enough for the vacillating President to make a final decision. “Perhaps we can have a broader picture when we learn of the third-quarter survey findings from SWS (Social Weather Stations) and Pulse Asia,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma (one of three Palace spokespersons, giving the people mixed messages of the master’s voice).

The President “would like to continue getting feedback from various stakeholders, especially on what can be done to ensure the continuity and permanence of reforms,” Coloma said. This statement puts SWS on the spot. What if its findings turn out different from those of the Pulse Asia survey? What would this make of Mahar Mangahas’ SWS survey? Findings similar to those of Pulse Asia may also be devastating to Malacañang. Up to this time the President has been twiddling his thumbs and consulting his “bosses” over whether he should seek reelection, after fueling speculation over what he intends to do when his term ends. It appears that time is running out on the President to candidly declare that he is standing for reelection by hook or by crook. Whether Malacañang likes it or not, the early surveys conducted in the twilight period of his term sent signals that a second run for him would not be a walk in the park. The terrain is full of risks for a run for reelection, regardless of whoever will be his opponent—Vice President Jejomar Binay of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) or Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who is also a member of the Liberal Party. * READ MORE...

(ALSO) Editorial: Postpone fare hike  

OCT 15 --A fare increase in Metro Manila’s railway system is inevitable. No less than President
 Aquino had long been pitching for higher fares at the Light Rail Transit and Metro Rail Transit systems, arguing that the government wanted to reduce its subsidy for the trains’ operations so that the money could be used for other social services. The President claimed it was unfair for the entire country to help finance the operating cost of the railway system that benefits only residents of Metro Manila. The government plans to bring the train fares closer to those of air-conditioned buses. The Department of Transportation and Communications is considering an “11+1” formula, which means passengers will be charged P11 to board the trains plus P1 for every kilometer traveled.

With the proposed rate, MRT and LRT fares will reach nearly P30 from the first station to the last, or almost double the present level. The government is expected to save about P2 billion in subsidies from the planned fare adjustment.
The fare increase was supposed to be implemented back in 2011. It became imminent in 2013 when the President mentioned in his State of the Nation Address that the government was to raise train fares to cut government subsidies, with early 2014 as the target date. But last January, the government said there was no urgent need to raise fares and deferred the plan to do so to August; the DOTC cited the then impending power rate increase early this year.

August went by and nothing happened. Last week, the government indicated that the fare increase would likely be implemented before Christmas. The spokesperson of the DOTC was quoted as saying that the directive was only waiting to be signed by Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, after which a notice would be published. So far, however, even Abaya is noncommittal. In an interview with Radyo Inquirer 990AM last week, Abaya said there would probably be no increase in October and that there was no indicator it would proceed. But he could not categorically say if there would be no fare increase until the end of the year, except to point out that the DOTC had complied with all the requirements for the fare adjustment.
 * READ MORE...  

(ALSO) Bad news: Traffic won’t get better till 2015 

OCT 15 --by Neal Cruz: I have very bad news for Metro Manilans: The horrendous traffic jams and floods
will be with us until next year. This comes straight from Francis Tolentino, chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, although he did not say it exactly that way. What he told the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday (the other guest was former congressman Danilo Suarez) was that the traffic jams are brought about by a combination of factors: diggings on the streets by the Department of Public Works and Highways and by the water concessionaires, the lack of an efficient transport system, too many vehicles on too few streets, and the lack of coordination among the agencies involved in transportation. Those too-frequent road reblocking projects by contractors hired by the DPWH naturally slow down traffic. The diggings by water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water are another culprit.

Ironically, the flood-control projects of DPWH often worsen the floods. One example: The construction of the Blumentritt Interceptor that would channel flood waters to Manila Bay is exacerbating the flooding in Manila’s downtown area. The Interceptor is unfinished until now and so the floodwaters cannot flow out to Manila Bay. Hopefully, it will be completed by next year. The lack of an efficient transport system is the biggest cause of the traffic jams. The elevated rail lines should have been efficient and fast, but there are not enough trains to accommodate all the commuters needing a ride. The wait in the long lines just to go up to the MRT3 stations is much longer than the trip itself. The government has ordered more trains from China but the prototype won’t be coming until the first quarter of 2015. The prototype will be tried on the existing rails, and only after all kinks are ironed out will the construction of the trains begin. The coaches will be delivered here in batches and it will take many months before all 48 coaches are delivered. Again, hopefully, they will all be here and running before the end of 2015. * READ MORE...


ALSO: The Next President  

OCT 17 --By Jose Ma. Montelibano: Yes, the next president. That is the hot issue of today—from the ranks of

politicians beginning with presidential wannabes. What makes it more hot is that Vice-President Jojo Binay has been leading the pack of presidentiables but he does not belong to the party in power. I remember 1996 and 1997. Then Vice-President Joseph Estrada was also leading the pack, and he was not from the party in power with elections a year or two away. The party of President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) and Jose de Venecia also went through a mild panic as there was no party member considered competitive to a popular Estrada. And, coincidences of coincidences, there was also a party leader who wanted to be president and managed to convince FVR to anoint him despite his non-winnability. As though the Ramon Mitra experience just the previous presidential election was not enough.

