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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, December 12, 2018

Stunning acquittal of ex-Sen. Bong Revilla---a majority decision of Sandiganbayan's five-member special division, from which the nation may not recover in a long while. As the saying goes, something's rotten and it's not in Denmark.

Former Senator Bong Revilla accepting handshakes from fans after his acquittal by Sandigan Special Division





Last Dec. 7 was a particularly bloody Friday for the Filipino people, as the majority decision  of the special division of the Sandiganbayan condemned PDAF queen Janet Lim Napoles and lawyer Richard Cambe, former Sen. Bong Revilla's staffer, for plunder, with the punishment of reclusion perpetua---virtual imprisonment for life---for having absconded with Revilla's PDAF funds during his incumbency.

Under Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code, the two convicted people are "solidarily and jointly liable to return to the National Treasury the amount of P124,500,000.00," but the damning part is that this 5-member special division of the anti-graft court EXONERATED the former senator himself ---Cambe's boss---from the same plunder charge.

Concluded this special Sandiganbayan division in a 186-page decision with a 3-2 vote for Revilla's acquittal:  "For failure of the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that accused Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr., received directly or indirectly the rebates, commission and kickbacks from his PDAF, the court cannot hold him liable for the crime of plunder. Accordingly, he is acquitted."

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The special Sandigan division's decision to convict Cambe and Napoles while absolving former Sen. Revilla has rocked the nation in utter disbelief.

If a poll were taken on that very day, it would have clearly shown that no one would ever believe that Revilla's legal staffer Cambe and business-woman Janet Napoles could just siphon off all those many millions in pork barrel funds of Revilla, to form part of the P10 billion pork barrrel scam of Napoles to which various legislators' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) were funneled---without the boss' participation in that scam.

This is because this PDAF scam would readily beg the question about Cambe: WHO HE?  Why would Napoles deal with Cambe when he was just a key staffer in Revilla's office. Could he really have been so free to finagle with that gargatuan PDAF amount of his boss---without Revilla's order?

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This case of the Sandiganbayan vs. Revilla is most interesting on a number of counts. One, originally the three members of the graft court's First Division---chaired by Justice Efren de la Cruz with Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona as members---took a vote on the case of the  Cambe/Napoles.  Chair De la Cruz voted to convict Revilla of plunder, whereas Econg and Caldona voted to acquit him even as they also voted to convict Cambe and Napoles of plunder.

The ruling of the Sandiganbayan, however, is that there must be a clear UNANIMOUS decision in a given division, but in the 2 vs. 1 ruling of the First Division on Revilla's conviction, this was absent.  Hence, the division was reconstituted to include two more members recruited from another Sandiganbayan division: namely, Associate Justices Dolores Gomez Estoesta and Georgina Hidalgo.

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What was called for in the expanded Special Division of 5 members is a simple majority vote, and in its final 3-2 vote three justices voted to EXONERATE REVILLA BUT  CONVICT his key staffer Cambe and PDAF queen Janet Napoles.  The three justices who exonerated Revilla and doomed Cambe and Napoles were Justices Econg who penned the ponencia, Caldona and Hidalgo. Two other division members voted to convict Revilla---namely, presiding Justice De la Cruz and Justice Estoeste.

This is why former Sen. Bong Revilla is for the moment a free man---ending four years of prison confinement in Camp Crame. I don't see this, though, as a closed case, as the Supreme Court will undoubtedly weigh in on such a grievous matter.

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All the members of the new First Division had strong arguments, but by far the strongest belonged to Justice Estoeste (a woman, and women generally and arguably have stronger convictions especially about issues that affect the nation's welfare). Joining Justice de la Cruz in accusing Revilla of the crime, Justice Estoeste stressed, "The avalanche of an acquittal will soon fall, but let it not resound without the few words that hope to pierce then what is about to come."

Continued Estoeste:  "\This consequential ruin runs deep, and may eventually free a man once accused of having conspired in raiding the public treasury of hundreds of millions. His imminent freedom has dismally thrown away all evidence that once forbade of repelling the scathing tale that never before of such magnitude has been told."

There is a feeling among some lawyers and judges that the recantation of the former staffers of Janet Napoles of their testimonies against their former boss, namely Benhur Luy, Marina Sula, Merlina Suñas and Mary Anne Baltazar,  has considerably weakened the case for the prosecution. But to Justice Estoeste, this is not so, for as she put it, "The whistle-blowers' revelation of the PDAF scandal is the Pandora's box that takes it all."

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New First Division chair De la Cruz argued that fundamental to a crucial case is that the accused is entitled to an acquittal unless his guilt is shown beyond reasonable doubt. He stressed, however, that indicating proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean such degree of proof as, excluding possibility of error, produces absolute certainty.  What's only required, De la Cruz argued, is moral certainty---or "that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind."

Justice De la Cruz argued that parenthetically, direct evidence is not a condition sine qua non, to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. For in the absence of direct evidence, the prosecution may resort to adducing circumstantial evidence to discharge its burden.

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In the case of the alleged absconding by Revilla's lawyer, Richard Cambe, of many millions of  his boss' PDAF---depositing it with Janet Napoles, c/o Benhur Luy, in return for generous interest on Cambe's "deposits"---what should have been fatal to the boss himself is the evidence on hand. These are the countless deposits in large amounts made ALMOST DAILY,  as testified by bank tellers, which obviously came from kickbacks from Janet Napoles, with matching dates to boot.

 As the Sandiganbayan justices query:  how could this have been done by lawyer Cambe with such regularity---without the knowledge and approval of the big boss himself?

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Another evidence presented against Revilla, as noted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was the Anti-Money Laundering Council's report starting from April 06, 2006 up to April 28, 2010, showing that members of his family made numerous deposits amounting to P87.63 million within 30 days of dates, as mentioned in Luy's ledgers. The Sandiganbayan special court, however, gave little weight to these pieces of evidence, for according to it, the fact of the deposits coming from Janet Napoles was not clearly established

This is a grand modus operandi that would be hard to match in future years, but the victim here is not just the justice system that was screwed up. IT'S THE FILIPINO PEOPLE.

