Testing our institutions

July 4, 2014
(The Philippine Star) July 4, 2014

By now, I am sure many prospective foreign investors are wondering if our political risk is worth the economic promise. After the flood and the coup, there are supposedly many investors in Thailand who are thinking of diversifying their risk profile by moving some of their action to the Philippines.

But there are enough stories in media today that would give pause to anyone about to risk money in a country like ours. Assuming they are ok with our laws, including the restrictive Constitutional provisions, they need to be reassured that all the noise we now have will eventually lead to something even better for business.

This is what we should tell them: We are testing our institutions and we seem to be getting encouraging results. The unanimous vote of the Supreme Court declaring DAP unconstitutional is a good sign of judicial independence. We couldn’t have reasonably expected that from the Corona court during the Arroyo watch.

The new regime at the Supreme Court validates the idea that the High Court will be intelligently independent if the President doesn’t dangle incentives to be otherwise. It had been prostituted in the past with favors from those exercising political powers and as a result, it lost its credibility through the years.

These days, it is good to see the Arroyo and Aquino appointees working together to resurrect public respect for the High Court and eventually, for the entire judicial system. These are early days, I know, but there is now reason to be hopeful.

The pork barrel cases are now slowly making their way through our judicial system. There are problems along the way including doubts the Ombudsman is competent enough to successfully prosecute the cases. The attempt to amend the information filed with the Sandiganbayan betrays lack of thoroughness demanded by the job.

Still, the cases are moving and two Senators are in jail as are other major and minor participants in this shameful raid on the national treasury. I hope the cases will move fast enough so that voters can be guided during the 2016 election.

The other big test is Congress. How will Congress behave now that all forms of pork have been declared illegal by the Supreme Court?

Then there is P-Noy and the Executive branch. Is porkless governance possible? Or is P-Noy prematurely a lame duck until 2016?

Whatever, P-Noy and his Cabinet should protect the credibility of this cleansing process. The public must not be given reason to suspect that political allies are exempted from investigation and prosecution.

Indeed, there is need for some Cabinet members to take a bullet for P-Noy and our Constitutional process. No matter how clean their conscience may be, it is probably necessary for them to take a leave of absence as our institutions sort things out. P-Noy swearing he still trusts them means nothing anymore. Not even good faith can be effectively claimed.

I do hope the events of the past few weeks will not distract the President from the work that still needs to be done. Infrastructure must still be built, the Yolanda victims still need new homes and new jobs, and the promise of inclusive economic growth must start sounding more than a political promise.

In terms of political risk, there is reason to believe our institutions will pass the critical tests now ongoing. The message to the bureaucracy is clear: it is no longer business as usual. We may not believe P-Noy and his Daang Matuwid, but the public is now more alert, mad as hell and there is social media to use as weapon for change.

I guess we just have to make sure we all remain vigilant. We are not a Thailand, at least not yet, and investors should take recent developments in a positive light.


The hot news from DOTC is the press release of their intention to do the ambitious P135 billion “subway” or underground rail system dubbed as the Mass Transit Loop System. I am all for dreaming of great things we can do to make our future brighter but in the case of DOTC, I suspect they use press releases like this to cover up failures.

Given the amount of time left for them, the current bossings of DOTC should concentrate in delivering the deliverable projects before P-Noy’s term ends. How can they deliver a subway when everyone knows they may not even be able to deliver the 4-kilometer LRT 2 Masinag extension? Or get the long awaited MRT 7 to break ground.

Indeed, I just got an e-mail from a Ms. Sta Ana who complained of the horrors commuters experienced at LRT 2 last Wednesday morning. “There were no available tickets at the ticketing area: no stored value ticket available plus there were very few counters selling single journey tickets,” Ms Sta Ana complained.

She continued: “The lines inside for buying tickets were also too long that the place was so full they cannot allow additional people to enter. After sometime, they announced that only those commuters with stored value can enter.

“I really pity the students who were lining up and who only can afford single journey ticket because of the limited school allowance they get from their parents… So today many students in the university belt area serviced by LRT 2 were late in their classes.

Sobra pa ang init sa pila bago makapasok sa station… Wala talagang planning at sistema itong mga sa LRT…dapat alam nila ang volume ng commuters araw-araw para maihanda kung gaano kadaming tiket ang mabenta, plus bakit naubos ang stored value tickets????”

Oh well… what else is new? DOTC had always been dysfunctional from way back. I remember during the ’80s, then DOTC Sec Totoy Dans, an otherwise respected technocrat, rejected an offer of the National Coal Authority to build a rail line from the Batangas Port to Poro Point to connect two coal terminals. Batangas and Laguna commuters would have also had a commuter service to Manila as an add-on. The late DOTC chief probably resented this intrusion into his turf.

Sayang because that rail system would have only cost something in the neighborhood of $ 65 million, a bargain compared to present costs. I know this because I was then working for the Energy ministry reporting directly to then Energy Secretary Ronnie Velasco.

Of course we all know how a series of DOTC secretaries messed up the NAIA 3 project. The worse was during the Arroyo watch with the ZTE deal. It was also during that time when all the confusion on that common station for LRT 1 and MRT 3 happened.

Ayala Land CEO Bobby Dy told me that the original location of the common station was really at TriNoma. It seems that DOTC somehow caused the confusion by signing a contract with SM after it had already reached a deal with Ayala. Indeed work had started at TriNoma when DOTC accepted P200 million from SM. I asked for a timeline of events and this is what I found out:

13 August 2007 –MetroLink JV, the consultants of the Light Rail Transit Authority for LRT 1 North Extension Project wrote to LRTA documenting meeting with and concurrence of Ayala Land to North Terminal station of LRT 1 project at TriNoma. LRTA wrote ALI requesting concurrence by ALI to locate terminal station at TriNoma.

4 September 2007 – North Triangle Depot Commercial Corporation (an Ayala subsidiary) wrote LRTA confirming agreement for common station location at TriNoma.

14 March 2009 – LRTA wrote NTDCC expressing appreciation for the agreement to locate the station at TriNoma.

30 March 2009 – LRTA wrote MetroLink JV to stop work on the TriNoma LRT1 station and to transfer the location to SM North EDSA.

15 April 2009 – MetroLink JV wrote LRT1 North Extension Project to cease work on the TriNoma LRT 1 station and to transfer the location of the station to SM North EDSA.

The mess, as can be seen here, is totally DOTC’s. I have maintained in this column that the decision on the location of the common station should be based on purely technical considerations. Now, it has assumed legal and commercial aspects as well.

It is just as well that a Pasay court has declined to issue a TRO on the project because this is an infrastructure project long needed by commuters. But there is still a question on DOTC’s legal obligations and possibly damages that must be paid to aggrieved parties.

If DOTC officials, past and present, knew what they were doing, this mess should have been sorted out a long time ago and commuters need not have suffered for years now. Indeed, the mess shouldn’t have happened at all.