Time flies, and thank goodness that memories do not all disappear despite senior age. How we can so easily forget that only one President got re-elected ever since 1946 or 60 years by 2016. The lesson here is not about just the winners but most especially about the losers, too. All the losers were sitting Presidents with power and resources behind them, but the influence of incumbent politicians beholden to them. From 1992 onwards since no re-election of Presidents had been constitutionally banned, it were the parties in power who took the place of sitting presidents in pushing the candidacy of their chosen ones. Marcos in 1969 won re-election, the first of all sitting Presidents. Fidel V. Ramos won in 1992, the chosen one of a sitting president, Corazon Aquino, who belonged to no party and, in fact, disagreed with the party and choice of Ramon Mitra, Jr. In the exceptions are lessons to be learned.

The Marcos experience, though, has less relevance than the Cory-FVR experience because the rules under the new Constitution prohibit a second term for Presidents. The year 2016 can be a re-make of the Cory-FVR experience, but that would be bad news for the Liberal Party. By breaking ranks with the choice of the party that identified itself with her during her whole term, Cory did not turn her back on loyal friends. She did turn her back on a presidential candidate that did not fit her view of what the next presidency should look like. She turned her back on party politics that do not reflect people’s aspirations through their chosen candidate. PNoy is a different President because he ascended to the office as a member of a party unlike his mother. Even though many know that his victory in 2010 was not because he was the Liberal Party candidate, that, in fact, it was on the shoulders of party-less volunteers who carried him to Malacanang, PNoy paid homage to the party with disproportionate gratitude from the beginning of his term.

All the more at this time, when Congress is led by the Liberal Party and its allies, PNoy will find greater difficulty in not playing along with the party’s choice. Playing along, though, can also mean playing along with the pattern of mistakes committed by others before him, by Presidents who backed their party’s choice despite the clear inability of their candidate to win the people’s hearts and minds. The mistake was not in being loyal, the mistake was being loyal to the party beyond their greater obligation to present a candidate that could better inspire the people in the next administration. * CONTINUE READING...


ALSO by Ana Marie Pamintuan: Failure of government  (The ransom money)

If the government doesn’t want to revive ransom kidnapping as the No. 1 industry in Sulu and neighboring
areas, it should make sure any ransom paid for a German couple is recovered and the perpetrators caught and punished. Obviously this is a job not just for security forces. There is strong international cooperation against money laundering, especially against a group officially listed as an international terrorist organization like the Abu Sayyaf, so the government should find no lack of assistance in sniffing out the money trail. There are several versions of the denomination used as mode of ransom payment, but all the figures point to variations of similar amounts: four million euros, $5.5 million or P250 million. That amount should prove tough to conceal, whether in cash in bed mattresses or through paperless transactions in the banking system. In the age of the Financial Action Task Force against money laundering, we have laws requiring automatic reporting by banks of single transactions involving a threshold amount of P500,000.

Our anti-graft and internal revenue investigators are authorized to conduct, on their own initiative, discreet lifestyle checks on public officials in Sulu. Over the weekend there were discussion in radio talk shows about widespread suspicions that government, military and police officials in Sulu all have a modus vivendi for sharing the spoils of kidnapping with the Abu Sayyaf. For now suspicion is focused mainly on Sulu-based officials. But speculation is starting to spread to the national government, which has jurisdiction over the departments of defense as well as the interior and local government. * * * Previous kidnapping sprees in Sulu reinforce the speculation. In 2000, at the height of the kidnapping rampage by the Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf faction led by Ghalib Andang (the main faction was in Basilan), there were also reports that government and military officials were getting large chunks from the ransom payments. * READ MORE...

ALSO by Babes Romualdez: VFA – the bigger picture  

The death of transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude involving US Marine Joseph Pemberton as the primary
suspect couldn’t have come at a worst time just as the Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA. DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario painstakingly worked on the new agreement for two years with the end in view of strengthening our country’s external defense capability in the light of what is happening in the West Philippine Sea — for the security of our country now and in the future. At the 9TV public affairs program “Opposing Views” hosted by Atty. Rod Nepomuceno where I was a guest along with UP Political Science Professor Amado Mendoza, the issue of the Visiting Forces Agreement and whether it should be repealed by the Philippine government was the topic of discussion, obviously fueled by the upsurge of emotions over the killing of Jeffrey Laude.