 Something really stinks and it's not in Denmark.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Senate plans investigation into avalanche of undocumented Chinese workers who enter as “tourists.” Historic EDSA has become a grand canyon of huge unregulated commercial ads. Why, even Camp Aguinaldo’s perimeter fence along EDSA displays glamour ads! As Rappler put it, there's total anarchy in advertising! Contrast Metro Manila with the way Paris has preserved the city center that its artists have enshrined for generations.







Over the past two years I have been hearing from various people about how so many Chinese from the mainland have been renting middle-priced condominiums in various parts of Metro Manila, notably in Pasig and Makati. Like many others I have wondered what these Chinese people are doing here. Are they all tourists? If so, why the sudden surge and long-term lease of condos?

Then it began to be talked about that Chinese nationals are also found in other cities in this country, notably in industrial and investment zones.  

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Now we hear from immigration sources that Chinese nationals are coming into the country in the tens of thousands and spreading out into the various eco-zones throughout our archipelago.  Rough estimate of Immigration is that there are at least two million such nationals here. 

Recent news from the Senate disclosed that many Chinese nationals have come in to work in online gambling in various parts of our country---many undocumented and unlicensed.  

Sen. Joel Villanueva, who has taken a strong stand against the illegal entry of Chinese, estimates that there could be some 119,000 such nationals who work in firms run by Pogos (Philippine offshore gaming operators).  It’s also easy to see collusion between unscrupulous immigration personnel and foreign entities.

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The wonder of it all is that while Chinese nationals appear to be setting up businesses in the various eco-zones here, they are staffing those businesses with their nationals---instead of just providing for the top level of officialdom and hiring Filipino citizens for the lower echelons---as other foreign investors do. This means depriving jobs for Filipinos in the various eco-zones, as our investment laws clearly provide.

I wrote about this phenomenon months ago and I'm glad that Senators Joel Villanueva and Grace Poe are leading the urgent call for investigation by the proper Senate committee.  This issue was raised during the recent visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, which was most successful except for this jarring avalanche of undocumented Chinese nationals here.

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This has to be corrected early enough, before more economic opportunities that ought to be reserved for Filipino workers disappear and industries with nefarious consequences, such as on-line gambling among Filipinos, become totally unchecked.   

In a related issue, I subscribe to the OBJECTION of a good number of our countrymen to entrust the setting up and operation of the third Telco system to Chinese entrepreneurs.  It should be plainly obvious to our finance and industry officials that doing so could be a big security problem. To say the least, it would be plainly stupid, given precedents  in the immigration and labor sectors.

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Like the millions who traverse EDSA daily, I suffer the horrendous traffic along in this major route, especially as Christmas shopping goes into a frenzy. Each time I am stuck in EDSA I do what millions do: gaze lazily at all the huge commercial advertisements on this major highway---which are getting more monstrous and claustrophobia-inducing by the day.

I admit that those huge ad billboards have a way of reducing the boredom of horrendous traffic, but I’m also just so aghast at the way these have bloomed when nobody seemed to be minding---bigger than life, each trying to outdo the other in monstrosity.  Some nearly cover entire building facades. It’s like the whole metropolis has gone mad and we’re inducing a kind of mass claustrophobia---hemmed in what may be termed the Grand Canyon of Advertisements.  

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What got me recently upset, however, was the sight of several commercial billboards perched right inside the front perimeter fence of Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame, facing EDSA---advertising BEAUTY PRODUCTS---NOT SOLDIERS’ ACTIVITIES BUT PURELY COMMERCIAL ADS. 

Those billboards on the EDSA side of the military and police camps are the pits and if no one objects, the desecration would continue. I think of all the soldiers who have had to defend Camp Aguinaldo against various coup attempts. At the height of the campaign to recover Marawi, no one thought of putting up billboards extolling our fallen soldier-heroes. Now, with about three billboards advertising beauty products and probably more coming up, there’s no more dignity even along the military perimeter facing EDSA. 

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Decades back I was part of a group that tried to fight the creeping monstrosity of ads. Led by professionals such as Teresa V. Daza of outdoor advertising,  our group lobbied with Congress to pass a law allocating the places to display those ads and restrict them to a certain acceptable size and distance---for the sake of common sense. It was admirable that that in those days, the group involved in outdoor advertising was itself lobbying for restrictions in ad size and placements.

But nothing much became of it and in no time gigantic billboards have covered the entire highway and are now invading other parts of Metro Manila. It's very much a part of the lawlessness and lack of discipline that pervades the metropolis and society.

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Many countries have working regulations about outdoor advertising. China itself limits outdoor ads to a certain size, so that its highways are pleasant to travel by. One reason why Paris--the City of Light--has remained so beautiful is that its city center has remained intact through the decades and centuries---so that it still looks the same as the city-scapes painted by its famous artists a century ago. For one thing, Paris has no skyscrapers downtown and when the Tour Montparnasse threatened to spoil the view downtown, it raised such a howl that it was forced to be erected in the outskirts.  Now Paris has a lot of skyscrapers but not in the city center which is sacrosanct to the Parisians.

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Ours is a society that seems to have no respect for rules and regulations, for sobriety and good sense.  Perhaps it all began with the monstrosity of a skyscraper built in the vicinity of the Rizal Park in the Luneta years back, dwarfing the statue of our national hero.  We registered our vociferous objection and some folks brought the issue to court, but construction still went on. Lamentable.

Nothing much was done about it and in no time huge billboards covered the entire EDSA and is now invading other parts of Metro Manila. It is very much a part of the atmosphere of lawlessness that pervades the metropolis and society.

