POSTSCRIPT / October 7, 2012 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Tired of fighting off the inevitable? Yield!

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* Why resist the inevitable? Why don’t we just cancel the elections and turn over the government to movie stars, TV celebrities and members of political dynasties? Bahala na!

* Media should help educate the people, at least teach them that elections are NOT popularity contests. Problem is media are part of the problem.

* Headline: Padaca vows reforms at Comelec” >She sounds like the current commissioners are incapable of reform without her.

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WHAT TOOK THEM?: Finally, President Noynoy Aquino and Sen. Edgardo Angara, principal sponsor of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, pulled their heads from the sand and started to defend RA 10175 that has come under severe attack from affected sectors.

What took them that long to realize that the law they had shepherded through the Congress and approved last Sept. 12 was valid and meritorious?

How come presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda conceded to the media days ago that the law is flawed, contrary to what his boss the President is now saying? Don’t they talk to each other?

What other things was Angara attending to while sponsoring the bill in the Senate? Why did it take him weeks after its approval to realize that it was a valid and necessary measure?

They just sponsor and sign bills without serious study, relying on a repair job as needed?

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MRT UPGRADING: There is no doubt that capacity-expansion, including the deployment of more coaches, is needed for the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) 3 system ferrying 400,000 passengers daily along its 17-kilometer line between Pasay and Quezon cities.

But how to do it without prejudicing the interests of taxpayers, the riding public and the investors who have put in good money into the system?

There is a P8.63-billion plan calling for the acquisition of a 52 new coaches and the completion of required ancillary works, to enable operating four-car trains for improved efficiency. The expansion has been approved by the National Economic and Development Authority.

Transportation Undersecretary Rene Limcaoco said days ago that the Department of Transportation and Communication is studying if there is a need to seek the approval of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. before bidding out additional coaches.

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‘BAHAY KO YAN!”: The DoTC is looking into that question because the MPIC holds an economic interest in the Metro Rail Transit Corp., the owner and operator of MRT 3.

Limcaoco said that MRT3 assets are still owned by the shareholders, major among them being MPIC that has a stronghold. Under an operable provision in their agreement, MRTC holds the expansion rights in MRT3 and MRTC retains the right to allow third party trains into the system.

Simply put, Limcaoco is restating MRTC’s right to say: “Bahay ko pa yan hanggang 2025. Bago ka magpasok ng gamit mo, ipaalam mo muna sa may-ari.” Now as the “may-ari,” MRTC has the right to refuse.

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AVOIDABLE EXPENSE: There is lingering fear among foreign and local investors making crucial decisions on major projects costing millions of dollars, that the administration may suddenly change the rules without much regard for the technical and legal ramifications.

As a result, some projects, pushed by a well-meaning President, grind to a standstill and investors become apprehensive.

For example, the DoTC insists on spending $100 million on MRTC, a private corporation, when a proposal has been sitting in the department to provide a big-picture solution to the operational problems of MRT 3.

The $100 million that the government plans to infuse into MRT 3 at the expense of Filipino taxpayers is in addition to the annual $140-million government subsidy.

Subsidy is needed because the fare, P15 from one end to the other end, is not enough for the operator to recover expenses and make a reasonable profit. There is also the question of why taxpayers all over the country subsidize the transportation needs of Metro Manila.

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LIMITING RULE: The $100 million is intended for buying new coaches needed to deploy four-car trains. (In my usage, a COACH is one car, while a TRAIN is two or more cars/coaches linked to run as one unit.)

But why should the administration use public funds to buy the coaches when private sector investors are already primed to bankroll this huge capital expenditure — so Filipino taxpayers will not have to shoulder the big expense?

The MRT today has 73 coaches, but the DoTC does not deploy more than 60 of them during peak hours because of a limiting provision in the existing operator contract of MRT 3.

A quick fix solution to increase the capacity of MRT should be for the government to invite MRTC to the table to renegotiate the limiting provision on the deployment of trains.

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ABAYA IN: Another point is that acquiring new coaches will not necessarily solve the efficiency problem. The operating systems and the infrastructure will have to be upgraded also to accommodate additional trains.

With the EDSA traffic mess appearing to be beyond solution, the Aquino administration is on the right track in moving to rehabilitate MRT — and related transportation infrastructure.

It seems nothing major happened during the tenure of Liberal Party president Mar Roxas as DoTC secretary. Stakeholders are reportedly hoping there will be more action and innovative thinking with the coming in of Secretary Emilio Joseph Abaya.

Abaya is a technical, hands-on manager. An electrical engineering degree holder from the Annapolis Naval Academy in Maryland, he is known to seriously study the details of a project and not so much its political value.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 7, 2012)

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