It can be recalled that the VFA — from which EDCA was anchored on — was ratified by the Philippine Senate during the time of president Joseph Estrada. Erap used his political capital to have the treaty passed, convinced that American assistance was important in beefing up our external security and in containing the Abu Sayyaf Group that was sowing terror in Mindanao. The fact is, it was through the help of the US marines and their high tech equipment that finally located ASG leader Commander Robot that eventually led to his death. It’s clear a sore point with the VFA is the “custody issue” regarding US military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines. Article V, Paragraph 6 states that “the custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

Admittedly, the case of Pemberton is different from that of Daniel Smith — who was found guilty of raping Suzette Nicolas — but whose conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeals after Nicole’s recantation. This time however, we are talking about a victim’s death. Those calling for the abrogation of the VFA overlook the fact that although Smith remained in US custody, the Americans fulfilled their part of the agreement, as Smith was made readily available for the duration of the trial and placed under the jurisdiction of Philippine courts. US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg and the State Department have already given assurances that they will cooperate and adhere to Philippine laws — I have no doubt we can count on them in this regard. Also, our meetings in Washington, DC two weeks ago at the Pentagon with Joint Chiefs of Staff Deputy Director for Politico-Military Affairs for Asia General David Stilwell and at the White House with NSC Senior Director Evan Medeiros gave me a sense that there is clearly a bigger picture in our relationship with the United States as far as the VFA is concerned — an important ingredient of the US pivot to Asia policy. * READ MORE...


READ FULL REPORTS HERE:

Cry out to the heavens


OCT 13 ---PHOTO FROM PHILSTAR: Two persons were killed while three others were wounded when a grenade exploded in a chapel in Pikit town here Wednesday night.

MANILA, OCTOBER 20, 2014 (INQUIRER) It was Wednesday evening, and the midweek service at the Pikit, North Cotabato church of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines was about to end. But the thanksgiving that usually brings the service to a proper close got cut short, lost in loud and sudden chaos. A rifle-shot grenade had exploded inside the church, killing two church members and wounding three others. It was about 7:35 p.m.

The unfortunate dead—Felomina Ferolin, a hospital head nurse, and Gina Cabilona, a teacher—were seated near the back, where the grenade landed. The three other victims also sustained shrapnel injuries: Virginia Manolid, a teacher; Jeremias Dandan, a businessman; and Jerome Dandan, an engineer.|

The pastor, Jerry Sanchez, said he didn’t know why his church was attacked. “We have no idea why this thing happened. We condemn this act.” The police chief, Senior Insp. Mautin Pangandigan, was just as puzzled. “We are still unsure of the motive, we are still investigating.”

There is still no firm lead as of press time, but there can be no doubt about the proper public response to the brutal act: We must condemn it in the strongest terms, while standing in solidarity with the UCCP. Yesterday, leaders and members from other UCCP churches joined Sunday services at the damaged church. An official statement released on Saturday explained: “The UCCP condemns the dastardly act of bombing the UCCP Pikit worship service; and yet, we journey to Pikit with a most important intention to comfort the bereaved and join as a presence of solidarity and support to our church members.”

* We must all condemn this cowardly attack. The freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution—which provides, in particular, that “the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed”—assumes that religious space is holy or sacred space. This applies as much to a Protestant church as to a Catholic cathedral, to an Islamic mosque as to a Buddhist temple. The very concept of sanctuary, a place of refuge or privilege, arises from the meaning of holy.

The attack, then, was an assault on the idea of sanctuary. A place that should have been a special zone of protection, safe from conflict, was turned into a war zone. Whoever planned and carried out the attack were devious men of evil intent, who do not understand true religion.

But we must all condemn this evil also because it can lead to similar attacks on mosques or other churches; in other words, it was an attack on all holy or sacred spaces. While the motive for the attack in Pikit is still not clear, it is clear that the premeditated act has made an already unsettled situation in certain parts of Mindanao, and those directly involved in the creation of a new Bangsamoro political area, even more unsettled.

The UCCP general secretary, Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, did right when he used his statement immediately after the attack to remind us of the dangers of escalation. “We ask our members to remain sober-minded yet vigilant. Even as we press for justice, let us not do anything that will further escalate the violence.”

That same statement referred to the possibility that “two men riding in tandem on a motorcycle fired an M203 grenade” into the Pikit church. This possibility was not mentioned by the police; we trust that government authorities are looking at all possible angles, to determine who carried out the attacks. The sooner we know, the less the chance of an escalation in retaliatory violence.

At this point, perhaps it is best that this tragic matter be considered a police case, that is, a crime, rather than an act of terrorism, which would militarize the issue. But however it is treated, we need government authorities to assign the highest priority to this case.

If the motive behind the attack was to stir trouble for the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the proposed Bangsamoro, or if the motive were anything else, then speedy identification of the perpetrators would add clarity to a potentially confusing situation.

The attack last Wednesday in Pikit was a crime, an injustice, that cries out to the heavens.

Aquino-Roxas combat in 2016? By Amando Doronila @inquirerdotnet Philippine Daily Inquirer 4:57 AM | Monday, October 13th, 2014


Amando Doronila

CANBERRA—Apparently shaken by the Pulse Asia survey results showing that 62 percent of Filipinos oppose a run for reelection by President Aquino, Malacañang had been forced to plead for a second opinion in the polls.

Speaking as if the administration was facing a life-threatening scourge of the likes of the bubonic plague that swept medieval Europe, a Palace spokesperson indicated to the Inquirer that one survey is not enough for the vacillating President to make a final decision.