EDSA has become one grand canyon of advertisements, and this appears to be just the precursor to the invasion of commercialism everywhere. It’s fast becoming a society that has no respect for rules and regulations, for sobriety and good sense. A pity.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Pragmatism is name of the game among nations. An American writer for Washington Post was killed and dismembered in Istanbul amid allegations that Saudi royalty had masterminded it. But no complaint from Trump as he's rejoicing over big cut in oil price from OPEC leader Saudi Arabia.


Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman 


Pragmatism is the name of the game among nations, whether it's our country, the United States or any country in Europe, Asia and everywhere else.

Take the case of the recent heinous murder of US citizen Jamal Khashoggi, a resident of  Saudi Arabia and a writer for the Washington Post. Khashoggi had been critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and last Oct. 2, the Post writer's body was found in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey---dismembered in a most heinous way.

The interesting thing is that while Saudi authorities said that 21 people had been taken into custody supposedly in connection with the dastardly crime, news reports cited the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as suggesting that the Saudi Crown Prince "may have known of the killing"---to put it diplomatically.

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On the other side of the coin, Saudi Arabia sternly warned the US that criticism of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in connection with Khashoggi's murder is "a red line" not to be crossed---and that calls for the Crown Prince to be held accountable for his slaying "would not be tolerated."

In fact the Saudi Foreign Minister was quoted in BBC news as asserting: "In Saudi Arabia, our leadership is a red line. The custodian of the two holy mosques (King Salman and the Crown Prince) are a red line," and that "They represent every Saudi citizen and every Saudi citizen represents them. And we will not tolerate any discussion of anything that is disparaging toward our monarch or our crown prince."

The foreign minister admitted, however, that the murder of the US journalist was a "rogue operation" by intelligence officers. How these supposed murderers are to be dealt with by the Saudi government remains to be seen.

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More interesting was the stance of US President Donald Trump, who earlier in his presidency had hosted the Saudi Crown Prince at the White House. Curiously, then Republican candidate Trump, while in the hustings, had threatened to ban Saudi oil from into the US, so that when the Crown Prince called on President Trump at the White House, it was heralded by media as "improving relations between Washington and Riyadh, particularly on security matters."

After news reports about the Khashoggi murder came out, however, President Trump, who was vacationing in his Florida Mar-a-Lago Club earlier this week, asserted that he was "essentially ignoring the killing of US citizen Kashoggi" because of what he said were  "MORE IMPORTANT US STRATEGIC INTERESTS" (emphasis this writer's).  The world doubtless read it as America's much-needed assurance of a steady supply of oil from Saudi Arabia.

That statement of the US President, however, did sound quite harsh for a society anchored on human dignity and the inalienable right of its citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Just as amazing was that there seemed no public outrage over Trump's statement---unless the fuel situation in that country has become so worrisome that it could afford to be cold-blooded about the heinous slaying of an American citizen.

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Just what are those "strategic US interests" that President Trump seeks to protect so assiduously anyway---despite the harm that had befallen an American citizen? He answered his own question: Saudi Arabia, the acknowledged leader of the OPEC, gave America and the world lower oil prices: "a big Tax Cut" ---from $82 it's now $52."   The US President publicly said "Thank you to Saudi Arabia," even as he coaxed that major oil producer to "let's go lower."

Under those circumstances, then, there would seem to be no room for condemnation of one US citizen's gruesome slaying by Saudi Arabia.

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It's all pragmatic politics for the moment for the US President who leads what media terms "the largest, most transparent and timely market in the world." It's true that, as noted, the US has "less appetite for foreign oil in general," thanks to the shale boom in states such as Texas and North Dakota that caused US oil production to spike to record high late last year.

Still, however, the world's largest economy continues---and will continue---to need foreign oil imports: last December it imported 690,000 barrels a day of Saudi crude--- though down 32% from the previous year.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, made the strategic decision last May to slash shipment of oil to the US. Its goal: to accelerate impact of OPEC's production cuts---by forcing down US stockpiles which constituted a major force to restrain oil prices at the time. The move to cut shipment was said to have paid off: the price of crude oil rose sharply to more than $60 per barrel!

In all the tug-of-war between big-time oil supplier and equally big-time oil-consumer, a heinous crime in Istanbul involving a US citizen---being attributed to Saudi royalty---mattered little.





Friday, November 16, 2018

If President Duterte is criticized for missing events in ASEAN meet in Singapore due to what Sal Panelo terms PRRD's "power naps," think of sleepless nights US President Trump is having from Melania's tantrums and Democrats' capture of House. A prelude to his impeachment?



Prior to the US mid-term elections last Nov.6, Republican President Donald Trump had been boasting of a “red wave” coming, whereas the Democrats were bragging about a “blue wave” to sweep America. Soon enough, however, general consensus on the US mid-term elections became clear, or so it seemed.  Thus, although the Democrats regained the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years, no blue wave seemed to have materialized.

A week later, however, the steady trickle of further gains in late results in some battle-ground states appeared to reveal a far more positive picture for the Democrats. A giant blue wave alright.

The Democrats picked up at least 32 seats in the House and are on course for four more, in addition to flipping seven governorships and eight state legislative chambers. 

On Monday night, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won Arizonas Senate race, beating Martha McSally in a landmark victory to take the seat held by retiring Republican senator Jeff Flake.

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Speaking of Sen. Flake, this outgoing Republican recently lashed out at party-mate President Trump, warning him and the "Grand Old Party" that if they tried to remove Special Counsel Robert Mueller---who's investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 general elections that made Trump president in 2016--Flake would block any and all of Trump’s judicial nominees in the Senate. 

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump appointee, was fired allegedly for looking too closely over the shoulders of Mueller as he scrutinized the supposed Russian intervention that caused the defeat of Trump rival Hillary Clinton. Can we imagine such independence akin to that demonstrated by Sen. Flake, in any of President Duterte’s party-mates here?

