POSTSCRIPT / August 23, 2012 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Hypocrites offering Jesse faded flowers

SECOND CLASS: It is a pity that Jesse Robredo had to meet violent death to be recognized by people who hold the reins of political power in this confused country.

For two years from the time he was appointed as Acting Secretary of Interior and Local Government, the former Naga City mayor labored in the same quiet, efficient style that had earned him praise and honor from various sectors that understood merit.

But even in the DILG where he was supposed to be the top honcho, Robredo was never a full-fledged boss. He was made to share his turf with somebody closer to the seat of power. It seemed he did not enjoy the complete confidence of those who put him there.

The second-class Cabinet secretary was routinely bypassed by the haughty Commission on Appointments for the most inconsequential excuses. Some influential politicos dreaded to see his star rising, or the CA simply had no time to confirm his appointment.

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HYPOCRISY: Now that Robredo has died while on official duty –standing in for his President who was in Manila — those who did not treat him properly in life, those who had kept him out of the loop, are now tripping all over themselves praising him and touching his coffin.

It is too late for all that. The melodrama is nauseating.

A housewife signing in as @malougm10 on Twitter described the farcical act as: “Naghuhugas ngGUILT. Or plain HYPOCRISY, pakitang tao.” I retweeted that.

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SMUGGLING SPREE: In a recent poll, 71 percent of Makati business executives surveyed gave the administration a failing grade in its anti-smuggling campaign. While smuggling is one big bump in President Aquino’s “daang matuwid,” no one has been jailed for it.

The reported smuggling of pork and chicken, rice and oil, and even garlic and onions shows that the sneaking in of hot goods from Manila to Subic, Cebu, Batangas, Cagayan de Oro and Davao is still rampant.

The recent attempt by some importers to smuggle 430,000 sacks of rice from India into the Subic Bay Freeport is proof that smugglers are having a grand time under the current regime.

No customs officer or importer has been charged over the case of 2,000 missing container vans laden with smuggled goods in Batangas.

The usual “bagsakan” of untaxed merchandise in Divisoria and Tutuban are flooded with onions, garlic, other farm products, apparel, toys, et cetera. Are law enforcers blind?

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P-NOY TIP: The second semester survey of the Makati Business Club was conducted June 19 – July 23 with 14.7 percent of 375 MBC member-companies and business associations participating.

Asked if they were satisfied with the government’s anti-smuggling efforts, 70.9 percent answered No, while 27.3 percent said Yes. (That survey came even before rice smuggling in Subic was in the news.)

The Senate committee on agriculture hearing the other Monday revealed an unusual tip-off that led to the discovery of the sacks of rice hidden in two warehouses in SBMA premises.

Pressed on who blew the whistle, Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon said it was President Aquino himself who texted him about it.

The embarrassing matter should have landed on the desk of SBMA administrator and chairman Roberto Garcia, but the President chose to bring it instead to the attention of Biazon.

The Makati businessmen’s survey, the unabated smuggling in Subic, and President Aquino’s tipping off Biazon should set Garcia worrying about his status.

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HANKY-PANKY: Senators asked customs and SBMA officials why the ship laden with the rice from India was allowed to dock, and why the cargo was placed in the two warehouses without supporting documents.

Garcia feigned ignorance, but admitted the cargo’s being warehoused inside SBMA. Instead of going on leave to give way for a deeper investigation, Garcia sacked two of his executives who he said knew about the shipment.

Accusations that some SBMA officials have been involved in smuggling are not new. Some of them are also being accused of doling out unusual privileges and awarding contracts to favored businessmen.

Among the deals being examined are that of a port operator proposing to develop Subic ports into a world-class facility at a cost of P14 billion, and a plan to put up a 650-megawatt power plant in Redondo Peninsula.

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SUBIC LOSSES: While President Aquino puts a premium on Public-Private Projects (PPP), we have not heard of any recent big-ticket investment in Subic.

On the contrary, reports have it that SBMA has been incurring net losses since 2010. Last year, it lost P1.1 billion. Like his boss, Garcia simply blamed previous administrations for Subic’s financial woes.

Lacking drive and creativity in attracting solid investors, Garcia and the SBMA board have turned on the helpless locators, lessees, and those renting warehouses and quarters by imposing additional fees.

His justification is that SBMA needs money to pay its debt that has ballooned to P7 billion. (Debt payment has been booked as part of losses.) Two big loans — for the container yard and the international airport — had put the agency deep in the red.

He blames Subic’s misery to what he called the debt problem and the failure of his agency to collect a 5-percent tax from locators due to a “structural flaw” in the SBMA charter.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 23, 2012)

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