“Perhaps we can have a broader picture when we learn of the third-quarter survey findings from SWS (Social Weather Stations) and Pulse Asia,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma (one of three Palace spokespersons, giving the people mixed messages of the master’s voice). The President “would like to continue getting feedback from various stakeholders, especially on what can be done to ensure the continuity and permanence of reforms,” Coloma said.

This statement puts SWS on the spot. What if its findings turn out different from those of the Pulse Asia survey? What would this make of Mahar Mangahas’ SWS survey? Findings similar to those of Pulse Asia may also be devastating to Malacañang. Up to this time the President has been twiddling his thumbs and consulting his “bosses” over whether he should seek reelection, after fueling speculation over what he intends to do when his term ends.

It appears that time is running out on the President to candidly declare that he is standing for reelection by hook or by crook. Whether Malacañang likes it or not, the early surveys conducted in the twilight period of his term sent signals that a second run for him would not be a walk in the park. The terrain is full of risks for a run for reelection, regardless of whoever will be his opponent—Vice President Jejomar Binay of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) or Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who is also a member of the Liberal Party.

* The ruling party is rife with intrigue to ease out Roxas as the LP’s official presidential candidate in 2016. Mr. Aquino appears to be running scared and vulnerable in the wake of the survey results showing not only a strong rejection of a possible term extension for him but also some gains for Roxas as a viable LP candidate against Binay in 2016.

Uncertainties cloud an easy reelection bid by the President, given the background of his declining popularity in previous surveys. His satisfaction and trust ratings suffered double-digit drops in June and July—his lowest since he was elected in 2010. The decline came as he entered the twilight years of his presidency, putting an end to his four-year popularity run in the polls. It indicated that his cloak of invincibility had worn thin, making him a lame-duck President and opening him to leadership challenges from his own party mates with presidential ambitions, including Roxas.

With the September survey results hovering over Mr. Aquino’s head, there is even less reason for him to be confident that his party would choose him as its standard-bearer in 2016. Now the knives are out for an assassination inside the LP from party mates seeking a new leader. In plain language, Mr. Aquino may be dumped in the event of a leadership spill or shakeup in a possible challenge to revitalize the LP as a party of change, a party that is breaking out of the stale, vindictive and self-righteous mold of the current “daang matuwid” prescriptions.

If the LP is to search seriously within its ranks, it will find that there are more than enough talents in the party who can offer fresh economic-policy initiatives as well as political-reform programs, and who can claim honesty, integrity and experience in public service without being chained to the crippling legacy of the Aquino dynasty.

The latest survey results reveal that the next presidential election need not be limited to a face-off between Mr. Aquino or Binay. We don’t have to wait for Mr. Aquino to end his vacillation over whether he will seek a second term. It’s already clear: He is lusting to keep power despite his coy protestation that he is still consulting his constituents, and he is not above dumping Roxas as an alternative to Binay.

The struggle for power in 2016 is already in place in the LP—between Mr. Aquino and Roxas as the viable option to Binay, who is mercilessly being pilloried in a smear campaign that is playing out in the inquiry of the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee into the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall parking building constructed when Binay was mayor.

The battle royale between Mr. Aquino and Roxas in the LP will be an epic conflict that bears watching because of its implications for the future of the multiple-party system of Philippine democracy. Senate President Franklin Drilon and other LP leaders have said that the recent survey is relevant to the issue of constitutional change. Mr. Aquino cannot run for reelection unless the constitutional provision on term limits is amended. The LP is holding a caucus this month to address the issue of Mr. Aquino’s pursuit of a term extension. It has to consider the survey results showing strong opposition to a term extension for the President.

This caucus will amount to a preelection convention that will decide who are to square off in 2016. It could be brutal combat between Mr. Aquino and Roxas.

Editorial: Postpone fare hike
Philippine Daily Inquirer1:19 am | Tuesday October 14th,

A fare increase in Metro Manila’s railway system is inevitable.

No less than President Aquino had long been pitching for higher fares at the Light Rail Transit and Metro Rail Transit systems, arguing that the government wanted to reduce its subsidy for the trains’ operations so that the money could be used for other social services. The President claimed it was unfair for the entire country to help finance the operating cost of the railway system that benefits only residents of Metro Manila.

The government plans to bring the train fares closer to those of air-conditioned buses. The Department of Transportation and Communications is considering an “11+1” formula, which means passengers will be charged P11 to board the trains plus P1 for every kilometer traveled.

With the proposed rate, MRT and LRT fares will reach nearly P30 from the first station to the last, or almost double the present level. The government is expected to save about P2 billion in subsidies from the planned fare adjustment.

The fare increase was supposed to be implemented back in 2011. It became imminent in 2013 when the President mentioned in his State of the Nation Address that the government was to raise train fares to cut government subsidies, with early 2014 as the target date. But last January, the government said there was no urgent need to raise fares and deferred the plan to do so to August; the DOTC cited the then impending power rate increase early this year.