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What the overall results in the nationwide mid-term elections of Donald Trump's presidency represent is the Democrats’ best mid-term performance since 1974---a vote which came in the wake of the infamous Watergate scandal that triggered the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Trump, who last week declared election night to have been a “tremendous success,” has since been reduced to making baseless allegations of vote fraud to explain knife-edge contests in key states such as Florida,  Mississippi and Arizona.

After securing a significant majority in the House, the Democrats have broken the Republican monopoly in Washington and secured the power to block the president’s legislative agenda as well as significant appointments of his ---principally through FILIBUSTERING, something not seen in the House of Representatives since 2013. 

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That there’s huge trouble in the Trump White House is demonstrated by the way his mood has turned increasingly foul!  “He’s pissed--at practically everyone,"  a White House official said.   After the election disaster, another rock was thrown his way when First Lady Melania Trump publicly demanded that her husband's loyal backer, Mira Ricardel, who was personally chosen by National Security Adviser Jim Bolton to be his deputy, be fired.  Apparently, Ms. Ricardel drew the First Lady’s ire when she clashed with Melania’s staff about the seating arrangement inside the plane enroute to Melania's visit to Africa. 

Trump didn’t immediately react, but White House staffers were shocked that the message from Melania (who holds office in the East Wing) flew directly to the West Wing, thus breaking protocol. The President eventually said that Ms. Ricardel will be moved to another sector, but days later, Mira Ricardel voluntarily resigned---obviously to save her boss from further embarrassment and avert a huge domestic crisis in the White House.  Pundits commented that Melania proved who is the real power there. 

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 In fact, the atmosphere in the White House these days is described as "bleak," and talk is that various top officials are preparing to exit ahead of the rumored "purges" by President Trump. CNN reported that George Conway, husband of White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway, has now become an outspoken critic of Trump---asserting that he'd "rather leave the US than vote for Trump again." Interestingly, House Republicans are said to plan to summon Conway. 

Another explosion: recall that CNN star reporter Jim Acosta was stripped of his press pass after a clash with Trump last week. CNN promptly sued Trump---stressing that Acosta's constitutional rights had been violated by the President, five members of the Administration and the Secret Service. 

Well, the latest is that a Federal judge ordered the Trump Administration to restore Acosta's WH press pass. Could we see a Philippine judge coming to the defense of a harassed reporter vs. the President?

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As if things weren’t bad enough for Trump, his recent official trip to Paris to join other world leaders in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War turned out to be a similar disaster.  During his European trip, he appeared to have been purposely isolated from other dignitaries---standing alone at times while other leaders exchanged pleasantries and chatted among themselves.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the gathering of world leaders in Paris, decried in his speech the new wave of nationalism, and everyone seemed to think that his words were aimed directly at the US President.   

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To make matters worse especially on the home front, on his last day in Paris, Trump was prevented by his top aides and the Secret Service from visiting the vast American Cemetery in the once blood-soaked battlefields of Normandy in northern France, because the heavy rains were deemed unsafe for his helicopter to fly.

The irony, however, was that other top American officials with him were able to participate in the ceremonies there despite the weather. Could the Secret Service agents be trying to embarrass the President in so doing? Trump was fuming!

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Soon after he got back to the US, Trump unleashed a barrage of tweets directed at President Macron and the French people in general.  He insulted Macron by mocking him for his dismal ratings in the French polls.

The French President fired back---asserting that Trump lacked the “common decency” in unleashing those barbs directed at the French ON THE VERY DAY OF THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE 2015 TERROR BOMBING IN PARIS THAT KILLED 130 PEOPLE.

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There’s no easy way out for Trump’s funk, says CNN. The  imminent revelation of Robert Mueller’s findings on allegations of the 2016 US election shenanigans caused Attorney General Jeff Sessions his job. Trump didn’t like the way Sessions was too keen on the trail of those alleged shenanigans that could have caused Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (my candidate) to lose to Trump.   

Then there’s the blistering November 2018 loss in the mid-term elections , and prospect of indictments coming from the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in the next few months. There’s also Trump’s own lawyer’s expected testimony against him as part of that official’s plea bargaining to save his own skin. And don’t forget the continuing legal troubles Trump has run into with women from the past.

All these are weighing on Mr. Trump right now, as the cloud over his head turns increasingly dark.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

In justifiable anger and desperation, President mulls putting Customs under military/police control, to halt drug smuggling. Constitution, however, specifies conditions for military involvement. Besides, long years of military/police camaraderie in their respective academies could worsen collusions in Customs.





The Bureau of Customs has never been an easy place to work in, as two previous appointees of President Duterte in his three years in office---both of them former military officers-- have found out. Let's hope his third military appointee, former AFP Chief of Staff  Leonardo "Jagger" Guerrero, PMA Class '84,  would have better luck as Customs Chief.

The first military to head Customs under Duterte was former Marine colonel Nicanor Faeldon, who ran into controversy soon enough over a drug shipment worth P6.4 billion last May 2017.  Faeldon was replaced by former PNP Chief Isidro Lapeña who just lost his job two weeks ago---amid swirling controversy over the brazen smuggling of an estimated 1.6 tons of shabu from the Port of Manila last July, but which was discovered only last August 8.

The huge drug haul, valued at a whopping P11 billion, had arrived in July and scooted out of Customs to an unknown destination, by Chinese individuals riding in two Mercedes Benz limousines. The haul was estimated to have taken four days' work to siphon off from the four magnetic lifters, and in August the lifters were found abandoned in Cavite, totally empty of their contents.

Lucky for Lapeña that he was merely kicked into the Cabinet, to head TESDA---a most controversial move by the President.

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Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang, deputy collector of customs and the celebrated whistle-blower of the 1.6  ton-shabu smuggling, estimated at the dzRH Sunday program that Cecile Alvarez and I recently conducted, that this staggering amount of shabu could produce 1,600,000 sachets. It boggles the mind just how many of our youth would be damaged by this incredible amount of shabu smuggled out of the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT)!

