Benham Rise issue – Part III

 

I have no choice but to designate this article as Part III since I have already written about Benham Rise twice some years back which you can read at this links:

https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/philippines-pin-hopes-on-benham-rise/

https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/thank-god-for-benham-rise-part-ii/

Never had I anticipated writing about it again until I heard the recent alarming and disturbing news that a Chinese survey ship was spotted at the Benham Rise location.

“We are concerned about the presence of a Chinese ship in Benham Rise, which has been recognized by the United Nations as part of the Philippines,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella in a statement on Friday, March 10.

“The Department of National Defense has already notified the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding this matter as we continue to assert our sovereignty over our territory,” he added.

Of course we should, forcefully and explicitly!

The Benham Rise area definitely does not have any stupid Chinese historical claim of any sort like they had been asserting they have at the West Philippine Sea just because it is part of the larger body of water bearing the name South China Sea (SCS).

On the pretext that China was “looking for a place to put submarine”, as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said was the info he got, the most likely reason would be that they have chosen the area for their oceanographic research because they just want to confirm if indeed the unimaginable wealth and extent in mineral resources and gas deposits found underneath Benham Rise truly exist.

I cannot blame President Rodrigo Duterte for pussyfooting with the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea issue, where even the country’s territorial integrity has been breached with China’s nine- dash line claim.

If the most powerful country and the acclaimed top ‘policeman’ in the world- the US, and the UN, through its agency the UNCLOS, were not able to stop China from expanding and militarizing the SCS, who are we to prevent China’s hegemony of the contested areas?

But what I am just saying here is that we had been hearing Duterte declaring time and again that he will die defending the country and the Filipino people from the enemies that will try to destroy them.

Well this is it!

There has not been and there will never be a greater challenge such as this one in Duterte’s presidency that needs more of his grit, determination and resolve to stand up for his country and people.

Duterte could not afford anymore to be complacent the way he has been pleased and gratified at the financial and technical help China has promised to give for many infrastructure projects for the country.

China may have bamboozled us in the SCS and there was nothing that we can do. In that part of the globe what is China’s is China’s and what is ours is still China’s

Duterte and those that will follow him should be reminded that at Benham Rise what legally belongs to the Philippines is for the Filipinos and for the generations of Filipinos to come and not to China or any other exploitative country that intends to not only hold us by the balls, but stick it to us as well.

 

Presidential emergency powers needed to speed up infra projects

 

President Rodrigo Duterte with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua

President Rodrigo Duterte with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua

There never has been such a propitious time to embark on a challenging and costly infrastructure projects that will benefit the country and its people, most specifically in solving the traffic crisis in the country, than it is today.

We should all realize that the country’s population is getting bigger by the year and we can also say that the economy is getting better, but the downside of all these is that the cities’ main thoroughfares are clogging up with private and public transport vehicles, not to mention the continued existence of the ubiquitous jeepneys, and these pathetic sights all over the country are making the people, from students to employees, more stressful and less productive.

Understandably, there have been government projects geared towards improving the flow and plight of people but, sadly, it always ended up in failures because of incompetence, corruption and the scandalous one of all, politics.

I say it is propitious time now because not only do we have an incorruptible leader who wants to see the country move forward, but we also have China that believes in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hard-nosed style of governance and whom it could trust to put into good use the billions of dollars of loan that the giant country is helping us with for the various infrastructure projects needed.

But for these projects to be expeditiously realized Congress must grant Duterte emergency powers, which the latter actually requested in his SONA last July 2016, to solve the traffic dilemma the country is experiencing today.

No less than Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua expressed support for the granting of emergency powers to Duterte, saying, “There is as very strong sense of urgency. As you know, infrastructure projects cannot be done overnight. They usually take years to finish, and given the fact that the presidential term is only six years, so we must hurry. We have to get it done within the presidential term. We are quite afraid of taking up projects that go beyond the presidential term because that would mean a lot of challenges and uncertainties.”

“I hope President Duterte can get his emergency power as soon as possible. Without the emergency power, I think the big infrastructure projects — the process is going to be very slow, particularly with regard to the rehabilitation or the land issue, so we might be stuck there,” he added.

What the Chinese ambassador actually meant are the facilitation of the right-of-way disputes and other hindrances that may be contentious and detrimental to the proposed projects.

