POSTSCRIPT / October 26, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Tenuous 8-7 vote isn't the end yet for Cha-cha

CHA-CHA SETBACK: Thank God there is the Supreme Court!

By a close vote of 8-7, the tribunal ruled yesterday that the nation cannot revise the Constitution through deceptively gathered signatures disguised as a People’s Initiative and in the absence of an implementing law to serve as legal basis.

In a 52-page decision written by Justice Antonio T. Carpio, the court upheld the Commission on Elections’ resolution denying a petition of some groups to amend the Constitution via People’s Initiative.

But those opposing a shift to a parliamentary system through charter change must remain vigilant. The pro-initiative groups, which include blocs identified with Malacanang, are likely to move for reconsideration and try tilting the tenuous 8-7 vote.

If a motion for reconsideration fails, they can also swing into action in the House of Representatives where there is still alive — at least in the hearts of Cha-cha partisans — the plan to convene the legislature into a Constituent Assembly.

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7-7 DEADLOCK: In rejecting People’s Initiative, the Comelec used as basis a 1997 Supreme Court decision on a similar case wherein Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago opposed a Cha-cha move through an initiative.

In that earlier case involving a similar move for a People’s Initiative the Supreme Court ruled that the poll body was barred from giving due course to such an initiative because of the absence of an enabling law.

Aside from Carpio, six other justices who initially voted against People’s Initiative were Associate Justices Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Romeo Callejo Sr., Alicia Austria-Martinez, Conchita Carpio-Morales and Adolf Azcuna.

The seven who voted for initiative were Associate Justices Reynato Puno (who was the rival of Artemio Panganiban for the post of chief justice), Leonardo Quisumbing, Renato Corona, Dante Tinga, Cancio Garcia, Presbitero Velasco, and Minita Chico-Nazario.

With the 7-7 deadlock, Chief Justice Panganiban cast the tie-breaking vote to block People’s Initiative as contrived by its proponents as a mode of revising the charter.

The score can be reversed with just one justice crossing to the losing side. With the coming replacement of Panganiban upon his retirement and a little “gapangan,” the court might just emerge reversing itself upon a motion for reconsideration.

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GMA LINKS?: In its decision, the tribunal said among other things: “This Court cannot betray its primordial duty to defend and protect the Constitution… To allow this constitutionally infirm initiative, propelled by deceptively gathered signatures, to alter basic principles in the Constitution is to allow a desecration of the Constitution….

“The Lambino Group’s initiative is void and unconstitutional because it dismally fails to comply with the requirement of Section 2, Article XVII, of the Constitution that the initiative must be ‘directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition.’”

The tribunal also noted the admission of petitioner Sigaw ng Bayan (“People’s Cry”) that the People’s Initiative was an “unqualified support to the agenda” of President Gloria Arroyo to amend the Constitution.

Attached to the initiative petition filed with the Comelec were alleged 6.3 million signatures of registered voters supporting charter amendments. But the SC said there was no showing that the signatories were fully aware of what they were supposedly supporting.

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MWSS MESS: Over at the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, some officials seem to think that money flows as copiously as water spurting from a faucet.

Not satisfied with an official letter from the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, signed by chairman Tom Alcantara, that the firm Kintech had failed critical tests in its two water projects in Taiwan, some MWSS officials are set to fly to Taipei just to check.

Ignoring a stream of media reports from Taiwan that Kintech failed quality and quantity tests on its water projects in Kaoshiung, MWSS officials reportedly plans to ask MECO to help verify the reports. They have to travel and spend precious dollars to do that?

Kintech and its partners are asking to be qualified to bid for a 300-mld (million liters per day) bulk water project tapping Laguna de Bay to produce more potable water for half of the Metro Manila concession area.

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IN-LAW: I would not be surprised if Kintech denies to visiting MWSS officials that it has failed to comply with the specifications of their supply contract with the Taiwan Water Corp. — on the ground that the project is not yet concluded.

While the two water projects were “finished” in 2003 and Kintech failed the quality and quantity tests, it was given by the administration of President Chen Shui-bian one more year to undertake its third and final test.

By coincidence, President Chen’s son is married to a daughter of a high official of Kintech.

In initial tests, the two Kintech water plants were able to provide only 261,000 tons of hard, undrinkable water — which is less than 1/4 of Kaoshiung’s 1,200,000-ton daily requirement.

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FALSE STATEMENT: Kintech is likely to assure MWSS that it will pass the quality test, because Taiwan’s Department of Environment has already lowered the quality standard for water hardness.

The remaining problem is the quantity (volume) test, which is less critical than the quality test.

When MWSS officials return from Taiwan, they will most likely announce that the negative media reports on Kintech are all false — and Kintech will be then qualified to bid for the MWSS bulk water project.

They can be expected to present news clippings reporting the attacks of the political opposition on Kintech and thereby make it appear that the issue is political and has nothing to do with technical failures.

But even if MWSS succeeds in a cover-up and Kintech’s water projects in Kaoshiung will pass the third and final test, there remains the issue of its having submitted false statements under oath.

It has declared, for instance, that the value of the Kaoshiung water projects is US$100 million (the minimum required under the Build-Operate-Transfer Law), when in fact they are actually worth only US$30 million.

On this issue alone, MWSS should now proceed to disqualify Kintech in the bulk water supply project. But MWSS appears leaning backwards to accommodate the Taiwanese firm.

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MIRANT STANDOUT:Postscript reported last time that 125 Americans connected with Mirant Philippines’ parent company in Atlanta, Georgia, will be rewarded with a $34-million bonus for working out the sale of the local power firm before the year ends.

The windfall, which translates to an average of P13.6 million per employee, is being resented by Filipino workers of Mirant who stand to get an average of only P1 million each if the new owner pays the promised 2.5 months’ rate for every year of service.

Watch the reaction of the restive Filipino workers when they learn that there is one Filipino among the 125 employees in the US blessed by the parent company.

One of the 125 lucky beneficiaries is reportedly none other than Jose Leviste, their president and chief executive officer in Mirant Philippines who apparently helped sell the company.

Until now, Mirant’s 1,250 Filipino workers are asking for a firm commitment that the promised 2.5-months’ (for every year of service) separation pay will be honored by whoever buys the company.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 26, 2006)

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