At the height of the killings of so-called drug pushers and users last year and earlier this year, many alarmed citizens had wondered why the resort to outright slayings under "Operation Tokhang"---WHEN OBVIOUSLY THE MORE IMPERATIVE MOVE WAS TO SHUT THE INTERMINABLE FAUCET OF DRUGS.

Where are the drugs coming from and who's smuggling them into the country? Why are they so accessible even to small-time peddlers, seemingly as easy as peddling cigarettes? Who's distributing them?  Questions swirled about but remained unanswered---until the brazen smuggling of the 1.6 tons of shabu at the MICT last August.  That was the height!

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Earlier answers came in May last year, when information came from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) about a large smuggling being awaited. Two magnetic lifters (used to lift cars and other metal cargo at the pier) which went missing at the MICT were found a month later---already emptied of the 355 kilos of shabu they had contained, worth around P6.4 billion!

With this initial success the smugglers were emboldened!  Last May 2018 PDEA received information about drugs coming from Malaysia, Vietnam and Hongkong. Bingo! This time 1,600 kilos worth  P11 billion were spirited out of Customs in four magnetic lifters similar to the two missing at the MICT last year. The high-valued cargo, stashed neatly in asbestos heat and fire-resistant bags inside the four magnetic lifters and consigned to a certain company, were moved out of the terminal on a Saturday last June, when only one X-ray inspector was around.  It only involved four hours of work by four Chinese nationals who then scooted away in two Mercedes Benzes.

The four magnetic lifters were later found abandoned in Cavite, with their high-priced cargo already siphoned off.  Lourdes Mangoaong's trained dog-sniffers were right on target.

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With the huge uproar kicked up by this brazen smuggling of the 1,600 kilos of shabu, the President recently announced his decision to place the entire Bureau of Customs---the second largest finance-generating agency of government next to the BIR itself---under military control. Predictably it reaped a storm of controversy.

In his memo earlier this week Mr. Duterte ordered all BOC employees to report to Malacanang as he simultaneously ordered various military branches, such as the Coast Guard, Navy and Army to gather together technical groups and prepare them to take over the operations of the BOC. But as Sen. Francis Escudero rightly pointed out, there could be a problem in calling out the Armed Forces to handle the smuggling in Customs.

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This is because the Constitution, under Sec. 18 of Art. VII, "The Executive Department," specifically provided that the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, "may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion." And even then, there is a proscribed period not exceeding 60 days during which "he may suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law."

I imagine that if the smuggling of deadly drugs at Customs cannot be abated---and the smugglers become so brazen, Mr. Duterte might just invoke some special powers to handle this problem. Let's hope it doesn't have to invoke situations that could just complicate the situation even more.  Just to play safe, the President also altered the rules for cargo release: THREE SIGNATURES of military officials who are taking over the Customs are now required for the release of any goods from the port.

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All these moves, however, are making the senators and representatives as well as the public nervous---as any effort that seem to "militarize" government would always provoke nervousness and challenge certain constitutional provisions.  Already, Sen. Richard Gordon has vowed to scrutinize this decision of the President in a Senate hearing next week.

 I, for one, would think that there could be basis to be nervous about "militarizing" control of Customs.  For instance, military men in general would tend to act as one---doubtless out of long years of training and camaraderie together at the Philippine Military Academy as well as in the various service academies such as those of the coast guard and police.

There is justified apprehension, I would think, that when the coast would appear to be "clear" or other elements of society would relax their vigilance, there could be some military elements more adventurous than others, who could be tempted to throw scrupulosity to the winds and make unlawful moves for the fund of it.

The check-and-balance system could cease to operate when camaraderie of long years is extra-thick and the emboldened smuggling of P11 billion worth of shabu at the Port of Manila becomes just a distant memory.

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What happened at Customs recently was a series of fearless moves by unscrupulous elements who obviously have maintained a strong hold over the port. The President---by now VERY VEXED at how the smugglers have run rings around him---has felt that the best solution at the moment is to entrust Customs operations to the military. TO MILITARIZE CUSTOMS.

I suppose that at this point, there is little the citizenry could do except to warn the President about possible collusion (again!) ---when alarms are down---among some military who have shared long years of camaraderie in various military academies. This new set of military/police may again succumb to the temptation of huge bucks from unrelenting drug lords and their cohorts,

But what else could be done at the moment?   Let's give some space to the military units that will man Customs in place of corrupted or mindless civilian bureaucrats---in the hope that some idealism bred in PMA or other military schools are still left in their hearts. We citizens, however, should also get involved in policing the military's activities---and those guilty ought to be punished post-haste.   

Monday, October 15, 2018

Scanning face of PH poverty at our dzRH program, Fr. Nebres S.J. cited studies opining that English-speaking upper-crust Pinoys can relate more to CNN stories about US hurricanes than to Ompong's fury. A palpable disconnect among our people.


Mother-child health in ARMM
(bworldonline.com)
Poverty Alleviation Program
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Yesterday, Sunday, Oct. 14, RM Awardee for Theater Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I interviewed Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., a Ph.D in Mathematics from Stanford University, former Jesuit Superior in the Philippines (1983-1989) and President of the Ateneo de Manila University (1993-2011), on the deepening poverty in our country.

Initial discussion of this topic came a week earlier, during the observance of the first death anniversary of  former Jesuit Superior Romeo J. Intengan at the Jesuits' Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches. Over lunch, Fr. Nebres observed that poverty is most prevalent in class D with its whopping 60% of Filipinos and class E at 30% , whereas wealthier classes A, B and C constitute only 10%.

News headlines back up these statistics, with Inquirer asserting that "Majority of Pinoys say they are poor."  PDI columnist Mahar Mangahas also cited that the SWS survey showed that from a low 42 % declared poor in March 2018, the percentage of Self-Rated Poverty rose in the third quarter 2018 to 52%, or 12.2 MILLION FAMILIES FEELING POOR (emphasis BOC's)."  As Mahar points out,  that's 12.2 million families feeling poor out of a projected base of 23.3 million families in the Philippines---a heck of a lot of poor families.