August went by and nothing happened. Last week, the government indicated that the fare increase would likely be implemented before Christmas. The spokesperson of the DOTC was quoted as saying that the directive was only waiting to be signed by Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, after which a notice would be published.

So far, however, even Abaya is noncommittal. In an interview with Radyo Inquirer 990AM last week, Abaya said there would probably be no increase in October and that there was no indicator it would proceed. But he could not categorically say if there would be no fare increase until the end of the year, except to point out that the DOTC had complied with all the requirements for the fare adjustment.

* Opposition to the fare increase is expected. Imagine the howl it would raise given the sorry service being endured by MRT3 commuters. Critics assail the argument that the government should not subsidize projects like the MRT and LRT that only benefit Metro Manila residents.

Following this logic, critics counter, the government should stop subsidizing the building of public schools and hospitals in far-flung areas because Metro Manila taxpayers would not benefit from those either.

One solution being put forward by groups opposing a fare increase is a renegotiation of the contracts with the private consortium holding the concessions for the mass transport system. The subsidies shouldered by the government result from the guaranteed rates of return that the private firms running the train system will get whether or not people will use the MRT and LRT. Renegotiation is indeed one plausible way to avert a fare adjustment.

Instead of renegotiation, however, what the government has in mind is a reverse privatization of the MRT3: It will take over the operation of the train system plying the length of Edsa. Recent announcements from the administration indicate that it is close to clinching a deal to buy out the MRT’s private shareholders.

But this so-called reverse privatization does not guarantee that a fare increase will not happen. At most, it can help cut the huge subsidies that end up as profit of the private concessionaire. The government can also earn from the commercial advertising space along the length of the MRT tracks. This will nonetheless be better than the current situation.

Still, this brings us back to the issue of fare increases for the MRT and LRT. Whatever explanation we get from the government, any fare adjustment should be timed properly. With the rising cost of living, any additional financial burden on the working middle class—the main market of the mass transport system—is not welcome at this time.

Any additional financial burden on the ordinary taxpayer is ill-timed given the approach of the Christmas season. As Abaya himself said last January, when the government postponed the fare adjustment due to the power rate increase by Manila Electric Co., “you have to be sensitive to people’s lives, too.”

As I See It
Bad news: Traffic won’t get better till 2015 By Neal H. Cruz |Philippine Daily Inquirer1:16 am | Wednesday, October 15th, 2014


Neal H. Cruz

I have very bad news for Metro Manilans: The horrendous traffic jams and floods will be with us until next year.

This comes straight from Francis Tolentino, chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, although he did not say it exactly that way. What he told the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday (the other guest was former congressman Danilo Suarez) was that the traffic jams are brought about by a combination of factors: diggings on the streets by the Department of Public Works and Highways and by the water concessionaires, the lack of an efficient transport system, too many vehicles on too few streets, and the lack of coordination among the agencies involved in transportation.

Those too-frequent road reblocking projects by contractors hired by the DPWH naturally slow down traffic. The diggings by water concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water are another culprit.

Ironically, the flood-control projects of DPWH often worsen the floods. One example: The construction of the Blumentritt Interceptor that would channel flood waters to Manila Bay is exacerbating the flooding in Manila’s downtown area. The Interceptor is unfinished until now and so the floodwaters cannot flow out to Manila Bay. Hopefully, it will be completed by next year.

The lack of an efficient transport system is the biggest cause of the traffic jams. The elevated rail lines should have been efficient and fast, but there are not enough trains to accommodate all the commuters needing a ride. The wait in the long lines just to go up to the MRT3 stations is much longer than the trip itself.

The government has ordered more trains from China but the prototype won’t be coming until the first quarter of 2015. The prototype will be tried on the existing rails, and only after all kinks are ironed out will the construction of the trains begin. The coaches will be delivered here in batches and it will take many months before all 48 coaches are delivered. Again, hopefully, they will all be here and running before the end of 2015.

* The problem with the buses is the opposite: There are just too many of them. So they clog the streets, especially Edsa, where they crawl like snails wasting precious fuel and polluting the air but do not carry enough passengers. The buses crawling bumper to bumper on Edsa are half-empty even during rush hours. Commuters do not want to ride buses because these are too slow, and spending much time dawdling at stations to wait for passengers.

MMDA Chair Tolentino is at a loss on how the buses manage to stay on considering that they don’t have enough passengers. “I don’t know how they survive,” he told the journalists present at the Kapihan. My theory is that the bus companies are overcharging commuters. Those few passengers are paying for all the empty seats.

The inefficiency of the mass transport system, in turn, forces commuters to buy their own vehicles, but they only add to the traffic congestion.

Every year, car assemblers pour out onto the streets 300,000 new cars. That number does not include the vehicles smuggled into the country and the jeepneys and buses assembled from recycled parts. Where are you going to put all of them when very few streets are being built? Tolentino said.

