POSTSCRIPT / January 6, 2005 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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We'll pay very dearly for setback in NAIA-3

STICKY FINGERS: If Terminal-3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia-3) were the property of the family of President Arroyo, we would not care how their lawyers handled the dispute involving that strategic structure.

I am just worried that at least one of the lawyers handling, or kibitzing into, the government’s Naia-3 case may be motivated by non-legal interests that do not jibe with the higher public interest that the President is sworn to protect.

There was earlier news that some persons claiming Malacanang connection reportedly talked to Fraport AG, the German partner in the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco) that built Naia-3, asking for payments on the side to help work out a possible settlement.

This was disturbing since one of those mentioned as allegedly trying to work out a settlement was described as also a lawyer of the husband of President Arroyo.

I hope these concerns are baseless, because the government’s case could be compromised beyond repair by any commercially motivated lawyer dipping his sticky finger into the dispute.

While fast operators make their usual millions, the state — meaning we the people — will pay very dearly for any mishandling of the Naia-3 case.

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HELD HOSTAGE?: This has been one of the major problems of President Arroyo as she tries mightily to do her sworn duty and ensure her rightful niche in Philippine history.

In the same way that former President Erap Estrada sank after failing on his avowed reformist policy of “walang kaikaibigan, walang kamagkamaganak” (no friends, no relations), President Arroyo appears being dragged down by an entrenched coterie around her busy making money.

Since President Arroyo won her own mandate last May, we have been hoping for her own sake and that of the country that she would cast away — in the biblical sense of even plucking out an eye if… — the operators and influence peddlers sucking sustenance from the presidency.

We still assume that President Arroyo means well, that she wants to become at least a good president, and that she is ready to sacrifice her personal fortune if only to demonstrate her good faith to the poor masses.

Considering that she is equipped to do a good job, what is wrong? What is holding her back? The answer, I think, is that some people, some of them lawyers who are privy to her family’s commercial entanglements, are holding the President hostage.

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GOV’T REVERSAL: Malacanang was set back when Judge Henrick Gingoyon of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court stopped the government from taking over Naia-3 unless it pays first the required just compensation for the terminal built and owned by Piatco.

Explaining the court order, former Revenue Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons-Chato, a Piatco lawyer, cited Section 4 of RA 8974, which was also cited by the judge stating that “Upon filing of the complaint [for expropriation], the implementing agency shall immediately pay the owner of the property the amount equivalent to the sum of 100 percent of the value of the property based on the current zonal valuation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the value of the improvements and/or structures” thereon .

The same section continued , “In the event the owner of theproperty contests the implementing agency’s proferred value, the court shall determine the just compensation to be paid the owner within 60 days from the date of filing of the expropriation case. When the decision of the court becomes final and executory, the implementing agency shall pay the owner the difference between the amount already paid and the just compensation as determined by the court.”

Since Piatco has not agreed to the compensation offered by government, and no just compensation has yet been determined by the court nor paid by the government, Chato said the latter “could not exercise rights of ownership, including taking possession, over the facility.”

The court also admonished the government that it is ”prohibited from performing acts of ownership like awarding concessions or leasing any part of (Naia-3) to other parties.”

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ARBITRATION: The German state firm Fraport AG, a member of the Piatco consortium together with Japanese and Singaporean investors, has filed a case for arbitration before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes of the World Bank in Washington, DC.

Piatco itself filed for arbitration and recovery of Naia-3 or the payment of just compensation before the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

The side actions for arbitration have complicated the picture. It could happen that the outside arbiters would render a decision contrary to what a Philippine court, even the Supreme Court, may decree. What happens in such a situation?

The arbitration body could even go after assets abroad of the Philippine government to satisfy claims of the aggrieved party if the state loses in the arbitration and fails to pay.

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MOTORISTS’ WOES: Here are some of the reactions to our last POSTSCRIPT on government’s failure to upgrade alternate routes to the North and the South Luzon Expressways whose toll rate increases are driving motorists to look for toll-free roads.

Terra J. Daffon writes: “I travel every working day from Alabang to Makati, negotiating the service road from Alabang Hills, entering the South Expressway via Sucat. Where I used to pay P31 toll fee one way, I now have to shell out 40 bucks. A boy in the house goes to La Salle Taft, so that means that when our schedules don’t jive, he’s got to bring the other car, for an impact of P160 in toll fees a day.

“Take the service road to and fro, one would prescribe, but the guys who constructed the expressway have made sure that the service roads do not provide a viable alternate route. As a matter of fact, these guys have robbed us southerners of the service road! They should be sued for appropriating the service roads and leaving us no alternate routes.

“To begin with, the service roads are perennially in a bad state of disrepair, with craters so big they ruin your suspension, axle, ball joints, pitman arm and whatever else are under the car. So what you save in toll fees, you spend in repairs. During heavy rains, they get flooded. (Well, the Expressway gets flooded too!)

“Also, at certain points where the skyway posts have eaten into the west service road, it gets to be so narrow creating a one-lane traffic jam. At night, with no lighting whatsoever, you always run the risk of hitting a concrete post or concrete elevation. Traffic is horrendous at all hours of the day at the east service road, at the west service road — and horrors, also at the South Expressway. Traffic has been compounded in Bicutan where yet another SM stands.

“But what takes the cake is the skyway. I’ve always said the southbound skyway is the fastest way to get to a traffic jam. I start pretty fast from Legaspi Village, about 5 — 10 minutes breeze of a drive. Then the skyway narrows to two lanes. Then just before the descent after Bicutan and before Sucat, it narrows to one blasted lane and you get stuck for 40 minutes on a bad night. And you pay over a hundred bucks for that.”

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PROBE SOUGHT: In Angeles City, the local council passed a resolution sponsored by Councilor Jesus “Jay” Sangil urging Central Luzon congressmen to press for an inquiry into the coming increase in the toll fees at the North Luzon Expressway.

The resolution said that the toll rate increases, as much as 400+ percent, will be an added imposition on residents of Central Luzon already reeling from the burden of rising prices of gasoline and other commodities.

The council urged the congressmen from the region to use their influence in the House of Representatives to find a way out of this economic problem of their constituents.

Sangil said the current rates themselves are unwarranted. The Philippine National Construction Corp., which now operates the 84-kilometer tollway from Balintawak to Mabalacat, Pampanga, raised the rates last July despite the fact that it has not introduced any improvement on the road.

In fact, when the PNCC did this, another entity, the Manila North Tollways Corp., was already upgrading the road and planning its own toll rate increase. The MNTC has been authorized to raise the rates upon its taking over the road late this month.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 6, 2005)

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