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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Arrogance of Chinese girl who threw taho at MRT police could indicate foreign group's sense of entitlement in our own country. Why the big hoopla over cleaning up Manila Bay when reclamation projects certain to pollute the Bay's waters are already approved, per PRA's testimony in the House? What happens to world's most beautiful sunset when casinos shoot up?


Beautiful Manila Bay with its world-famous sunset is threatened with reclamation projects. 

The Chinese girl's arrogance toward the MRT policeman---splattering taho at him when he forbade her to bring her drink into the train---is merely symptomatic of what's reputed as the Chinese invasion of the country.

I have been riding taxis since I lost my driver and invariably I strike up conversation with the drivers---as they have always had their pulse on what's cooking in town. One cabbie commented that this taho episode is not surprising, as the Chinese girl's compatriots are now all over the metropolis. Perhaps they think they own the Philippines now, he asserted.

In fact, one cabbie pointed out that whole villages  are being built for the Chinese south of the metropolis, and as everyone knows, they have been buying or leasing condominiums all over the Greater Manila area, driving up condo rentals for the locals. 

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In Facebook a woman wrote with ill-disguised irritation that when she brought her child to the emergency room of a downtown hospital, it was crawling with Chinese children and she could hardly be attended to. Others ascribe the current acute shortage of drivers, housemaids and office staff to the hiring of these personnel by Chinese corporations that have set up here. The latter are reported to be paying far higher wages than Filipinos.

It had long been the talk in town, corroborated by the Bureau of Immigration, that Chinese workers have been entering the country in droves, as they are setting up companies in various parts of the archipelago---especially in the industrial zones. The query in many minds: are they all properly documented?

The problem here is that while we welcome foreign investments into our country, under normal circumstances and as demonstrated by other foreign nationals, only the top officials are foreign nationals---the rest of the staff and workers would be Filipinos. This does not seem to be the case with the Chinese, who insist on bringing their own people by the hundreds and thousands. This explains why exclusive enclaves of the Chinese are going up in various parts of our country.

Do our leaders know what's happening, and is this seeming mass Chinese invasion part of a deal of sorts?

XXX

On another front, recall that there was a big hoopla in past weeks about the clean-up of Manila Bay, with lots of young people and various NGOs volunteering in this laudable project. Recall too, that various business establishments said to be polluting the historic bay have been admonished and some, like the Aristocrat Restaurant on Roxas Blvd.,  were even suspended from operating until they fix their environmental compliance. The project to clean up and save the Bay drew so much enthusiasm as most Metro Manilans feel sentimental about Manila Bay and watching its world-famous sunset has been a generational past-time.

But alas, like many things in this country, all the ballyhooed clean-up may come to naught. In a hearing last Tuesday at the House of Representatives, Joseph Literal, Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) assistant general manager for reclamation and regulation, told shocked congressmen that his agency is currently processing applications for 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay that would likely affect some 22,000 hectares of our historic bay! Once approved, the projects would affect about 11% of the bay's 1,994 sq. km. area, doubtless in a manner that could compromise  environmental sanitation!

Other sources actually say that the total reclamation projects in Manila Bay number 43!.

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PRA Assistant GM Literal also stressed that these 22 (or 43?) projects scheduled in the metropolitan area are only part of some 120 reclamation projects in the whole country.  Literal also admitted that of the 22 reclamation projects lodged before his agency, three have already been approved in principle---after the developers were said to have complied with Department of Environment and Natural Resources regulations.

These are the 360-has. Pasay reclamation project, the 140-has. Solar City project, and the Navotas Boulevard Business Park.

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Among the most shocked solons at yesterday's hearing on the Bay's reclamation projects was former Manila Mayor and former Environment Secretary, now Buhay Party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza, who raised possible adverse effects of these projects on the environment. Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao joined Rep. Atienza in grilling the PRA official.

To Atienza's query on the possible ill effects of these reclamation projects on the environment, the PRA official admitted that there will be an effect, but he stressed that  " 'systems' " would be put in place to reduce the environmental impact of the reclamation projects."

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Fuming,  Rep. Atienza shot back: "You are aware that there will be indeed effects on the environment
and yet you will still let these projects proceed---and just try to mitigate these adverse effects?" The former Manila Mayor stressed that "the effects will be catastrophic for all of us," beginning with the rise in sea levels. Atienza decried the "reclamation craze sweeping across the country which the PRA seems to just keep approving and approving without due diligence."

