POSTSCRIPT / June 14, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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How to sell out RP interests in air talks

LOPSIDED: Is Transportation Undersecretary Edward Harun Pagunsan a Filipino? Some air industry sectors are asking because whenever he heads the Philippine panel in bilateral air talks, something seems to give.

I don’t mean that some foreign party gives him something. I mean that the agreement that comes out of the air talks usually finds the Philippines getting the shorter end of the bargain.

In the Philippines-Bahrain air services negotiations in February last year, Pagunsan headed the RP panel that industry observers said had sold out by giving in to the demands of Bahrain and accepting a lopsided agreement.

Again, Pagunsan headed our panel in the RP-Korea talks held last May in Davao City . He surprised his own panel members, if not the Koreans themselves, by acceding to all the demands of Seoul.

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EXCESS CAPACITY: Members of his panel representing government agencies and Philippine airlines strongly disagreed with Pagunsan’s position of giving in to the Korean demands.

These included the grant to Seoul of up to 19,000 seats per week on the RP-Korea routes. Previous capacity entitlements stood only at 6,800 seats — meaning Pagunsan agreed to a 179-percent increase.

Korean carriers currently use only 8,300 seats a week, while Philippine carriers fly only 4,400 seats a week on the Manila-Seoul route.

The excess capacity enables the Koreans to poach on the RP-US market while denying the Philippine request for 5 th freedom rights (or to fly from Manila to Seoul then on to the US and Canada). Is this a fair deal?

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EASY CAVE-IN: Some panel members said Pagunsan was weak-kneed, easily caving in to the Korean demands backed by a threat to walk out if their demands were not met.

The Koreans threatened to cancel all existing extra-bilateral RP-Korea flights and disapprove all new applications by any Philippine carrier. They also threatened to subject RP airlines to stricter inspection and take drastic action against them.

Instead of giving a firm response, Pagunsan reportedly pressured his panel members to accept the Korean demands, telling them that the Philippines and its airline industry are weak compared to the mighty Koreans.

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COMPROMISE: It got to a point where it was not sure on side Pagunsan was. His panelists were not comfortable seeing their panel head meeting privately with the Korean panel chairman.

When some Korean panel members said they were willing to consider a compromise deal (15,000 seats per week rather than 19,000), Pagunsan reportedly dismissed this and insisted on talking only to the Korean chairman.

Even after the deal was signed, some Korean panelists admitted they would have accepted the compromise but were themselves wondering why Pagunsan sided with them.

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SECRET MEETING: There is this disturbing report that Pagunsan met secretly with his counterpart in Seoul more than a month before the formal negotiations.

This has raised concerns that he may have committed major concessions without raising vital concerns of Philippine carriers (such as 5 th freedom rights).

That might explain why the Koreans seemed to have gone to Davao thinking a deal was already in the bag. So that when the Filipino panelists rejected it, Pagunsan quickly tried to placate the angry Koreans.

This was a replay of Pagunsan’s tactics during the RP-Bahrain talks last year, marked by a repeated desire to resign as panel chairman — which he never did.

Despite his behavior, he remains in the good graces of his bosses. What gives?

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FOCUS ON CHED: The Commission on Higher Education should be a revamped before it develops into another big headache for President Gloria Arroyo.

Mandated to supervise private and state tertiary schools, the CHED has come under fire not only from students and parents complaining of tuition increases, but also from disgusted officials of state colleges and universities.

CHED chairman Carlito Puno has been quoted as saying that the tuition increase was just a little above the inflation rate which he said was 6.2 percent.

Somebody should tell him Central Bank Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr. is saying the inflation rate is down to just 2.6 percent.

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WHITE PAPER: Puno has earned the ire of some SUC officials whom he is supposed to “supervise” as chairman of the board of trustees of their schools.

One official even wrote a White Paper on Puno’s alleged attempts to bleed the resources of “struggling SUCs,” instead of helping them.

Citing examples, the anonymous writer said Puno, to win the SUC officials’ confidence, would take them to trips to Korea or China for training.

The trips were supposedly all-expenses paid, but in the end the schools had to foot the bill. Because Puno is the chairman of the board of trustees, the school heads have had no choice but to comply.

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UNNEEDED BOOKS: Another case cited was the book project with Trinitas Publishing and Editorial Center and the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges.

His accusers alleged that Puno and Trinitas coerced school administrators to sign contracts to buy books for their libraries. As commission head, Puno approves a financial assistance of P1 million per school for the purchase.

This is allegedly done through a prearranged contract between the school head and Trinitas, the “exclusive distributor” of PASUC books.

Trinitas then delivers the books that the SUC official said are not really needed. These are later considered by COA as irregular transactions, placing the SUC head and the librarian in hot waters.

Our advice is for these officials to file charges against Puno before the Ombudsman instead of resorting to White Papers.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 14, 2007)

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