POSTSCRIPT / September 29, 2020 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Doublespeak blurs our position on SCS

WAS President Duterte informing the United Nations merely for the record, or to lay the basis for an action plan, on the 2016 arbitral award in favor of the Philippines vs China affirming his country’s sovereign rights in its maritime areas under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea?

Duterte cited the award given by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in his Sept. 22 address to the UN General Assembly, describing it as “now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”

Nothing was said if he or the Philippine permanent representative to the UN submitted a copy of the PCA award, but we assumed the electronic delivery of his 2,000-word address could be deemed as substantial submission by reference.

What did not quite fit into that historic address was the extended discussion the next day by presidential spokesman Harry Roque that fudged Duterte’s speaking stoutly for the first time in a global reiteration of the Philippines’ position on South China Sea issues.

As reader Rene Moral said in feedback: “Just like his vow to ride a jetski and plant the Philippine flag in the Spratlys, Duterte’s UN General Assembly speech could merely be another joke — on us.”

Such equivocation, for which no vaccine is available, does not engender credibility or respect. The President saying something important followed by his interpreter saying something not quite the same could be exasperating.

Out of many instances, let’s pick the Mayor’s saying he would take the first shot when Filipinos are inoculated with the Sputnik V vaccine offered by Russia President Vladimir Putin. Duterte’s words were still reverberating around the globe when his interpreter ordered “Cut!” in effect.

Roque took back Duterte’s promise, qualifying that he could be the first local guinea pig only after the Phase IV mass testing on humans of Sputnik V – and the approval of its safety and efficacy by the Food and Drug Administration.

We are no longer sure if Putin is still interested. Or if he is, he may just focus on having the Russian vaccine mass tested among poor Filipinos whose government, according to Duterte, does not have the money to pay for the vaccine.

Back to Duterte’s address to the yawning UN chamber where world leaders used to make earth-shaking speeches… After his ala jetski declaration and the applause of even his harshest critics had died down, we asked one another what he really said – not just for the record but from the heart.

Somebody or something should stop Duterte from wrecking further the credibility and respect that this modest country has earned over the decades in war and peace, through tranquil and troubled times, through delicate diplomacy and good government.

Somebody or something should stop the piecemeal sale of whatever is left of this suffering nation – now with its 300,000-plus COVID cases having enthroned it at the top of the pandemic heap of Southeast Asia – before it becomes, as he once joked, another province of China.

We are all fatigued, even Duterte himself is obviously very tired. Someone somewhere is calling: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Are we listening?

 COVID pulling down online bank fees

A FREE market of varied bank fees for online transactions should lower the rates to near-zero as the COVID-19 pandemic rages. The competition should help reduce the charges or at least temper the differences in the rates.

Infrawatch Philippines said Sunday the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas should suspend the resumption of banks’ online transaction fees until the pandemic subsides. The public health emergency has swelled the need for electronic transactions, but the fees are discouraging them.

Asked for reaction, BSP Gov. Ben E. Diokno told us: “The Bangko Sentral asked the banks to waive the transaction fees for InstaPay and PesoNet– BSP’s digital payment system at the height of the pandemic — to help bank clients transact business electronically rather than face-to-face.

“It worked. The use of electronic payments soared exponentially. We requested that the waiver of the fees be extended and the banks agreed. But this is not costless on the part of the banks.

“Some agreed to extend the waiver until the end of September, others until the end of the year, and others have yet to specify when.

“The fee ranges from P10 to P50 pesos per transaction. The Bangko Sentral will post all the information on its website so bank clients will have full knowledge of each transaction per bank.

“This gives every bank client the freedom of choice. What is it worth to him to go to the bank to do a face-to-face transaction vs. the fee if he is to transact electronically?”

Infrawatch Philippines said Sunday: “As the BSP had rightfully intervened in setting interest rate ceilings in credit card transactions, it should similarly do the same for bank transfer fees.”

The nongovernment policy think tank reported that some banks have waived fees until the end of the year, indicating that they can minimize the cost of transfers to a tolerable level.

“If the smaller banks can do it, with more certainty can the bigger banks do it.” it said, noting that the largest banks charge P50 per transaction which translates to a non-interest monthly revenue of P1.473 billion.

After the voluntary waivers, the BSP urged the other banks to do the same to encourage the public to use online banking to help stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 29, 2020)

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