In the process we could not discount questions coming from skeptics asking whether or not the Chinese-funded infrastructure projects in the country is a reward for Duterte not making a big fuss over China’s island building and militarization of the South China Sea (SCS), despite a favorable decision by an international tribunal negating China’s nine-dash-line claim.

Well, you tell me, what else could be done with China, now established in the area?  Who are we to be confrontational with China when the most powerful country in the world could not even prevent China from expanding in the SCS?

Beggars cannot be choosy and if having China for a neighbor is the fastest way to develop the country, then so be it. Better this way than to find ourselves in their cross-hair.

Talking about charting our own destiny!

Duterte’s war on drugs paving way for bullish economy

 

President Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte only recently got appraised on his 50th day in office and while his bloody campaign against illegal drugs became the fodder for media nobody can deny, however, that we may be seeing the turn-around of the country for the better.

It looks like trust and confidence in Duterte’s leadership among Filipinos has even grown stronger because he is doing exactly what he promised to do if elected, which was to waged war against illegal drugs, criminality and corruption.

Not only has Duterte consolidated his political power in congress but he seem to be getting also the support of practically all sectors of Philippine society, even some ranking officials of the Catholic church, because they have all seen the seriousness and determination of his resolve to put an end to the ills that have been plaguing the country all these years so it could start moving forward towards economic growth and development.

While the Duterte administration is busy conducting a violent and highly controversial anti-drugs campaign, the president has not lost sight of the fact that peace and stability are important factors for a country’s sustained growth and development, thus, his initiative to be in harmony with the communists and the Muslim rebels in Mindanao.

This gesture of promoting friendship, reconciliation, unity and smoking the peace pipe is very much welcomed by the business community which is now foreseeing a surge in new investments by local and foreign nationals.

Other factors that are giving the business sector a positive outlook for the future is the government’s plan to start immediately prioritizing infrastructure spending and cutting of red tapes.

That Duterte has asked congress for an emergency power to address the horrendous traffic problem in Manila is an added boost to the morale of the businessmen.

In May, Duterte told the country’s main telecom providers to speed up the internet, or he would junk laws that prohibit foreign competition.

Duterte’s economic plan also includes lowering corporate and income taxes.

While the outside world may be critical of the killings following Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, it has in no way affected the economic performance of the country.

Only recently the government announced that the Philippine economy grew at 7 per cent in the second quarter from a year earlier, its highest level in three years. It makes the Philippines the fastest growing among all countries that have reported so far for the second quarter.

It has been reported that the mainstays of the economy – remittances and the outsourcing sector – are flourishing and boosting domestic consumption.

What this means simply is that Duterte is leading this country in the right direction, regardless of how many are killed in his war against drugs or whether he has called the US ambassador gay or he has ruffled the feathers of the UN by calling some members stupid.

That is the long and short of it.

Rail transport and power shortage woes are Philippines daunting problems

MRTIsn’t it very ironic that the Philippines, considered as one of the better economic performers in Southeast Asia, continues to be plague with rail transport and power shortage woes?

Where has government failed? Do we have the right people running the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and the Department of Energy (DOE)?

We may be doing the right strategy in the manufacturing, agricultural, trade, finance, and real estate sectors, in tourism and in business process outsourcing (BPO) and others, but why is government so irresponsible and remiss in preventing rail transport and power shortage woes?

It is very much appreciated by the citizenry, in general, that government is implementing reforms to reduce cost of doing business in the country and perhaps be more competitive in the export markets, but how could the country maximize its potential, not just in sustaining, but in developing and improving further its growth if government can’t provide adequate, fast, safe and cheap mass transport system for Filipinos going to work?

For that matter, how could offices and business establishments perform efficiently and productively if power problem exists, especially during summer?

How can we be persuasively effective in luring investors to do business in the country if we don’t have what its takes to assist them in running their businesses efficaciously on a long term basis?

Since I am specifically mentioning these two government agencies that are important for bringing success to an undertaking, my point simply is that whoever is in charge should exercise competence and professionalism in the their jobs.

Being reactive to problems in their respective departments is the worst attitude that can be shown. To plan and think ahead, to anticipate and be proactive in dealing with what could bring services and other utilities down resulting to adverse consequences is not only a necessity but must be a priority to consider.

I am sure studies have been made and budgets prepared reflecting the increasing demand of these utilities not only brought about by population growth, but also by the favorable business opportunity because of the much touted economic growth the country is experiencing, but most likely improvement and upgrading are always deferred to some time in the future, until not much can be done about it anymore.

