POSTSCRIPT / July 19, 2009 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Resolve Panlilio-Pineda dispute via return bout

RECOUNT: Instead of wasting precious time and resources counting again the disputed votes in the 2007 gubernatorial elections in Pampanga, why not a return bout between Gov. Eddie Panlilio and protesting loser Ms Lilia Pineda?

The recount that was given the go-signal by the Supreme Court will require millions and more than a year of a ping pong-like administrative and legal process. It will be overtaken by the next election just 10 months away.

I say, let Panlilio and Pineda spend their millions instead in a showdown in next year’s elections. (We ask other gubernatorial aspirants such as Vice Gov. Yeng Guiao and Sen. Lito Lapid not to join the fray and muddle it.

Panlilio should snap out of the delusion that he could be president of this Republic. Instead, the priest-turned-politician should clear the air by asking his cabalen to reaffirm their mandate, if indeed he won in 2007.

I am assuming that Panlilio is not afraid to submit to closer scrutiny and Ms Pineda — who lost by only 1,147 votes — is raring to prove in fresh polls that she is actually her provincemates’ first choice.

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BIG WASTE: Panlilio’s own counsel, lawyer Romy Macalintal, said the recount of votes from Pampanga’s 4,847 polling precincts would be overtaken by next May’s elections.

“It’s going to be a waste of time and money,” he said. “I would even advise Governor Panlilio not to send a lawyer or revisors during the recount because nothing conclusive will come out of it anyway.”

Macalintal said Commission on Elections personnel involved in the recount would be paid P2.3 million on top of their salaries. For one, Pineda will have to shell out P2,326,560 for them, he added.

Pineda claimed in her protest that there was misreading of ballots in 2007. Her registered alias “Nanay Baby” was allegedly not counted in her favor.

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PABAON?: Unfazed by questions about the $2-billion Laiban dam contract about to be given to San Miguel Bulk Water Corp., the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System appears bent on pushing it.

The bullheadedness has triggered speculations that the deal, the biggest item among the Arroyo administration’s “midnight” projects, has been packaged as the “pabaon” for a scandal-hounded regime that exits in 10 months.

The ambitious project requires six years to carry out, so why does not the Arroyo administration — with less than a year to go — just leave it for the next administration to pursue?

Why the big rush in complete disregard of several serious legal and feasibility questions?

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TAKE-OR-PAY: The project is being facilitated by MWSS Administrator Jose Diosdado Allado, a lawyer of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. transferred to MWSS despite his zero experience in the water industry.

Under the deal, MWSS commits to buy over 700 million cubic meters of water for 25 years, whether or not the water is sold or needed under a take-or-pay clause similar to the onerous contracts of independent power producers (IPPs).

This sweetheart provision has been calculated to yield for San Miguel a return of over 20 percent on its investment.

Annually, MWSS is expected to pay San Miguel over P15.5 billion, or at least P391 billion over the 25-year contract period, excluding inflation adjustment.

Manila Water and Maynilad, the concessionaire-distributors of MWSS in Metro Manila, were not consulted on the take-or-pay arrangement that could triple the retail cost of water.

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BOT VIOLATION: The contract is to be awarded in defiance of the Build-Operate-Transfer law and other rules requiring transparency and competition, according to lawyers consulted.

The Laiban dam, whose construction began and was stopped in the early 80’s by MWSS, was approved in April 2007 as a priority project by the National Economic and Development Authority.

Under the BOT law, MWSS is required to bid it out because it is not a new but a long-standing project. Thinking it could go around that requirement, MWSS formed a joint venture with San Miguel.

The water agency also committed the national government to guarantee its obligations to San Miguel. If the joint venture is unable to pay obligations, taxpayers — including those who do not use MWSS water, will pay.

NEDA Secretary General Ralph Recto has objected to the sovereign guarantee, as the project has not been carried out through public tender. But powerful forces are working to ram it through.

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CHINA DEAL: Previously, MWSS planned to pursue the Laiban project using China Eximbank funding without public bidding under an executive agreement similar to that of the Northrail and the ZTE broadband projects.

With the cancellation of Chinese financing because of the ZTE scandal, MWSS sought to proceed without public bidding, under NEDA guidelines of April 8, 2008, promoting a joint venture between government and the private sector.

But lawyers said these guidelines are apparent violations of the BOT Law requiring priority government infrastructure projects to undergo public tender.

Note that NEDA had approved the Laiban project in April 2007 as a priority project in anticipation of the China Eximbank financing.

If only because of many serious objections, there is clear need for the Laiban project to be reviewed by all stakeholders involved — instead of being quietly rammed through in the dying days of the Arroyo administration.

The undue haste is suspicious, to say the least. No water crisis is foreseen in the next 10 months of the exiting administration.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 19, 2009)

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