On the other hand, the impact of inflation, aggravated by the sharp rise in fuel costs, is now affecting even middle-class Filipinos, forcing government to recently suspend the excise tax on fuel.

XXX

I invited Fr. Nebres to continue our discussion on poverty in yesterday's episode of our weekly Sunday 6 pm. "Radyo Balintataw" program over nationwide dzRH---in order to help raise our people's consciousness about it. At the Jesuit Residence in the Ateneo  Fr. Nebres showed  us a short video film by Kara David about the family of a fisherman in Mercedes, a poor fishing town in Camarines Norte.  It showed a mother feeding her three children with bits of fish and shellfish distributed over three meals per day, as they awaited the father who had gone fishing for a few days. He had left his wife 40 pesos for the family's subsistence over the next days.

It was a heart-wrenching film showing children crying for more food amid the helplessness of the mother. As Fr. Nebres pointed out, that's a typical situation in that small fishing village, as poverty is most severe among fishing communities throughout our archipelago. Climate change as well as the destruction of coral reefs have severely affected fish catch, forcing fishermen to venture  farther and farther from the shores---and leaving their families in near-starvation. .

I shall show this particular film in my FB page after I share our interview with Fr. Nebres. Prepare to be perturbed.

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As Fr. Nebres explained, from 1995 to 2015 poverty was very much the center-point of the Millenium Development Goals, aiming to reduce extreme poverty and hunger in 1995 to only 26% by 2016. Data comparing us with our neighbors in SEA, however, show PH clearly lagging behind. Indonesia's poverty level is now below 10%,  Once war-torn Vietnam's level used to be at 50% in 1995; now it's below 15%, while Laos is on track, according to the UN.

Here at home Eastern Visayas is among the poorest, and while the whole Mindanao has lagged behind, it's the ARMM that's worst hit, undoubtedly also owing to the political instability in past years.

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Zeroing in on the school population across the country, Fr. Nebres cited the verdict of teachers all over---many children are going hungry, some worse than others. In nearby Parañaque, students said they take turns eating in their families; in Valenzuela, Bulacan, there are students who felt satiated ("nabusog") for the first time in their lives when the feeding program began there.

After Yolanda struck Eastern Visayas, Gawad Kalinga's Tony Meloto wanted to put up housing units there, but folks argued that by the time those units are finished, "baka patay na kami." It's the hunger stalking innumerable places in the country that appears to be the primary problem---not just malnutrition but hunger itself.

Gawad Kalinga  (GK) responded with what it has, in the Yolanda-stricken areas as well as in Mindanao, such as Basilan and Tawi-Tawi where some 5,000 schoolchildren are fed everyday---just part of the  estimated 100,000 being fed by GK all over the country daily. Some tycoons are helping to address the severe malnutrition. Other countries have also come in to help GK: in Bgy. Holy Spirit in Metro Manila, a group from the United Kingdom is helping out.

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The Ateneo set up its Center for Education and Development which delves not only in brain development but also in problems of hunger, health and extreme poverty, such as in Payatas.

 Fr. Nebres spoke about the importance of nutrition getting to the impoverished mothers during the FIRST 1000 DAYS OF PREGNANCY onward to about 2 years of the child---so as to prevent growth-stunting and brain damage. To him, the problem is multi-faceted and the components cannot be separated: malnutrition arising from poverty that affects the child in its first 1000 days will haunt it all through its life. WHO statistics bear out the stunted growth of Filipino children.

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What heartens Nebres nowadays is the growing involvement of local and provincial officials with these very real problems of their constituents from the poorest sectors. He cites Valenzuela in Bulacan under Rex Gatchalian which is feeding 16,000-18,000 poor children, constituting 13-15% of the population.

There's Compostela Valley in Mindanao under Gov. Tyrone Uy, where feeding kitchens have been set up. In the ARMM area there's Gov. Mujahiv Hataman while in Nueva Ecija, Dep-Ed officials are in the forefront of combating hunger and malnutrition.

There's also the "Pagkaing Pinoy Para sa Pinoy," a program filed by Sen. Bam Aquino and supported by fellow senators Grace Poe, Gatchalian and Chiz Escudero, that has allotted P3B in funds for day-care centers. In the House, Rep. Raul del Mar of Cebu supports the counterpart program.

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Appeals are being made to the private sector to join the campaign to eradicate hunger and malnutrition especially in poorer Pinoy children's first 1000 days of existence, as this has a direct bearing on their brain function and stunted growth. There is, however, some indifference among the private sector---social classes ABC--- toward recognizing and acting on this problem.

Fr. Nebres cites an interesting theory about this disconnect of the upper classes with the problems of the broad masses. As an educator from the UK pointed out, it may be because the Filipino upper classes, especially the younger generations, speak in English and not in the national language, Pilipino, and the local dialects.

In contrast, he notes that in Indonesia there is only one language, Bahasa, the medium of instruction as well as the language of various tools of communication and culture such as newspapers, TV and radio.

XXX

Thus, as a result of this linguistic disconnect, many upper-class Filipinos tune in more often to CNN than to local stations---so that they are more familiar with the terrible effects of the hurricanes in the US rather than the typhoons in Eastern Visayas and Northern Luzon.

There is indeed real basis to be troubled by this reality-disconnect, and I for one plead guilty. I raised my children in English as I thought this would facilitate their entry into the world of education, business and commerce,  and now they, in turn, raise their offsprings also in English. Thus is the great divide among our people.

Enormous food for thought.




Thursday, September 27, 2018

Read what cab drivers (and doubtless the common tao) are telling President Duterte about his fight-to-the-finish with Sen Trillanes and how proposed cut in SUCs budget would affect the future of their children. The discontent shows: Duterte's DISAPPROVAL rating shot up from 22% to 51% in recent Pulse Asia survey.