But I think the politicians in this country have other concerns and priorities that they themselves are partly to blame for the inadequacies of the rail transport and power sector for not looking closely into their operational capacity and capability sooner than later.

Look where we are now with the Manila Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT), and even the Philippine National Railways (PNR).

Their hobbled operation that has been causing major accidents and endangering the lives of the riding public because of poor maintenance of the railways and the railcars simply reflects how poorly the rail transport system has been managed. It is bad enough that it is old and dilapidated, with some railcars having been decommissioned, thus reducing the riding space of the countless passengers taking it daily, but its condition could only become worse if no appropriate maintenance is regularly practiced.

And yet management has the gall to ask for fare increase! Where is the logic for a fare increase if nothing changes but will only continue the woes of the riding public instead of alleviating them?

brownoutAnother daunting problem published lately is that an electricity shortfall looms as a serious problem for the Philippines, where growth in generating capacity is not keeping pace with demand. Rolling blackouts may be implemented on the largest island of Luzon this year.

Definitely that is nothing new to those living and doing business in Mindanao.

Flooding, landslides and evacuation now normal sights during long, heavy rains

floodIt appears these days that flooding, landslides and evacuation resulting from long, heavy rains spawned by a tropical disturbance, a tropical depression, a tropical storm or a typhoon, especially the slow moving ones, are becoming common/normal sights all over the country, depending on its path.

The latest we have seen from tropical storm Mario (international name Fung-Wong) affecting the Visayas first and, a day later, the Luzon areas make us wonder if we could see the day again when people won’t be displaced from their homes in utter difficulties and landslides and flooding would be adversities of the past.

Perhaps our only consolation is that this particular kind of natural adversity is not only isolated in third world countries but can also be witnessed, and even more devastatingly, in developed countries.

While progress, greed and the unscrupulousness of man in destroying the environment may be cited as universal reasons for bringing about these types of miseries in communities, in our case much has to be blamed at the lackadaisical attitude of our government officials, both national and local, in pursuing projects and stringently implementing the laws that could help avert or, by some degree, mitigate the detrimental effects of long, heavy downpours.

Time and again new administration takes over and/or gets reelected and its leaders/politicians talk about making comprehensive study on drainage system or flood control every time their areas suffer from extensive flooding.

They have been talking about it when the flood waters were still knee-deep, and now that flood waters have reached neck-deep and over, they are still talking about it.

Almost always they are able to identify the causes, like shallow creeks, streams and riverbeds due to excessive siltation. Upland and in rural areas, it comes from soil degradation due to intensive or inadequate agricultural practices. In urban areas the erosion source is typically construction activities, since this involves clearing the original land-covering vegetation and exposing the soil which is easily washed out during rainstorms.

In other place, not only are these waterways shallow and being cultivated, but illegal settlers are occupying them and with their garbage all over the place, it becomes and obstruction and water overflows.

There never seems to be a permanent existence of side road drainage as government keeps working on it, either fixing a whole stretch or replacing them for bigger ones, and the work goes very slow that when it rains part of the diggings start cascading down the drain.

What makes our kind of flooding different from those in the developed world is that at the height of the long and heavy downpour one sees garbage floating all over the place and when the floods subsides one sees the garbage hanging on fences or wherever it has taken them downstream.

Thus, we know what has to be done, at least, but the urgency seems to appear only when the government officials experiences flooding in their areas and quickly disappears when the sun shines again.

It is not as if there are no funds available for the drainage system or flood control projects. Even the World Bank, has offered to finance project for flood control. (https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/world-bank-to-finance-project-for-flood-control/)

In fact money coming from the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was being used for flood control projects, this, according to Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson.

So, does this mean now that because the Supreme Court has declared the DAP unconstitutional, we no longer can proceed speedily with flood control projects, specifically in Manila?

Definitely there is money, but when the money goes to ghost projects only to end up in somebody else pocket, that is when the country and its people suffer the most.

It should not be the poor and helpless that we should see wading in the filthy flood waters during long and heavy rains, but rather it should be the politicians that misused their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), which otherwise could have augmented the funds for flood control projects, including the relocation of illegal settlers occupying the riverbanks.