Ironically, a government agency, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, is to blame for the oversupply of buses on Edsa. It has issued too many franchises to bus companies. Doesn’t it know the holding capacity of Edsa?

Then there are the colorum buses. The LTFRB cannot—or does not want to—prevent them from operating so they don’t add to the traffic jams on Edsa. Guess why?

To make matters worse, complained Tolentino, the LTFRB lifted the ban on cargo trucks earlier banned by the MMDA from Metro streets.

Can’t the Department of Transportation and Communications coordinate all the transport agencies so they don’t work at cross purposes?

It cannot even fix the problems of MRT3 and the long-delayed issuance of license plates by the Land Transportation Office.

With more and more vehicles being poured out onto the streets and almost none being phased out, traffic congestion has gotten worse through the years.

Tolentino said he had added to the public transport system by resuming the ferry operation on the Pasig River.

There’s no traffic, the ferry is fast and cheap but sadly, few commuters use it. “I already lowered the fare to attract more passengers, still the passengers have not increased dramatically,” Tolentino said. Could it be people’s natural fear of the water, or the stench from the Pasig?

How about a subway? Yes, that would be a great help, Tolentino said.

Ex-Congressman Suarez said a subway system was planned during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration but that her term ended before it could be implemented.

Tolentino and Suarez agreed that Metro Manila should be decongested by making outlying areas its bedroom and by locating industries to the provinces so the rural residents don’t have to flock to the metropolis to get jobs.

The Next President By Jose Ma. Montelibano |3:15 am | Friday, October 3rd, 2014


Jose Ma. Montelibano

Yes, the next president. That is the hot issue of today—from the ranks of politicians beginning with presidential wannabes. What makes it more hot is that Vice-President Jojo Binay has been leading the pack of presidentiables but he does not belong to the party in power.

I remember 1996 and 1997. Then Vice-President Joseph Estrada was also leading the pack, and he was not from the party in power with elections a year or two away. The party of President Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) and Jose de Venecia also went through a mild panic as there was no party member considered competitive to a popular Estrada. And, coincidences of coincidences, there was also a party leader who wanted to be president and managed to convince FVR to anoint him despite his non-winnability. As though the Ramon Mitra experience just the previous presidential election was not enough.

Time flies, and thank goodness that memories do not all disappear despite senior age. How we can so easily forget that only one President got re-elected ever since 1946 or 60 years by 2016. The lesson here is not about just the winners but most especially about the losers, too. All the losers were sitting Presidents with power and resources behind them, but the influence of incumbent politicians beholden to them. From 1992 onwards since no re-election of Presidents had been constitutionally banned, it were the parties in power who took the place of sitting presidents in pushing the candidacy of their chosen ones.

Marcos in 1969 won re-election, the first of all sitting Presidents. Fidel V. Ramos won in 1992, the chosen one of a sitting president, Corazon Aquino, who belonged to no party and, in fact, disagreed with the party and choice of Ramon Mitra, Jr. In the exceptions are lessons to be learned.

The Marcos experience, though, has less relevance than the Cory-FVR experience because the rules under the new Constitution prohibit a second term for Presidents. The year 2016 can be a re-make of the Cory-FVR experience, but that would be bad news for the Liberal Party.

By breaking ranks with the choice of the party that identified itself with her during her whole term, Cory did not turn her back on loyal friends. She did turn her back on a presidential candidate that did not fit her view of what the next presidency should look like. She turned her back on party politics that do not reflect people’s aspirations through their chosen candidate.

PNoy is a different President because he ascended to the office as a member of a party unlike his mother. Even though many know that his victory in 2010 was not because he was the Liberal Party candidate, that, in fact, it was on the shoulders of party-less volunteers who carried him to Malacanang, PNoy paid homage to the party with disproportionate gratitude from the beginning of his term.

All the more at this time, when Congress is led by the Liberal Party and its allies, PNoy will find greater difficulty in not playing along with the party’s choice.

Playing along, though, can also mean playing along with the pattern of mistakes committed by others before him, by Presidents who backed their party’s choice despite the clear inability of their candidate to win the people’s hearts and minds.

The mistake was not in being loyal, the mistake was being loyal to the party beyond their greater obligation to present a candidate that could better inspire the people in the next administration.

* Many have said that power blinds even the greedy who lust for more. The party in power always thinks it is more influential than it really is come election time.

In a period of great change, where we are now, life favors those who have sought something new, something better, than the hardship they had been experiencing for so long. Sometimes, change accommodates the young and their aspirations.

Sometimes, too, change looks to easing the plight of the poor. After all, it is the young and it is the poor who seek change most passionately. And between the young and the poor in the Philippines, they have the overwhelming votes.

The year 2016 should not be any different in the present journey of change. The poor will be the biggest source of votes for the next president. Then the young, in that order.

The growing influence of social media does affect the way the whole population thinks and feels. The majority poor, however, are less wired to the major dailies, or FaceBook and Twitter.

The choice of mainstream and social media need not be the choice of the poor and the young as the last senatorial elections show.