Anak-pawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, on the other hand, stressed that the reclamation of Manila Bay ought to be stopped as "it's threatening the genuine essence of its clean-up, so that it must be opposed."  Indeed.

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As a way to mitigate adverse reactions, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano has stressed that all reclamation projects would be reviewed, but what complicates the matter is that according to recent news reports, the Office of the President has taken DIRECT CONTROL AND SUPERVISION over the PRA and its 43 reclamation projects in Manila Bay. Thus, the DILG appears to have been sidetracked in this issue.

 In fact, the Inquirer carried last Tuesday a news item that one project in the Manila Bay Area  has already been awarded to Dennis Uy, a businessman from Davao with close ties to President Duterte. His project involves 265-hectares of the Bay, called the Pasay Harbor City, estimated to cost some P62 billion.

I'm afraid that the side-tracking of the PRA in this issue would only worsen the environmental state of storied Manila Bay. It also does not encourage a picture of integrity for the Office of the President.

The query that will be left in citizens' minds: who stands to make money on these projects?

XXX

From various write-ups, we are given to understand that multi-function reclamation areas similar to those in cities like Dubai are being considered to be set up in Manila Bay, and presumably these would involve casinos, night-clubs and other high-end entertainment.

All these big-ticket reclamation projects would naturally involve enormous funds, some of which could be generously funneled to cooperative politicos in various areas, especially in this campaign season. But we citizens go back to the question: what is to happen to the historic Manila Bay, which has seen many a battle in our history and which boasts the most beautiful sunset in the world? The island of Corregidor, bathed in the blood of Filipino and American defenders during World War II, is part of the proud history of Manila Bay.

What was the much ballyhooed clean-up of  Manila Bay---designed to benefit families---all about, if in the end it's just going to be polluted by reclamation and establishments that could cater mainly to gambling and other vices to be set up there? Who stands to profit from all these reclamation projects? We're already certain about the losers: it's the Filipino people.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Senator PanfiloLacson morphs from a highly controversial cop in past decades to today's highly effective conscience of Congress especially on embedded porks in the budget. 



That Senator Panfilo Lacson has emerged as effective conscience of the Senate is quite interesting, considering his colorful career as controversial cop in past decades.


Lacson has been scrutinizing, line by line  the proposed P3.9 trillion draft-spending bill f government for 2019, now being finalized by the Senate conference comitttee headed by Sen. Loren Legarda. Because of his studiousness in questioning budget data he considers  "suspicious pork" (officially referred to as "Priority Development Assistance Fund"), Lacson is given by media all the attention he needs nowadays.


XXX


Lacson's assiduousness in tracking down pork insertions has kept his fellow senators not only on their toes, but also quite irritated with him. In fact Senate President Vicente Sotto III threatens to pull out the current budget bill, so that prospects of a "reenacted budget" looms---something undesirable in an election year. Obviously it is oblique criticism of Lacson's incessant sleuthing about the PDAF, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013 but which constantly morphs in different forms in Congress.


Just this morning (Friday, Feb. 01, 2019), the Inquirer bannered Lacson's revelation that each House member will get P100 M, as embedded in the National Expenditure Program prepared by the executive department, to which, Lacson alleged, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo added P60 million more for each of her House colleagues.


XXX


Lacson has been scrutinizing the 2019 budget especially for gargantuan public works projects, which are the traditional milking cows of both houses of Congress.


Lately he has been targeting a favorite source of pork funds over various administrations---the multi-billion funds for dredging and flood control projects. As a pundit remarked, it's easy to finagle funds for these projects as they are literally washed away---no trace whatsoever.


XXX


Recently Lacson trained his guns on unfinished road projects in various areas, notably in Batangas and Bicol. It turned out that many big-ticket highway projects remain unfinished because of one pathetic and lamentable reason: some simple folks who own small land parcels that have been expropriated by DPWH to make way for these grand highways HAVE NOT BEEN PAID FOR THEIR SMALL PARCELS---despite the huge amounts programmed for the "Build, Build Build" road projects of the Duterte administration.


What's even more disturbing is that while construction of many highways remains unfinished because of this expropriation problem, in many cases FUNDS HAVE ALREADY BEEN PAID TO CONTRACTORS, WHO, IN TURN, HAVE ALREADY GIVEN COMMISSIONS TO POLITICIANS IN THOSE TERRITORIES WHERE HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION HAS STALLED.