(For a related article please open this link: https://quierosaber.wordpress.com/tag/flood-control/)

Gov’t takeover not panacea to MRT mess

mrtAlmost every night when one watches prime TV news, the newscast cannot seem to be complete unless it includes and discuses the sad state of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).

It is bad enough that we hear all the time issues pertaining to derailment, safety (like doors opening while on transit), overshooting the tracks, or others that are described by the MRT management as ‘glitches in the system’, but it is even worse when one keeps on seeing that the commuters line are getting longer and longer everyday.

One cannot really blame the people waiting for their chance to ride because it takes them to their destination fast without the hustle and bustle of the traffic below, if buses were taken.

Having said that, the more that government should show more interest and concern in making sure that the MRT should be a mass transport that continues to be safe and convenient and, most of all, reliable.

But, surely, that does not mean that a government takeover is a panacea, a cure-all, to the MRT mess.

On the contrary it could only spell DISASTER – in capital letters!

What is frustrating about President Benigno Aquino (PNoy) sometimes is that, to this day, he keeps on blaming former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the country’s ills he has inherited from her – including the problem with the MRT.

PNoy is about to end his presidency and yet he continues to blame the Arroyo administration.

PNoy thinks that all his people are competent, reliable and responsible enough that they can’t be blamed for any fiasco happening in his administration.

“There is a problem, but it’s a problem that should have less problems attached to it if certain things were done before we took it over,” he told reporters in Davao on the sidelines of the Mindanao Inclusive Agribusiness Program launch.

All these years PNoy knew about the MRT mess and there was not much that can be done about it because it was there already serving the populace.

What is important is that he and the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Secretary have identified the problems – the incompetence and inept management of the MRT.

In cases like this, where you already have the transport system operational, what makes it efficiently and reliably functional are the people behind it.

If the organization has inexperienced, unqualified and unskilled people running the operation, then you are bound to have glitches.

But if you have managers that are proactive and know what it takes to run an MRT, then you can expect lesser operational problems.

Now, since the MRT falls under the responsibility of the DOTC, the Secretary has every right and authority to keep the MRT organization under his radar especially that it is a mass transport that impacts the safety, security and convenience of the paying Filipino riding public.

Any attention less than exercising the Secretary’s power in government cannot be considered as looking after the interest of the Filipinos.

To put it bluntly, it is command responsibility and the buck stops with PNoy, where the performance of the MRT is concern.

Rebuild Tacloban the best way possible

 

Rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson

Rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson

For someone who has relatives in Tacloban and is familiar with the place, I find it distressing that government, through its Rehabilitation czar, Panfilo Lacson, has plans of relocating Region VIII’s economic or business centers outside of Tacloban City.

In fact they have mentioned Palo, Leyte, which is 12 km south of Tacloban, as the possible new urban center.

“If there is no plan to really rebuild Tacloban, let’s look for another place that will be the hub of business activity like Palo could be a good (alternative) because Tacloban may be again on the path of future calamities. That is being studied,” Lacson said.

Palo was not spared from destruction after the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda, so what is the difference?

It is true that Tacloban does not look the same after it was practically flattened by the unprecedented storm surge, but didn’t the Sendai area in Japan looked even worst when it was flooded and destroyed by a monstrous tsunami in 2011?

But, the Japanese were relentless in their efforts to rebuild and rise back, thus, restoring the image and glory of the place. One can’t help but be awed at the transformation of the Sendai area today.

Tacloban has history, it being the capital and seat of government of the Region of Eastern Visayas (Region VIII). It was the first city in the Region to become a “Highly Urbanized City” and is the largest city in terms of population in Eastern Visayas (EV). It is also the regional center of the EV, being the main gateway by air to the region. Among other things, Tacloban was briefly the capital of the Philippines, from 20 October 1944 to 27 February 1945, during the American occupation.

It is only fitting and proper, therefore, that Tacloban be rebuilt and its past fame and importance restored for it is what it is and what is needed to be done in the best and viable way possible.

Yes, relocate the business, financial, educational and other governmental infrastructures, but do it within the realm of Tacloban City.

This is the only way that the residents of Tacloban who evacuated can be lured back, just like my own relatives who are flying back to Tacloban pretty soon, could feel welcomed, secured and hopeful that government is doing something by giving them what rightfully belongs to their place and not somewhere else – even if it will take years to restore them.

I hope to God that Lacson does his job objectively and not be carried away by political insinuations and sentiments.