The exciting thing about change that is stepping up its pace is that it makes things more unpredictable.

The year 2016 is so near, yet so far away, Rapid change can dramatically alter a political scenario because of just one hot issue at a critical moment. Cory’s death in August 1, 2009, changed the whole political landscape and set a trajectory that elevated a non-ambitious senator to a presidency he never sought. One event revealed destiny’s choice and nothing else really mattered except for enough Filipinos to agree.

It is not fate that elects a President. It may be destiny that gives the clear edge to its anointed, but destiny does not remove the choice of man.

And to the observant, fate or destiny actually consider most importantly what people want, and what people need. Free will is paramount, even if exercised wrongly.

So we do not even have to fasten our seat belts yet. The wild roller coaster ride has not begun. We will know when it does. And when it happens, it will not be fuelled by traditional or social media, but the other way around.

Failure of government SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 20, 2014 - 12:00am 0 2 googleplus0 0


 Ana Marie Pamintuan

If the government doesn’t want to revive ransom kidnapping as the No. 1 industry in Sulu and neighboring areas, it should make sure any ransom paid for a German couple is recovered and the perpetrators caught and punished.

Obviously this is a job not just for security forces. There is strong international cooperation against money laundering, especially against a group officially listed as an international terrorist organization like the Abu Sayyaf, so the government should find no lack of assistance in sniffing out the money trail.

There are several versions of the denomination used as mode of ransom payment, but all the figures point to variations of similar amounts: four million euros, $5.5 million or P250 million.

That amount should prove tough to conceal, whether in cash in bed mattresses or through paperless transactions in the banking system. In the age of the Financial Action Task Force against money laundering, we have laws requiring automatic reporting by banks of single transactions involving a threshold amount of P500,000.

Our anti-graft and internal revenue investigators are authorized to conduct, on their own initiative, discreet lifestyle checks on public officials in Sulu. Over the weekend there were discussion in radio talk shows about widespread suspicions that government, military and police officials in Sulu all have a modus vivendi for sharing the spoils of kidnapping with the Abu Sayyaf.

For now suspicion is focused mainly on Sulu-based officials. But speculation is starting to spread to the national government, which has jurisdiction over the departments of defense as well as the interior and local government.

* * *

Previous kidnapping sprees in Sulu reinforce the speculation. In 2000, at the height of the kidnapping rampage by the Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf faction led by Ghalib Andang (the main faction was in Basilan), there were also reports that government and military officials were getting large chunks from the ransom payments.

* Among the captives of Andang, a.k.a. Commander Robot, taken from the Malaysian island of Sipadan were three German tourists. German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the German secret service had intercepted satellite phone conversations indicating that the Abu Sayyaf gave 40 percent of a $20-million ransom to Robert Aventajado, the chief government negotiator and adviser for flagship projects of then President Joseph Estrada. Erap himself got a 10 percent cut, Der Spiegel alleged. Erap and Aventajado threatened to sue the magazine for libel.

The $20 million was paid by Libya. Andang also received at least P6 million more – plus satellite phones, wristwatches and even boots – for holding several Filipino journalists hostage.

Little wonder that not long after, Abu Sayyaf bandits ventured across the Sulu Sea to raid a Palawan resort in May 2001. That led to the beheading of an American hostage and the death in a rescue operation of another American and a Filipina nurse.

A congressional investigation was launched on accusations that military officers received a cut from ransom payments at the start of the hostage crisis. The payoffs were not established.

These days there is speculation on how high up the sharing went for the German couple.

There is no such thing as a free lunch with the Abu Sayyaf. From previous incidents, we all know that at the minimum, the bandits always demand “board and lodging fee” – typically six-star hotel rates for jungle accommodations and daily meals consisting of little more than camote or sweet potato and boiled rice.

Instead of insisting that there is a no-ransom policy, the government should presume that money changed hands and make sure no one profits from crime.

Yet Malacañang seems to have zero interest in tracing the reported ransom payment, instead tossing the issue to the Anti-Money Laundering Council. Palace officials also point to a military pursuit of the bandits.

* * *

The pursuit itself is intriguing. Last Friday as the public waited for the Abu Sayyaf to carry out its threat of beheading Okonek on the dot at 3 p.m., military officers said they already had the bandits and the captives in their line of sight, but were prevented from moving in.

Governments follow a no-ransom policy and refuse to negotiate with terrorists to protect their citizens from more attacks. If ever ransom is paid, the idea is to secure the hostages’ release and capture the kidnappers.

If the military had the Abu Sayyaf surrounded before the Germans walked free, how did the kidnappers manage to slip past those troops?

This latest kidnapping spree – and it is a spree, with about 10 more foreigners in Abu Sayyaf captivity – also highlights the failure of government in Sulu.

The province has dense jungles and mountains dotted with caves for hiding, but it’s not the size of Texas. The government is represented all the way down to the smallest community unit, the barangay. Village officials are supposed to know – or at least try to get to know – every single member of the barangay, especially when the population is small. The same goes for police personnel, who are tasked to look out for potential troublemakers in their areas of responsibility.

