POSTSCRIPT / November 21, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Duterte consistent on Rohingya, EJKs

DID Malacañang decide that a No vote be cast on the United Nations draft resolution seeking an end to the brutal expulsion of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar for fear of getting caught in contradictions if similar questions are raised on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines?

The administration was being consistent in standing against what it considered foreign meddling in internal affairs of sovereign states when it joined nine other nations in opposing the Rohingya resolution carried by a majority of 135 UN members.

But we agree with Ambassador Teodoro Locsin Jr., Manila’s permanent representative to the UN, that the Philippines should have abstained in the committee voting — as it has done for the past several years.

With abstention, Malacañang could have bought more time to sort out its options until the final vote in the 193-member General Assembly next month. By all accounts and based on the prevailing mood in the world body, the resolution is assured of approval in the plenary session.

President Rodrigo Duterte is touchy about the possibility of a Rohingya-like UN resolution being raised on EJK and human rights issues related to his bloody drug war. His transferring of anti-narcotic operations from trigger-happy policemen will not bring back the dead nor cleanse the record, so is not likely to ease global criticism.

Duterte is being consistent in his stand against foreign intervention. The resolution seeks to pressure dominantly Buddhist Myanmar to stop harassing and expelling Rohingya Muslims, ensure their voluntary return and grant them “full citizenship rights” — which Yangon refuses to grant.

His balancing act may have been made more delicate by the Philippines’ being the chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, one of whose 10 members is Myanmar. (Its former name was Burma until 1989, and Yangon its capital was Rangoon.)

As Locsin has noted, had the Philippines as the chairman voted in favor of the draft UN resolution, that act could have wrecked the association that is marking this year its half-century of existence.

The Philippines’ voting against the resolution also appeared to be the chairman’s way of showing solidarity with Myanmar, one of the newest (joined 1997) members of ASEAN that started off with just five nations. Myanmar’s explaining the situation to fellow members has helped moderate criticisms.

Had he wanted to, Duterte could have used the chairmanship as reason for abstention at the UN committee. The ASEAN chairman normally does not vote except to break a tie. There being no deadlock (in the first place, ASEAN decides by consensus, not by dividing the house), the Philippines could have abstained without much explanation.

Among the 10 ASEAN members, five voted against the draft resolution — the Philippines, Myanmar and three of its neighbors: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Another neighbor, Thailand, abstained together with Singapore which is the incoming ASEAN chairman next year. Its abstaining was a deft diplomatic move.

The ASEAN members that voted for the resolution were Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei which are dominantly Muslim like the Rohingyas being brutally driven away to Bangladesh, which is refusing to accept them. The 600,000 or so refugees at the border are virtually stateless.

* Why is DoTr hesitating to fix MRT?

IT TOOK no less than President Duterte, not Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, to apologize for the decoupling on Thursday of two MRT-3 cars, again sending passengers walking on the track bed to safety.

Such unacceptable incidents have become too frequent. The decoupling reminds us of what happened in 2014, during the term of DoTC Secretary Jun Abaya, when a runaway train careened down to the Taft Ave. station, jumped off the tracks, toppled a post, damaged three cars on EDSA, and injured 32 train passengers and eight others.

Abaya blamed the incident on human error. This time, the DoTr is alleging sabotage. Whether under the Aquino or Duterte administration, the public hears nothing but excuses. Where is the promised “pagbabago” (change)?

Fixing the MRT-3 was one of Duterte’s campaign promises. He said his administration would immediately attend to the problems, talk to the owners, bring back the practice of a “single point of responsibility” and rehire Sumitomo Corp. as maintenance contractor.

But over a year into Duterte’s term, the one thing that has become clear is that Tugade is no different from Abaya as far as running MRT-3 is concerned.

Why do they refuse to let go of the maintenance contract of the privately-owned (but government-run) MRT-3? By contract, MRT Corp. (the owner) should appoint the maintenance contractor, but the DoTr insists on doing it and ending up with a mess. It does not make sense for the DoTr to insist on taking over the system, because the experts are in the private sector.

For 12 years, when the MRT was maintained by the owners through Japanese train expert Sumitomo Corp. (which designed, built and maintained the MRT-3 System), the MRT ran well. There were no daily glitches, or runaway trains, or decoupling cars.

Sumitomo was effective, because its contract with MRT Corp. had a clause called “Single Point of Responsibility.” If there was any problem, there would be no need for external investigations. There would be no resort to finger pointing, as what DoTr Undersecretary Cesar Chavez is doing today, alleging sabotage and calling in the NBI.

Sumitomo did not renege on its responsibility of buying spare parts, ensuring that the signaling system functioned, and that the doors and the air-conditioners worked – unlike the mess that came about when the government took over.

Tugade said he is willing to bring back Sumitomo, but he is ignoring letters from MRT Corp., the owners who are offering a fast-track plan to fix the MRT in 26 months. They say they would bring back Sumitomo, buy P50 million worth of spare parts, and bring in 100 engineers to inspect and fix the system in minimum time.

If Tugade or the President has another maintenance contractor in mind, he should say so right away and not leave matters hanging.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 21, 2017)

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