I have been riding taxis left and right ever since my driver got sick. It is tough to depend on public transport for at times a Grab is totally unavailable, and one can wait interminably at the street corner for an empty cab. But nonetheless, these days it's so profitable for a journalist to ride cabs as the exchange with their drivers is always full of insights for me.   

The battle that raged between President Duterte and Sen. Antonio Trillanes has been very much in the minds of taxi drivers and a number of them are open about their disapproval of the President's moves vs. Trillanes. It's not so much that they feel for the rebel-turned-politician now battling the commander-in-chief, as Trillanes doesn't really look lovable. Besides, cabbies hardly understand what double jeopardy is all about.

 As the saying goes, it's the economy, stupid!  

XXX

Invariably cabbies talk about hard economic times and the terrible damage wrought by Ompong in the north, plus the landslides that buried their town mates in the south, and other problems. But inevitably their concern reverts to something that hits them directly in the stomach---the RISING PRICE OF IMPORTED FUEL (crude oil prices might break the $80-per-barrel threshold in coming months) that shrinks their profit despite BACK-BREAKING TWELVE HOURS CONTINUOUS DRIVING DAILY. Throw in the solution-defying traffic in Metro Manila that affects especially Grab taxies---whose meter rates are previously relayed to the passenger, only to see their profit shrink more and more. 

Throw in also the increasingly runaway INFLATION that drives prices of even the very basic commodities to shoot up---and many cabbies confess to feeling the crunch as never before. 

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This is where their feeling for Mr. Duterte comes in. Given all the problems facing the country, cabbies want him TO CONCENTRATE ON CURBING THE RUNAWAY INFLATION AND COROLLARY RISE IN PRICES OF PRIME COMMODITIES so vital to the poorer sectors. They want him to help the regions whacked by natural calamities in succession---instead of pursuing his arch-enemy, Sen. Trillanes, out of revenge for his allegations regarding the President's family.. 

The results of a recent Pulse Asia survey conducted earlier this month show that because of the Duterte administration's failure to handle the soaring costs of basic goods and services, his DISAPPROVAL rating has shot up from 22% to 51%! 

XXX

Cab drivers nowadays are more informed that ever before, because their cabs are normally equipped with a radio-TV that enables them to tune in to latest happenings. Those I've talked to view the Duterte-Trillanes fight as a personal battle between the two protagonists---the bold senator's "revelations" about the alleged wealth of the Duterte family and the alleged involvement of the presidential son with a big-time smuggling group. Nothing much has come out of Trillanes' "revelations," but the seeming battle to the death between them  is very much in the mind of cab drivers. 

Trillanes has appealed to the Supreme Court to declare President Duterte's recent Proclamation No. 572--- which seeks to revive the mutiny charges against him in rebellions staged in 2006 and 2007, that were already pardoned by President Noynoy Aquino---as unconstitutional. But the High Court deferred rulings on Trillanes' petition, choosing instead to throw the determination of facts to the same Makati RTC that, ironically, had squashed that very case against Trillanes eight years ago. 

With the SC's inaction against Trillanes, the Duterte administration's case against him is in suspended animation.  THIS COULD BE THE OPPORTUNE TIME FOR MR. DUTERTE TO CONCENTRATE ON TACKLING INFLATION AND ITS TERRIBLE REPERCUSSIONS ON PRIME COMMODITIES FOR THE LOWER-INCOME GROUPS. CABBIES ARE PLEADING. Mr. Duterte  to listen to the people's clamor---and just leave Trillanes' fate to the courts! . 

XXX

Riding taxis has been educational for me in another problem that preoccupies the working sector. This is the crying need to educate their children so that they could have a future more hopeful than their parents ever had. Every time I ride in taxicabs, I make it a point to stress to the cabbies THE VALUE OF YOUNG PEOPLE AVAILING OF HIGHER EDUCATION OR AT LEAST OF GOOD SKILLS TRAINING, AS THE SURE WAY OUT OF POVERTY.  I advise the cabbies to keep track of what their children do and i reinforce the importance of education as a means to a better life.  

It's elating that many cabbies readily realize this truism---and put so much hope in education  as their children's only hope to a brighter life and future.  

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I readily point out to them a recent major achievement of Congress that should benefit their children---the passage of the law authorizing free education in state colleges and universities (SUCs) and Tesda-run vocational schools. .Formally called the RA 10931---"Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act," it was principally authored by Senators Bam Aquino and Loren Legarda.  . 

Whenever I explain this new law to cab drivers, they feel so elated as they have long realized that  EDUCATION AND TRAINING  ARE THE ONLY SURE WAY TO ESCAPE POVERTY.  In fact, frequently the cabbies' eyes moisten up as they stress that they'd motivate their children to make it in the entrance exams to SUCs. 

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Sadly, however, recently I read about the move in the House of Representatives to cut the budget of the SUCs drastically, in view of certain financial constraints---in fact news is that AT LEAST 1/3 OF THE 2019 BUDGET FOR SUCs WOULD BE SCRAPPED, AND COROLLARILY, GOVERNMENT AID TO COLLEGE STUDENTS WOULD BE CUT BY P3.2 BILLION..

The senators vow to oppose the budget cuts on education in the House. Perhaps all our elected officials in both houses of Congress could show initial goodwill by opting to sacrifice A BIT OF THEIR PORK BARREL, so that the SUCs' budget and government aid to poorer college students won't be so drastically cut---that it would kill the dream in the moist eyes of the cabbies of this country.

Paging Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. 