The Inquirer posed photos recently of a number of cases where highways lead to nowhere---because the contractors failed to pay the humble owners of tiny parcels of the huge land appropriated for the highway!


XXX


 In a recent interview, Sen. Lacson was asked if the senators' "individual amendments," amounting to P23 billion in the 2019 spending bill, could be described as "pork." He was quoted as asserting, "That is a very fair statement. If something was allowed, then there was horse-trading. That's unfortunate in our budgeting process."


Lacson also stressed that such revelations deprive the Senate of any moral ascendancy over the House of Representatives. His statement tallies with House Appropriations chair Rolando Andaya Jr.'s assertion in a recent Inquirer banner story that lump-sum amendments introduced by the Senate exceeded P190 billion, whereas the House proposal involved only P51 billion----A HUGE DISCREPANCY IN PORK BARREL PROJECT PROPOSALS. .


What;s interesting is that Public Works Secretary Mark Villar had admitted that the additional P75 billion in the DPWH budget that Lacson "stumbled upon" was NOT PART OF THE DPWH'S REQUEST. If Villar didn't ask for that additional P75B, who did?  A clear whodunit case!


XXX


Banner stories about Lacson's assertions of heavy pork embedded in the 2019 spending bill constitute only part of the evidence of his amazing transformation from his earlier years---when he was linked to various controversies---to his current role as crusader vs. pork. One such controversy involved his alleged master-minding of the infamous "Kuratong Baleleng" gang, that eventually led to his flight from the country  and his self-exile for 15 months.


 Among the controversies Lacson was linked to as chief of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) was the disappearance of publicist Salvador "Buddy" Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2009. Upon Lacson's return from his self-imposed flight abroad, however, the Court of Appeals in February 2011 withdrew the murder charges against him as filed by Mancao, ruling the latter a non-credible witness.


XXX


Since his election to the Senate in 2001 under the LDP affiliated with President Estrada, Lacson has been exposing the evils of the pork barrel system and calling for its abolition. But pork appears to be too deeply imbedded into the body politic that it would take more than his exposes to surgically excise it.


 Thus, the recent admission of DPWH Secretary Mark Villar that the additional P75 billion in his department's budget this year WAS NOT PART OF THE DPWH'S  REQUEST only accentuates the fact that in this election year, congressional  politicians have to get their generous share of the embedded pork to fund their campaigns. It is a fact, indeed, that local elections involving representatives and local offices oftentimes prove far more expensive than national elections, such as for senator. The fight is far more intensive at the local level---thus, more funds needed.


XXX


Bureaucratic corruption has become so ingrained int our political system,  but it's brought to newer heights during elections, when voters expect to get grease money in exchange for their votes. Selling votes during election time is doubtless the citizens' revenge oftentimes on their politicos' negligence of their welfare.


 Until such time when the broad masses are rescued from grinding poverty and their educational level is raised by dint of duly compensated hard work---as well as when a more compassionate, caring and honest government emerges---many citizens' votes will tragically remain for sale to the highest bidder. The elected officials, with some exceptions, will then seek to recoup their "losses" through corrupt practices such as pushing substandard public works projects with fat kickbacks---and cementing their dynasties with these funds. A vicious cycle indeed.


Let's pray and work for better political times.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Close encounters with Henry Sy, said to be the richest Filipino, in the very early years in his Carriedo shoe store. He was always patient and smiling, no matter how fickle or hard to satisfy, or penny-pinching customers would be.


When my father's business collapsed in the late '50s, my parents had to make the tough decision to keep us 10 children in the schools where we had begun studying during the prosperous years. This involved six boys studying in the Ateneo de Manila, earlier situated in Padre Faura and later transferred to Katipunan in Quezon City,  and three girls in Holy Ghost College under German and American sisters---later renamed the College of the Holy Spirit---on Mendiola St., Manila, sandwiched between Malacanang Palace and San Beda College. The eldest of the brood of ten, our Ate Elvy, was by then studying in UST.

My mother, who was a working student at the old UP in Manila, was determined to keep her entire brood in the schools where we had begun---against the vigorous protestations of my father whose business was in ruins. My mom won, but it meant a lot of belt-tightening for all of us and negotiations galore with school authorities to allow deferred payment of tuition fees.

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For us three Holy Ghost colegialas, it meant walking daily the entire route from Mendiola to Quiapo, where we would take the bus to Quezon City. We had moved to QC from the big ancestral home in Sta. Mesa Blvd., as my parents were forced to sell it, owing to the business collapse.

