POSTSCRIPT / March 6, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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In fairness, all 'Aquino'  votes must go to Noynoy

NOYNOY’S VOTES: In the senatorial race this May, all votes for “Aquino” must be counted for Tarlac Rep. Noynoy Aquino who is running with the opposition ticket.

Noynoy, son of martyred Ninoy Aquino and former President Cory Aquino, must be allowed to claim such votes, because he is the only incumbent lawmaker among all the Aquinos running.

Votes for “Aquino” should not be declared stray votes and thus wasted, nor counted for his aunt Tessie Aquino Oreta of the administration ticket or for his cousin Ted Aquino who has been declared a nuisance candidate.

When Tessie ran for the Senate in 1998 using both the Aquino and Oreta surnames, that was all right because there was no other Aquino running. This time, in fairness, she should stick to her married family name Oreta while Nonoy uses Aquino.

The main idea is to determine the people’s choice by clearly labeling the candidates.

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COLD WIND: Looking back, the whole country stood still as Makati Judge Benjamin Pozon handed down his verdict on US Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith convicting him of raping “Nicole,” a 22-year old Filipina who danced with him in a bar in Olongapo City.

Feminists and anti-US activists were jubilant over Pozon’s decision, hailing the ruling as a show of independence of the judge from the Executive department. They used the Smith issue as footstool for their advocacies.

Bilateral relations soured with the US backing out of the Balikatan exercises after Smith was made to stay for some days at the Makati City jail.

This appeared to have doomed expected US investments and tourist arrivals. Suddenly, it was as if a cold wind was blowing from Washington, DC.

* * *

BACK TO NORMAL: The withdrawal of the Balikatan exercises would have deprived Filipino soldiers of the training and equipment that they need for the government’s war against terrorism.

But before 2006 ended, Smith was transferred to US custody, foreclosing the prospects of his spending the holidays at the Makati jail.

The wind blowing from across the Pacific suddenly became cool and comforting.

For one, the RP-US Balikatan exercises were restarted on Feb. 18. It was announced that they would focus on humanitarian projects in Mindanao, especially in Sulu where medical, dental, veterinary, and engineering projects are to be jointly carried out.

There would also be a combined task force staff exercise focusing on crisis action planning in a maritime security scenario.

* * *

AMCHAM BULLISH: On cue, the American Chamber of Commerce expressed confidence in the country’s fiscal stability, with member traders saying they were ready to infuse at least $3 billion in the infrastructure, manufacturing and information technology sectors.

Executive director Robert Sears of the American Chamber of Commerce cited in a roundtable discussion with President Arroyo the country’s improved fiscal situation and the resurging confidence of foreign investors.

“The confidence level this year is higher than at the same time last year,” he said.

The Amcham’s expression of confidence shows that RP-US relations are improving, unbridled by incidental irritants such as the Smith case.

The American investors’ interest in the country can be taken as a sign that RP-US relations are back to normal and that US investments would stay and grow.

Looking back, the government’s decision to move Smith to his rightful custodian may have been unpopular but it proved correct from the very start.

* * *

PAY BACK: There is a clamor for businessman Tonyboy Cojuangco to return the billions of pesos in dividends that his family’s heretofore 46-percent stake in the Philippine Telecommunication Investment Corp. had earned from 1986 onwards.

Several urban and labor organizations have asked the government to force Cojuangco to return the dividends in the same way that it sequestered the ill-gotten shares that had earned the dividends.

That move is logical. If the Cojuangco PTIC shares were ill-gotten as declared by the Supreme Court, then the dividends earned by the shares were also ill-gotten. The billions in dividends earned must also be surrendered to the people.

President Arroyo said the money from the shares will finance infrastructure and social projects. The government should also go after the billions in dividends so they can also be used to pump-prime the economy.

* * *

TOTAL TRIPLED: In 1986, the Presidential Commission on Good Government sequestered the shares for being part of the Marcos wealth. However, the Cojuangco family was able to prolong its hold on the shares and the dividends by contesting the sequestration.

But with the Supreme Court ordering the government takeover of the Cojuangco shares in PTIC, and the government selling them this week for P25.2 billion, the only issue left is the continuing refusal of Cojuangco to return the dividends.

As early as 1993, then congressman Joker Arroyo estimated at over $500 million the money from PTIC that Cojuangco must return. Today, that $500 million must have already tripled.

Some accountants estimate that the dividends earned by the sequestered shares must now be even bigger in value than the shares that earned them.

* * *

SAME OUTFIT: On the day the government sold its PTIC stake, a Wilson Gamboa contested the sale before the Supreme Court, alleging that it violated the 40-percent cap imposed by the Constitution on foreign ownership of shares in public utilities.

But records of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange have shown that foreign equity in PLDT, as of last year, amounted to just 13.8 percent, well below the 40-percent cap. Even adding the 6.3 percent sold by the government to the 13.8 percent the total would come nowhere near the limit.

Besides, First Pacific, the buyer of the 6.3 percent, remains a company wholly owned by Filipinos.

Who arranged Gamboa’s press conference? Reporters told me it was the same PR outfit servicing Cojuangco.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 6, 2007)

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