POSTSCRIPT / April 2, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Gloria a sure winner in battle for signatures

ANTI-CHACHA: Some groups opposed to Charter Change have been gathering signatures to block a People’s Initiative sign-up campaign to amend or revise the Constitution and replace the presidential setup with a unitary parliamentary system.

This early I predict that the anti-Chacha drive will fail. It comes too late, it lacks funding and organization, it is not nationwide, there is no constitutional basis for it, and there are not enough anti-Chacha citizens excited to sign an initiative being peddled by militants.

Besides, the truth is that there is an overwhelming majority (which includes me) in favor of amending or revising the Constitution.

But while the anti-Chacha counter-drive is sure to fail, this is no guarantee either that the People’s Initiative being pushed by the Arroyo administration will succeed despite the great number of Filipinos longing for change.

My fearless forecast is that at the end of the long day, when the grand distraction is over, we will still be stuck with President Arroyo and the 1987 Constitution.

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SURE WINNER: But win or lose, it does not matter to President Arroyo. Heads or tails, she wins.

Besides, it is not her money being spent in the campaign anyway. As bonus, the millions being poured into the People’s Initiative are absorbed into the economic stream and help stimulate consumer spending.

And then, if Ms Arroyo’s version of a parliamentary system wins, she ends up as a carryover President wielding head of government powers. The debate over her legitimacy as duly elected president (in 2004) would then become academic.

On the other hand, if her initiative loses, the presidential system is retained and she stays as President whose term ends in 2010.

The political opposition, still without a central rallying leader, will continue heckling the President. The Left will continue sowing anarchy. The investment climate will remain unattractive. Those who can find a way will go abroad. Those who cannot leave will have to cope with whatever comes. Many of those who see opportunity to make money by any means, especially big bucks, will grab the chance. The Church will still be around, unwilling to do anything drastic. What about the Americans? Well, they will do whatever will serve their interests.

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READ THE TEXT?: Let us say you are with the majority that the surveys say are for Charter change.

Some barangay volunteers approach you to sign some People’s Initiative papers to approve proposals to amend or revise the Constitution (never mind the legal difference between the two verbs).

You are being asked to say Yes to amending Article VI, Article VII, and the Transitory Provisions of the 1987 Constitution. It so happens that Article VI contains 32 sections, Article VII 23 sections and Article XVIII 27 sections, or a staggering total of 82 sections.

What do you do? What will an ordinary barangay member, such as those who just hang around the neighborhood because they are jobless, do?

To simplify, you are told that our problems, especially those pertaining to livelihood, spring from a defective system. But with Charter change we can change all that. We just need kuno People’s Initiative to be assured of a better life.

You want a better life? Sign on!

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QUESTIONS: Will registrars/officials of the Commission on Elections validate those signatures even if:

  1. They know that there is a permanent Supreme Court injunction or prohibition against a People’s Initiative?
  2. The Constitution allows a People’s Initiative only for amending, but not for revising, the Charter?
  3. They (Comelec officials) are not hand-writing experts who can pass judgment on signatures?
  4. They know that some of the names/signatures submitted are spurious? And it is impossible to examine the supposed signatories, because they are not there to answer questions?
  5. Many of the supposed signatories signed without fully understanding what they signed for?
  6. Signatories were not responding to the same questions pertaining to Charter change, and have various reasons for signing?

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PARTING SHOT: Before he quit as Solicitor General, Alfredo Benipayo asked the Pasay court to stop the government from paying P3 billion to the builder of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (Naia-3) to start its expropriation of the idle facility.

In his motion, the then Solicitor General cited the collapse last March 27 of a section of the ceiling of Naia-3 as proof that paying the builder, Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco), would be “unjust and inequitable.”

The falling of some 200 square meters of the ceiling raised the question of what else is wrong with the airport built reportedly at a cost of $500 (plus or minus) million by Piatco under a controversial contract to build and manage the terminal.

Benipayo’s motion snagged the payment in the nick of time. Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay Regional Trial Court had ordered officials of the Manila International Airport Authority to withdraw the equivalent of P3 billion from its US dollar deposit with the Land Bank and for the bank to release it to Piatco.

Consummating that initial payment would have helped validate Piatco’s claim as the legally contracted builder and prospective manager of Naia-3 even as the government is moving to expropriate the terminal.

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LEGAL LAPSES: But it is not just the falling ceiling that had rendered the order for the P3-billion down payment ?unjust and inequitable,? to borrow the words of Benipayo.

The then Sol-Gen said Mupas’ order to pay was “defective in substance and issued in violation of the rules of execution of judgments under the Rules of Court.” He noted that it was issued despite the absence of any motion from either party or notice to the parties and hearing.

The ceiling’s collapse not only gave Benipayo legal ammunition to shoot down the payment. It also scuttled the “soft opening” set March 31. In turn, the cancellation blocked whoever plan it was to give P3 billion to Piatco.

The terminal is supposed to bring the international airport at par with the modern airports of the region. A ceiling falling without incident detracts from the image being projected.

Will we ever catch up? Note, for instance, that Kuala Lumpur’s low-cost carrier terminal facility, which was opened to budget airlines and their passengers just a few days ago, even looks better than our domestic terminal.

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DO IT RIGHT: It has been six years since Naia-3 should have been opened in 1999. Since it is already way past late, there is nothing left to do but do a good job, if that is still possible.

It is not simply a question of doing it. It is a matter of finally doing it right. Before we part with that initial P3 billion (in dollars ready to be salted abroad?) and catch a lemon of a terminal, why don’t we as a conscientious buyer:

  1. Obtain a comprehensive report from an internationally-reputable engineering firm to make an invasive technical assessment of Naia-3, that is, what it is now, how much was really spent, and what else has to be done. MIAA is about to contract a local firm, TCGI Engineering, to do the job. That will not do. This firm has to have international standing because that assures in part that it will do a good job to protect its reputation.
  2. Open the books (primary, secondary, hidden, most hidden, what-have-you?) of Piatco and Takenaka, its Japanese contractor, so we can see exactly — before we pay — what was placed into that structure and how much was really spent.
  3. Engage an intellectually-reputable accounting firm to audit the books of Piatco and Takenaka with respect to Naia-3. That is the only real thing that will help the assessors appointed by the late (he was assassinated) Judge Henrick Guingoyon in determining what is due to claimants Piatco and Takenaka. Any centavo paid beyond what is due could lead to possible plunder and graft charges against President Arroyo, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, DOTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza, MIAA General Manager Al Cusi, and other officials and private persons involved.
  4. Engage the services of a reputable private engineering firm to rehabilitate and complete the facility. If MIAA has no money for that (and it obviously does not as it has been twisting the arm of the Development Bank of the Philippines to issue zero-interest bonds to finance this), then bid out and reprivatize the facility. Rehabilitation cannot be done by Takenaka. It is against human nature to admit against one’s interests. For one, it cannot show the controversial Schedule 7, which lists Piatco’s “preferred” subcontractors and suppliers who may know something about the costly, but substandard, works put in.
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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 2, 2006)

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