Saturday, September 8, 2018

With the NAIA accident as urgent game changer, PH has to get out of its lackadaisical and archaic mode and construct new, modern airports outside Manila, utilizing technology already time-tested by our Asian neighbors and BOLD FINANCING. A matter of urgency and political will for PH---NOW NA





Taipans Wilson Tieng and Henry Sy offer to operationalize Sangley Airport within one year

Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation proposes new airport in Bulakan, Bulacan




It had to take the skidding of a Xiamen Airlines on the one and only international runway at NAIA to shake up the whole nation last Aug. 16, as 200 flights had to be diverted to Clark and Cebu Airports as well as to Hongkong, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok---disrupting over 500,000 domestic and overseas passengers (NAIA receives some 66% of PH's annual tourist arrivals of 6.5 million). An estimated P5 billion worth of damage to our economy and  shattered Filipino pride shook up the nation as nothing in recent decades. 

It was the GAME CHANGER---so that now the proposals of two giant business conglomerates to set up airports in two different areas of Luzon are finally being discussed with seriousness and urgency.

What's good is that the two conglomerates proposing these two new airports---the rebuilding of the Sangley Airport in Cavite by the All-Asia Resources and  Reclamation Corporation of the Henry Sy/Wilson Tieng group, and the Bulakan, Bulacan Airport proposed by San Miguel Holdings Corporation of Ramon Ang--- feel they can CO-EXIST WELL as both giant companies are absolutely necessary for the country and could be quite profitable as well.

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For years now, we have been complaining about our shameful airport facilities and dream about how to achieve world-class gateways to international tourism, which promises to draw 100 million here every year if the factors---principally air carriers in capable airports---meet international standards.

Reaction from government regulatory departments had been terribly slow over the years---vexing impatient the two giant groups seriously contemplating new airports. It was as if we were not in an emergency mode, whereas all our neighbors in the Asian region have been into reclaiming from the sea to accommodate more runways and ever-expanding airport terminals.

The NAIA accident had to happen perhaps so that government regulatory offices would now realize that we are in a super-emergency mode. We need to build new airports away from Manila---NOW NA.

XXX

Cecile Alvarez and I first interviewed Edmundo T. Lim, vice-chair of the All Asia Resources and Reclamation Corporation that's composed of Henry Sy's SM empire and the Wilson Tieng Group of Solar Entertainment. This consortium proposes to convert the old Danilo Atienza Airport at the former US naval base at Sangley Point in Cavite into a modern gateway to Manila, right next to the Cavite Economic Zone and Southern Luzon.

Edmundo Lim pointed out that it's imperative to operationalize Sangley as an expanded airport inasmuch as Clark Airport in its current condition is limited to handling only 4 million passengers a year---whereas NAIA last year handled some 42 million passengers. The total number coming to PH is expected to leap-frog over the next few years.

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Lim pointed out that as early as 2013 their conglomerate was already proposing to work on Sangley airport but sadly, up to now no action has been done on it by government agencies. He stressed that the Sy/Tieng group is ready to expand the Danilo Atienza's existing US-made runway and put up another 2.4 km. long. runway that can handle both the Airbus 300 series as well as the Boeing 737s.

Lim stressed that Sangley's existing runway COULD BE OPERATIONAL WITHIN ONE YEAR,  and another runway could be constructed---all at a cost of P800 billion and fully operational in a minimum of five years---to handle 120 million passengers.  Part of this proposed runway would sit on 2,500 hectares to be reclaimed from the sea---a technology that airports in all our neighboring countries, especially HK and Singapore, have resorted to for decades.

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Interestingly, long before the Xiamen accident happened at NAIA, a consortium of seven tycoons sought to rehabilitate that old airport at a cost of P102M to P350M over five years---to increase passenger capacity from 42 million people to 47 million by 2020 and 65 million by 2022. The Xiamen accident changed all that. In fact, if tycoon Ramon Ang could have his way, he wants to sell the 650 hectares of the NAIA Airport and convert it into a business district, much like Makati Center.

As BizNews Asia editor-in-chief/publisher Tony Lopez points out, there is a precedent to RSA's idea: until 1948, the Manila airport was in Makati, in what used to be called the Nielsen Airport---now within the sprawling business hub of Makati. The only thing left in that area is the old tower, now converted into a fashionable restaurant across the Manila Peninsula. RSA is quoted as noting that selling NAIA would generate P2 trillion. 

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Cecile Alvarez and I invited Raoul Eduardo C. Romulo, grandson of the quintessential diplomat Carlos P. Romulo, to talk about RSA's plan: a new international airport in Bulakan, Bulacan, to be called the New Manila International Airport (NMIA),  with initially two runways already functioning to service 100 million passengers---expandable to a total of six runways. Like Sangley, the proposed airport in Bulakan town would also capitalize on reclaiming additional land from Manila Bay and Parañaque.

Bulakenos I have talked to are worried about possible further floodings of their town during the rainy season as well as spillage from the Ipo and Angat Dams---especially with the proposed airport construction in the area. In answer, RSA's team proposes to build spillways in the area, through which water would drain into Manila Bay.

Ramon Ang proposes to built this new modern airport at the cost of P736B.

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To my mind, the strength of RSA's NMIA project in Bulakan town lies in its connectivity to and from various points in the huge metropolis---primarily through SKYWAYS that are already being built by the SMC Infrastructure in various parts of Southern Luzon. 

For instance, Raoul Romulo points out that taking the skyway from Alabang to the Bulakan Airport WILL ONLY TAKE 30-36 MINUTES;  from Novaliches to the NMIA only 25 minutes while San Jose del Monte will also be accessible to the new airport via MRT-7, also an SMC Infrastructure project.

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In fact, as Romulo explained, Skyway 1 will connect Sucat to Alabang; Skyway 2 from Paranaque to Buendia, and Skyway 3 from Buendia to the Northern Luzon Expressway, passing through Quirino and Plaza Dilao. There's also the Southern Tagalog Arterial Route (STAR). This October will start the construction of the route from Batangas to Quezon, and Stage 2, from FTI to Batasan, Antipolo, etc. 

Vision is what lightens the heart of us Filipinos who have had to cope with the nightmare of decrepit airports and hideous traffic just to get in and out of these airports. Hope is that we are finally seeing the urgent modernization of these infrastructure necessities in our lives.