POSTSCRIPT / May 6, 2014 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Time to update mutual defense treaty with US

NOT INSTANT: The vaunted Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States commits American military response only in case of an “armed attack” on the “metropolitan territory” of the Philippines, and still subject to US “constitutional processes”.

What happens if, say, China occupied – but did not actually attack – a maritime area being claimed by the Philippines? The White House and American military top brass will simply watch the takeover on CNN?

In 2012 and onwards, Chinese fishing boats with naval escorts moved into Panatag (Scarborough) shoal some 120 miles off the coast of Zambales after Malacañang ordered Philippine vessels to pull out.

No shots have been fired by anyone. And the intruders have not left the shoal.

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UPDATING DUE: To trigger prompt US retaliation under the MDT, do Filipinos have to wait for an actual armed attack? Or do they first bait trespassers into firing shots or mislead them into shooting at nearby American units?

It is obviously time to review and update the 63-year-old MDT, and in the process refine the criminal jurisdiction section of the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement of 1999.

More so because the MDT and the VFA were cited as bases for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed last April 28 to justify the expanded operation of US forces and the basing of their war materiel in the Philippines.

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WHAT’S PPP?: Seriously, PPP stands for the Public-Private Partnership program of President Noynoy Aquino, whose bright boys describe it as a flagship program or a cornerstone strategy for national development.

But after his midterm passed and still no sails of his PPP flagship could be seen on the horizon, some mischievous businessmen started calling it his Power Point Presentation.

Lately, UP Prof. Ben Diokno has been saying that bureaucrats themselves call it “Post P-Noy Projects” because it seems nothing would materialize during Aquino’s term. But you do not have to believe Joke-No because, the Yellowtards point out, he served under a previous administration.

More seriously, out of the 49 projects on the PPP board, it is likely that not even 10 percent would be completed by the time P-Noy leaves office in 2016.

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SAMPLE PROJECTS: There is actually a PPP Center complete with key officials. By virtue of Executive Order 8, series of 2010, the Center is mandated to facilitate PPP program and projects. It is obviously not functioning as envisioned.

The PPP concept is not new. The Ramos administration boosted the economy and implemented infrastructure projects through Build-Operate-Transfer programs, which include the Star Tollway, the Skyway, the Metro Rail Transit, and the Land Transportation Office computerization.

It is no secret that among the brains behind these projects is businessman Cezar T. Quiambao. He was in the news couple of years back, because of LTO’s failure to pay his corporation, Stradcom Corp., P4 billion for services already rendered.

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LTO MODEL: Stradcom did the first ever computerization of an agency’s nationwide operation. Per design, a driver can renew his license in 30 minutes, as P-Noy himself experienced when he renewed his license on his birthday last February.

(But since I am not the president, when I renewed my license last March at the SM City North agency, it took them five days to give me my new license.)

The computerization was done at zero-cost to the government, with Quiambao’s group having sourced the funding. The project also enabled LTO to boost its income from P2 billion before computerization to over P15 billion annually today.

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CZECH POINT: On the MRT, the administration must resolve fast the $30-million extortion charge of the Czech ambassador related to the acquisition of 48 new coaches for the Manila Metro Rail Transit system before the presidential election preparations overtake it.

It is a cut and dried case. Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar has made definite charges against MRT general manager Al Vitangcol and some of his associates. The envoy’s sworn statement is already with the Department of Justice.

To level the field, the ambassador has agreed to waive his diplomatic immunity. Such move and his not being recalled for creating a diplomatic scene are taken by many as an indication of the support of his home office.

Everybody is awaiting the administration’s next steps. It should allow due process to speedily take over and let the chips fall where they may.

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HINTS OF POLITICS: The opposition, losing no time exploiting the slow-mo investigation, has been spreading the usual gossip – which an idle public laps up — about some key officials, and even presidential relatives, being involved in the alleged extortion attempt.

The fire might just burn innocent personalities in the Palace and the Department of Transportation and Communication. If not tapped out neatly, it might even singe whoever may be the administration presidential candidate in 2016.

The basic claim of the ambassador is that Inekon, the Czech firm vying to supply the coaches, did not land the contract because it refused to come across with the $30 million demanded.

Department officials said, however, that Inekon had refused to submit to open bidding, a policy of the DoTC during the watch of then Secretary Mar Roxas, who now heads the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

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AND THE WINNER…: Inekon reportedly was insisting on negotiating a contract, a process the DoTC had ruled out to avoid possible price manipulation.

The bidding went through, and the winner was the Dalian South China Rail Locomotive Inc., which submitted a tender of P3,755,352,400. Its bid was P14 million below the approved budget contract of P3,769,352,000.

The ambassador and Inekon can still press extortion charges, and the government should resolve the issue quickly before it inflicts collateral damage on bystanders.

Looking back, if Inekon believed in the superiority of its offer and wanted the contract, it should have entered the competitive bidding instead of insisting on a negotiated contract.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 6, 2014)

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