Walking all the way to Quiapo was fun, though, as there were quite a lot of us students walking together. From time to time we would break up the monotony by sauntering over to Carriedo St. where a tall lanky Chinese entrepreneur perhaps in his late '30s had set up a modest shoe store called "Shoemart."

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This youthful Chinese shoe-store owner/salesman had stacks of shoes in boxes neatly arranged on shelves up to the ceiling of the store and he personally attended to each customer. In those days, he himself would sit on a low wooden stool in front of the customer---helping him or her with several pairs of shoes to try on.

"Ay, medyo tight itong pares na ito," I'd complain, and the store-owner would patiently get up and climb the ladder to get more stocks from the ceiling. He'd bring the new pairs and sit down again on the low stool in front, helping us to try new ones.  Sometimes the shoes would fit, but at times we customers would change our mind about them and walk around again, looking at some other pair.

Henry Sy must have thought at that time that there must be an easier way to make a living.

XXX

This tall, rather slender young Chinese store-owner would always retain the patience of Buddha toward us pesky colegialas. After I left Holy Ghost College and entered the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City,  I continued to visit Shoemart in Quiapo, as Mr. Sy's goods were reasonably priced. I also have good memories of his kindness and courteousness, the semi-serious smile on his face and the broken Filipino he could speak at that time.

Little did I ever imagine that the same over-patient shoe-store proprietor would one day turn out to be the entrepreneur adjudged by Forbes Magazine as the Philippines' richest man for 11 SUCCESSIVE YEARS---with an estimated worth of $9 billion or P1.05 trillion! As the Inquirer pointed out, according to Forbes Magazine, Henry Sy, as the 52nd richest person in the world last year, elbowed out tycoons such as Elon Musk, Rupert Murdoch and George Soros from the magazine listing.

XXX

Little would I have imagined too at that time when we would casually saunter into that little shoe store on Carriedo St. in Quiapo, that it would become the flagship of his vast family conglomerate. That little Shoemart store would morph into the SM Department Store with many dozens of branches sprouting all over the country---a vast pillar of the Philippine economy---with ultimately the SM Megamall and the Mall of Asia dwarfing them all.

Little would I have imagined that from that little Carriedo St. shoe store, the fortunes of this ever-patient shoe-store owner would diversify in about three decades to include vast holdings in retail, banking and property development all across the country and the region, including in Henry Sy's native China. Little did I imagine that that Carriedo shoe store would one day create not only a new verb---"malling"---but also a distinct way of life among us Filipinos, that would help rev up the economy and provide countless job opportunities.

A young  lanky Henry Sy in front of his shoe store on Carriedo St. in Quiapo, Manila. 
Business tycoon Henry Sy in later years


Obviously Henry Sy and his very religious wife Felicidad (who built the beautiful Sto Nino Church in the reclamation area near the Mall of Asia)  brought up their children very well---equipped with the same work ethic that enabled them to take over the empire when retirement became imperative for the patriarch of the dynasty. What's great about this family is the way Henry Sy trained his children to take charge of specific holdings.

Tessie Sy Coson, the eldest of the brood of Henry and Felicidad Sy and one of their two daughters (the other daughter is Elizabeth and there are  four sons, namely Henry Jr., Hans, Herbert and Harley), has headed the Sy business empire for some time now, and she and her siblings have continued the many philanthropic works of their parents. A little episode indicates to me the kind of training she received from her father.

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One evening, Tessie Coson attended the concert of the young Mozarteum-trained Filipino classical violinist Joaquin "Chino" Gutierrez at the Francisco Santiago Concert Hall in the BDO Bldg. that the Sy family owns. Friends of the young violinist had invited her to attend the concert and hear this music sensation,  but half-way through the program, she bade goodbye to me as she had to rush somewhere else.

I accompanied her to the concert hall door and at that point I suddenly remembered  the repeated request of senior theater-goers about the need to put hand-railings for the eight or so steps reaching up to the BDO concert hall, to prevent accidents especially for seniors.

Tessie Coson listened attentively, but more than that, she quickly took out her cellphone from her bag and took photos of the staircase and the walls needing hand-railings. I thought that this lady now heading the family business empire could just have directed a staffer to attend to the concert-goers' request;  but no, she had to produce the evidence herself---doubtless to produce quicker results.

No wonder, I thought to myself, that the family business empire has been so successful---every conceivable detail is covered. My profound sympathies to the Sy family over the demise of their beloved patriarch.