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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.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

With X’mas mere seven weeks away, traffic congestion at our ports---caused by bureaucratic incompetence---would likely jack up prices of goods and foodstuffs for X’mas-fixated, import-crazed populace. But bigger problem could be soaring inflation as prices of goods shoot up, and economic impact of looming energy crisis. Brillantes calls for bids for new election paraphernalia worth P16.4 billion, including 40,000 new PCOS machines for 2016, despite two petitions before SC to annul 2013 senatorial elections.




The Christmas season is already upon us, but it’s going to be far less cheerful than other past seasons---for the simple reason that our ports are choked with vessels, many of them laden with goods and foodstuffs normally made available during the Christmas season, but they’re unable to unload. There’s frightful traffic congestion not just in EDSA but in the ports of Manila and Subic, owing to a number of reasons, the biggest being government incompetence.

As is usual in this administration, it’s the left hand not knowing what the right’s doing---and not the least is the failure to apply and coordinate proper responses to emergency situations. What’s tough is that this incompetence is going to ruin things for the Christmas-loving Filipinos because those cargo vessels in the congested ports, that ferry foodstuffs to our ‘imported’-addicted people, are being charged enormously excessive fees which, turn, are going to be passed on to consumers.

We Filipinos are a hardy people used to hardships and of course those who have some means could minimize X’mas spending;  but ultimately the bigger issues we have to face as a result of the ports congestion would be the inflationary effect on prices of the more critical commodities in this country that has become so import-dependent, and on the energy crisis in a few months.

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At a recent gathering, business leader Fernando Peña, whose company is into shipping, narrated how congestion at the Port of Manila is a “disease of epidemic proportions that could lead to a pandemic with staggering inflation and prices of prime commodities soaring through the roof, and finally a full blown energy crisis staring us in the face next summer.” In fact, Fern Peña put it in his usual colorful manner: it’s a “Coup d’etat by Port Congestion.”

What happened was a series of disastrous moves by local and national government. It began with the daylight truck ban imposed by the city of Manila that made moving out those goods from the port possible only at night. This affected factories, customs brokers and truckers in a slow build-up. There was speculation that Mayor Joseph Estrada was choking up the ports in retaliation for the arrest and detention of his son Sen. Jinggoy Estrada. On the other hand, Erap may truly have been just reacting to the horrendous traffic on C-5 and Manila streets aggravated by endless containers on the road. He later lifted the ban, but by then moves by government regulating agencies had aggravated the congestion problem.

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The Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) issued orders vs. colorum or “no-franchise trucks”, meaning they would not be for hire to carry cargo of a third-party.  The LTFRB also ordered all units 15 years old and above to be removed and not allowed to register as franchise trucks, thus heightening the already acute shortage of trucks. Then the DPWH chooses this time to do all the road construction, plus all the floods in metro streets.

To compound the nightmare, the Bureau of Customs implemented new documenting requirements for accreditation of importers, causing many containers to be trapped at customs. Then the BIR issued new guidelines, including personal appearance at the head office of importers to sign docus and submit bio-data about good standing as taxpayers.

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The result of these simultaneous moves was that trucking costs shot up as manpower and diesel adjusted to the delays. Then the port and shipping lines followed---charging more fees for delays. Prices of trucking containers to and from port jacked up to over 30-40%---as Pena pointed out, where a trip to Subic before would cost P18,000 to P27,000 per trip, today it’s from P35,000 to P50,000.  Meantime, the Philippine Ports Authority charged premium for overstaying containers---as much as P10,000 a day for those overstaying for more than  10 days, while international shipping lines charged over $600 extra per container.

As Peña stressed, Batangas Port is already over 2005 of what it used to contain. But the other side of it is that international vessels are avoiding PH now because of all the complications, and to a country so dependent on importation, as affecting food security, this is frightful.

His recommendation: a moratorium on all measures implemented in the last many months. The ports crisis needs crisis response, but President Aquino was quoted many weeks back as opining that the congestion in the ports and over-loaded container traffic were signs of a booming economy. He needs a jolt of reality, but his Cabinet also has to pitch in for his deficiency but it’s not.