Their activities are supervised by mayors and the governor. Consider what a more efficient local executive like Davao City’s Rodrigo Duterte would have done to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf threat – and his city is much larger than Jolo. On the national level, think of how the late Jesse Robredo would have responded.

Those Abu Sayyaf bandits need supplies in their mountain lairs. They have relatives, including in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Tracking down these bandits shouldn’t prove to be Mission: Impossible.

Unless there is no interest in neutralizing them. It is said that if you don’t share, you go to hell. Abu Sayyaf bandits must have perfected the art of sharing for survival.

If those kidnappers are not caught, the government should worry about its tourism targets. The Germans were snatched from a yacht off Palawan after island-hopping in Mindanao, and they have horror stories to tell.

And if that P250 million disappears into money laundering havens, we should prepare for more kidnappings for ransom. The enormous profits are worth the risks.

VFA – the bigger picture BABE’S EYE VIEW By Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 19, 2014 - 12:00am 0 23 googleplus0 1


Babe Romualdez

The death of transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude involving US Marine Joseph Pemberton as the primary suspect couldn’t have come at a worst time just as the Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA. DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario painstakingly worked on the new agreement for two years with the end in view of strengthening our country’s external defense capability in the light of what is happening in the West Philippine Sea — for the security of our country now and in the future.

At the 9TV public affairs program “Opposing Views” hosted by Atty. Rod Nepomuceno where I was a guest along with UP Political Science Professor Amado Mendoza, the issue of the Visiting Forces Agreement and whether it should be repealed by the Philippine government was the topic of discussion, obviously fueled by the upsurge of emotions over the killing of Jeffrey Laude.

It can be recalled that the VFA — from which EDCA was anchored on — was ratified by the Philippine Senate during the time of president Joseph Estrada. Erap used his political capital to have the treaty passed, convinced that American assistance was important in beefing up our external security and in containing the Abu Sayyaf Group that was sowing terror in Mindanao. The fact is, it was through the help of the US marines and their high tech equipment that finally located ASG leader Commander Robot that eventually led to his death.

It’s clear a sore point with the VFA is the “custody issue” regarding US military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines. Article V, Paragraph 6 states that “the custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

Admittedly, the case of Pemberton is different from that of Daniel Smith — who was found guilty of raping Suzette Nicolas — but whose conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeals after Nicole’s recantation. This time however, we are talking about a victim’s death. Those calling for the abrogation of the VFA overlook the fact that although Smith remained in US custody, the Americans fulfilled their part of the agreement, as Smith was made readily available for the duration of the trial and placed under the jurisdiction of Philippine courts.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg and the State Department have already given assurances that they will cooperate and adhere to Philippine laws — I have no doubt we can count on them in this regard. Also, our meetings in Washington, DC two weeks ago at the Pentagon with Joint Chiefs of Staff Deputy Director for Politico-Military Affairs for Asia General David Stilwell and at the White House with NSC Senior Director Evan Medeiros gave me a sense that there is clearly a bigger picture in our relationship with the United States as far as the VFA is concerned — an important ingredient of the US pivot to Asia policy.

* A possible solution which we have been pushing for as an amendment to the VFA is to confine the soldiers in just one area and apply “tight liberty rules” like they did in Okinawa where curfews and travel restrictions were set for American troops. Let’s face it, US soldiers are not here as tourists; they are here to do a job and not R&R. Another possible solution which Professor Mendoza raised during Rod Nepomuceno’s TV program is for Philippine and US authorities to have joint custody, which would require the construction of a facility to specifically hold American military personnel accused of any crime. We all know the horrible conditions of our jails — which is one of the reasons why our senators implicated in the PDAF scandal are in the PNP custodial center. So, can we honestly blame the US in insisting on custody for the safety and health of its soldiers?

A recent survey shows that 90 percent of Filipinos are in favor of stronger American presence in the region and participation in enhancing the capability of our military. People feel helpless in the face of an external threat, and should that possibility arise, we will definitely need the US. We’re also looking at Japan to start strengthening their military capabilities and ultimately assist our armed forces. Undoubtedly, it is also in the interest of Japan to keep the balance of power in the region, the same with our Asian neighbors who are all concerned about China’s aggressive moves.

All of us Filipinos want to see our country become self-reliant and capable of defending our shores, but the practical reality is that our AFP does not have the wherewithal to do that just yet. Let’s not also forget that another important aspect of EDCA is the humanitarian and disaster response. The Yolanda disaster alone proved that we are not yet capable of responding to a major disaster without help from our friends. The quick response from the United States in sending the aircraft carrier USS George Washington literally saved thousands of lives with their Osprey aircraft, food drops and water desalination process tanks. The current Ebola pandemic crisis is also something to worry about. God forbid — we will need a lot of help considering we have so many OFWs working in the affected African countries.

There is no doubt we all want justice for Jennifer Laude, but we must follow the process. Looking at the bigger picture, let’s remember what JFK once said: “…Explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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