POSTSCRIPT / August 21, 2014 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Extra term to give Noy 11 new justices

JUDICIAL CAPTURE: Here is another consequence of President Noynoy Aquino’s possibly gaining another six-year term after 2016. Could this be another reason why he wants an extension?

If he could get another term, the President could appoint the replacements of 11 of the 13 Supreme Court justices retiring at age 70 during the next five years.

The two youngest in this batch of 13 (Diosdado M. Peralta and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, both born in 1952) will turn 70 in 2022 and retire. Their replacements, however, cannot be appointed immediately because the vacancies will occur within two months of the May 2022 elections.

Of the current crop, only Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno and Justice Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen (the youngest) would outlast Aquino’s theoretical second term.

Imagine one man who is angry at the SC for having spoiled his presidential pork (the Disbursement Acceleration Program) possibly being able to influence the Court with 14 of the 15 justices from 2019 to 2022 being his appointees.

The only non-Aquino appointee would be Justice Peralta, who retires in March 2022. He was appointed by then President Gloria Arroyo.

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BIRTH DATES: President Aquino’s naming yesterday of Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza, 64, as replacement of Justice Roberto A. Abad who retired last May 22 made him the fifth Aquino appointee to the present tribunal.

Here are the birthdates of the current justices: Sereno, July 2, 1960; Antonio L. Carpio, Oct. 26, 1949; Presbiterio J. Velasco Jr., Aug. 8, 1948; Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Oct. 8, 1948; Arturo D. Brion, Dec. 29, 1946; Peralta, March 27, 1952; Lucas P. Bersamin, Oct. 18, 1949;

Mariano C. del Castillo, July 29, 1949; Martin S. Villarama Jr., April 14, 1946; Jose P. Perez, Dec. 14, 1946; Jose C. Mendoza, Aug. 13, 1947; Bienvenido L. Reyes, July 6, 1947; Perlas-Bernabe, May 14, 1952; Leonen, Dec. 29, 1962; and Jardeleza, Sept. 26, 1949.

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GOODBYE, PAPER: The viability of newspapers worldwide is threatened by the Internet and the electronic media, although there are still many readers who prefer to peruse a physical paper while drinking coffee or to pick up a magazine while in the toilet.

The trend toward a paperless society is drastically reducing the use of newsprint. In Asia, most countries are already experiencing a drop in consumption of 3-6 percent per year. Notable exceptions are China and India going through economic expansion.

Reduced paper consumption worldwide has resulted in the closure of numerous newsprint mills. Even big paper factories abroad like Abitibi Bowater, White Birch, Catalyst Paper and Stora Enso have closed some of their mills in North America and Europe.

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IMPORTED PAPER: In the Philippines, the few remaining newsprint manufacturers are already hurting from declining sales — and the influx of competing newsprint from other countries.

They are crying out to the government for help. While it is true that there is free trade under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the local paper mills and makers of paper products are supposed to be protected by the government when threatened by unfair practices.

In spite of the availability of export-quality newsprint in the Philippines, imports are flooding the market. From a volume of 2,995 metric tons in 2007, imports grew to 19,000 metric tons in 2009 and continue to increase every year. Records from the paper industry association show that 50,000 tons of imported newsprint arrived in 2013 alone.

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TIPCO CASE: The biggest player in the newsprint industry, the Trust International Paper Corp. (TIPCO), petitioned in May 2012 the Department of Trade and Industry to impose safeguards pursuant to the Safeguard Measure Act (RA 8800). Their petition is gathering dust.

Some 90 to 95 percent of newsprint requirements in the country used to be supplied by three local manufacturers. But stiff competition and importation have proved to be too tough for some to handle.

One of the major suppliers closed in 2009, while another had to shift to making other paper grades and eventually stopped producing in 2011.

At present, TIPCO in my hometown Mabalacat City, is the only remaining player, but is fighting for survival. Its sales have been on a downtrend in spite of the closure of other manufacturers. TIPCO shut down one of its two paper mills in 2011 and laid off hundreds of my cabalen.

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WHERE’S THE REST?: While DTI sits on TIPCO’s petition, importers – some of them in the publishing business — are having a field day. What is disturbing is that much of the importing is done by a few personalities who reportedly buy more than what they need.

Import records show that companies controlled by these influential individuals imported more than 10,000 metric tons from January to May this year. The imported stock is more than their requirement of about 6,000 tons for the same period. Where did the rest go?

The government should act fast on the protection plea of local manufacturers. There are industry skeptics who fear that DTI might even toss the issue to the Tariff Commission where the petition will drag even longer.

Delayed safeguard measures can lead to the total collapse of the local newsprint manufacturing industry, benefiting importers while displacing hundreds of workers and thousands more indirectly benefiting from it.

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SAME SAFEGUARDS: In recent years, safeguard measures were granted to local manufacturers for other paper grades. The Bulacan-based United Pulp and Paper Corp., a producer of brown paper grades, was granted safeguard duty for its testliner board used in making boxes.

The firm said it was suffering from shrinking market shares, declining production sales and operating losses due to under-utilization of rated capacity. On top of these problems, increased importations of linerboard have inflicted substantial injury to the industry.

This UPPC situation is the same as that of TIPCO. So why not give the same safeguard to newsprint that is crucial to the threatened newspaper industry? Newsprint accounts for some 70 percent of the cost of producing a newspaper.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 21, 2014)

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