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, 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!  


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. 


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%! 


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! . 


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.  


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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 ParaƱaque.

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.


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.


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.