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Manila Times’ respected columnist, Ricardo Saludo, correctly opined that of all the gargantuan problems this country faces (including the one discussed above---BOC), the most serious is the prospect of another massive electoral fraud in 2016, courtesy of the PCOS machines. Ric is correct, for as UP political science professor Bobby Tuazon  opines, ”He who controls the machine controls the votes.” And from all indications, the Comelec under Chair Sixto Brillantes is dead-set before he leaves office next February to have the PCOS machine contract accomplished (rumors say he’ll be succeeded by DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima!). He has called for bidding of P16.4 BILLION worth of election equipment, of which some 40,000 new PCOS machines for 2016 are part.   

In other countries, elections so fraudulent as our 2010 and 2013 elections would have already caused a revolution which would automatically throw out the counterpart of our Comelec chair. But here our Comelec officials act with brazenness and impunity and do get away with it---largely because many executive and legislative officials may have played to the poll body’s tune and avoided the risk of incurring its ire. No Comelec chief has ever been impeached.

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Luckily we have militant citizens who will take up the cudgels for our nation. Last Oct. 9, 2014, lawyer and former Biliran representative Glenn Chong, former Philippine Computer Society president and election watchdog AES Watch spokesperson Nelson Celis, former Comelec employee and the whistle-blower of the folder scam Mel Magdamo, VACC Chair Martin Dino and Pastor Windell Unlayco filed a petition before the High Court seeking to join---and further substantiate---an earlier petition filed by Ricardo Penson, Christian Seneres, Rizalito David and Baldomero Falcone, to declare the 2013 elections “null and void” due to “strong evidence of electronic dagdag-bawas.”
These patriotic citizens accused Comelec before the SC of ‘ “grave discretion’ in proclaiming the May 2013 elections senatorial winners, despite clear and overwhelming evidence that (those) elections were carried out illegally, resulting in massive electoral fraud and deliberate subversion of the will of the electorate.”

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I discussed this militant group’s complaint with Glenn Chong who stressed that they have all the evidence to refute the Comelec’s denial of fraud, which includes actual tampered ballots. Chong stressed that these evidence were obtained despite obstacles presented by Comelec to prevent fraud hunters from gathering “tales” on election fraud. Among the best-argued evidence were those from Chong’s Biliran, where election results were mysteriously received by the municipal board of canvassers in at least three municipalities AFTER the precincts’ PCOS had been switched off. On the other hand, 4,114 votes were already recorded in the PCOS Machines in 145 clustered precincts BEFORE election day.

In Lapu-Lapu City mysterious lines in images effectively altered the machine’s appreciation of the ballots, and were it not for the order of RTC Branch 34 of Nueva Ecija to open ballot boxes in three precinct clusters in Gapan, it wouldn’t have been known that Jesus is Lord candidate Eddie Villanueva lost by 119 votes. That may be only 119 votes, but as columnist Rene Azurin of BusinessWorld stressed, that represents a huge 15% alteration in actual poll results there; and were more clusters opened, the cheated sum would doubtless jack up too. And who would forget the 60 PCOS machines found in Antipolo in 2010, hot and still smoking three days after elections closed!

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The other day I showed up at our barangay hall where Comelec was holding a re-registration of voters who needed to do so. I thought to myself whether I wanted to do so, realizing full well how many citizens’ votes were skewered in the 2010 and 2013 elections, and now that Comelec Chief Brillantes is again holding a bidding for new PCOS machines for 2016. I showed up nonetheless because I’d like to see what’s in store for us electorate; but this shouldn’t stop us from registering our outrage at this new bidding for PCOS, and demand several things. Of the 82,000 PCOS units used supposedly in the 2013 national and local elections, a good number are already in dilapidated state; thus, Brillantes’ logic to purchase new ones. But if Comelec were truly above board, it should begin with an open inventory of the PCOS bodega, for there are disturbing reports that many machines used in 2013 are still in the hands of local officials who can still use the same software in 2016.   

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