POSTSCRIPT / March 11, 2014 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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PH-US talks to define ‘rotational’ presence?

PH-US TALKS: There was paucity of details in the official update on the latest round of talks on the “rotational” presence here of American troops, but that was expected considering that both sides are locked in a delicate stage of the bargaining.

It looks like the Philippine government is careful not to invite constitutional challenge to the upcoming agreement and provoke negative public opinion. That the talks have dragged on is another indication of how sensitive are the terms being discussed.

On the constitutional question, the Philippines’ guideline is the ban on foreign military bases without a mutually ratified treaty and the bar on the entry of nuclear weapons.

On the ban on foreign bases, that should be solved by the Marcos formula of calling them US facilities on Philippine bases administered by a Filipino commander and with the Philippine flag flying over them.

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ROTATIONAL: Taking as precedent the existing PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement that the Supreme Court has declared constitutional, the two countries will just have to use the VFA claim of lack of permanence by describing the US personnel as rotational.

But how long a stay is “permanent” and how short is “rotational”?

With the US looking for a nearby haven for the GIs being driven out of Okinawa, there have arisen “numbers questions” over the size of the contingents coming and going in revolving door fashion as well as the duration of their rotational presence.

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HOW MUCH?: There is also the transactional question of how much it would cost the US to have its fighting men forward-based in the Philippines. Bargaining over this commercial point is not being mercenary, especially when talking to wily American horse traders.

To put it clearly, though bluntly, what do Filipinos get in return for hosting American troops that are deployed far away from the US mainland to protect American interests?

We have to cite this, because there are some Filipinos saying that Americans are here to protect us, their friend and ally, and should not be charged a single cent for sticking around.

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P.R. PROBLEMS: The bigger relationship issue is how best to manage the PR (public relations) problem that this expanded presence of GIs, plus the collateral problems it brings, inflicts on the native population.

The legal (constitutional) problems are easier to address, what with this country crawling with hotshot lawyers and influence peddlers who have penetrated the inner sanctum of the judiciary.

Before a new contract is signed, the ground rules and their implications should be threshed out to minimize the questions that are sure to arise from the presence of foreign troops. The minutes of the talks should be made an annex, as fallback reference.

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INFRASTRUCTURE: The defense department spokesman mentioned in his statement “ownership of constructed infrastructure” and “resolution of disputes”.

As a general rule, improvement to property temporarily used by tenants accrues to the owner. We take it that infrastructure built by the Americans, especially if it is not bolted to the ground, will stay as property of the Philippines when the tenant goes.

They may also want to insert a PR bonus that certain used military equipment, although not considered infrastructure, will be left behind for local or future use.

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CRIMINAL JURISDICTION: As for the resolution of disputes, we take it that this refers to an update of the “criminal jurisdiction” section of the VFA.

Our suggestion is: When the act complained of is committed (1) against a Filipino (2) in Philippine territory and (3) deemed a crime under Philippine laws, the proper Philippine court should have immediate, original and exclusive jurisdiction over the case – except when the accused American is certified by his commander as on official duty at the time.

By “official duty” we mean the GI must have been (1) in proper uniform when he committed the act, (2) must have a correctly dated written mission order from his commander, and (3) he was not under the influence of drugs, alcohol and such prohibited/regulated substances.

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LOTTO CONTRACTS: At Clark Freeport, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office said Friday it was considering a single service provider for its online lottery (Lotto), and that the contractor must be a Filipino-owned enterprise.

PCSO Chair Margarita Juico disclosed this intention in a forum at the Bale Balita (House of News) hosted by the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) in partnership with the Clark Development Corp. and the Social Security System.

She said the PCSO was finalizing the terms of reference for the bidding. The present service providers, the Philippine Gaming and Management Corp. and the Pacific On-line Systems Corp., are expected to bid.

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ALLOCATIONS: Juico said that under RA 1169 that created the PCSO, it is mandated to allocate its revenues this way:

• 55 percent for the payment of prizes, including those for the horse owners, jockeys and sellers of winning sweepstakes tickets.

• 30 percent for its charity fund for charity works and programs.

• 15 percent for its daily operating fund, including overhead.

Prizes that are not claimed within one year from draw date are considered forfeited and included in the charity fund.

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IMPROVED FINANCES: The PCSO launched on-line Lotto in 1955. Starting with 42 numbers, selection of six of which wins the jackpot, Lotto now has many variations, notable among them those using 45, 49 and 55 numbers.

Juico said the firm’s financial condition has improved in the last two years. From a negative position of P989 million in 2011, its retained earnings improved to P696 million in 2012 and to P2.63 billion last year.

In 2009, when the current board took over, PCSO’s retained earnings position was at a negative level of P1.63-billion.

Juico credited this improvement in its cash position to the “judicious management” of financial resources by cost-cutting, including the elimination of “wasteful expenditures” and the introduction of revenue-generating products.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 11, 2014)

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