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Champions

"They come along only once in a while."

 

 

Speaking recently at the 11th anniversary of the Bacolod-Silay airport, House Speaker and former President Arroyo pushed for the revival and expansion of the Roll-On, Roll-Off (RORO) transport system, an ambitious nautical infrastructure program she had championed in 2003 as president.

The Speaker plans to convene an oversight committee in the House to work with the Philippine Ports Authority and Department of Transportation to update the study done earlier by the Asian Development Bank, the original proponent of the program.

RoRo was intended to transport rolling-stock cargo not requiring the use of cranes. It was an important part of the 919-km Strong Republic Nautical Highway system launched by Arroyo to interlink the country’s major islands through two north-south and one east-west nautical highways.

ADB has said that RoRo significantly reduced transport costs and travel time. This in turn significantly reduced the prices of food and other basic commodities transported from rural to urban areas, thereby contributing to poverty alleviation.

The original plan was to build 72 RoRo projects throughout the country. Unfortunately, in 2011, PNot cancelled the vast majority—66—on grounds that only six were needed. He blamed overpricing and wasteful spending for his decision, without ever sharing with the public his comparative cost evaluations, cost-benefit calculations, or any other project and program feasibility metrics.

What really happened, as we now know, was the perverse PNot policy of under-spending especially on infrastructure. This was intended simply to boost fiscal and monetary liquidity in order to make the rating agencies happy. In other words, public monies were not spent on and for the public, but hoarded for the benefit of lenders and their raters, as well as being misspent on well-known budget anomalies like DAP, PDAF, and wholesale bribery of legislators in the Corona impeachment.

These days, with PNot finally on his way to well-earned obscurity, Arroyo wants to champion RoRo all over again. As her speakership draws to a close in June, she plans to conduct a “sentimental journey” to visit key RoRo sites, especially in the Visayas region where she wanted to interlink all those islands east to west. Duterte supports the revival of the RoRo program, so we can expect to see more ports and vessels in the coming years.

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As a former BDO consultant on risk management who labored in the Sy family’s vineyard for six years, I was pleased with the overwhelmingly positive view of the family patriarch’s life and achievements as the public responded with sincere sympathy to news of Henry Sy’s passing last weekend.

At the ripe old age of 94, the old man was most likely no longer an active participant in the management of his vast family empire. But at least according to my parish priest’s Sunday homily, “Tatang” was still leaving his mark where it truly counted—by regularizing thousands of SM employees just last year in compliance with the government’s drive against labor-only contractualization.

Mr. Sy’s rags-to-riches story is by now the stuff of legends, starting with his decision at the age of 12 to remain in the Philippines after his immigrant father lost everything here and decided to return to China.

By dint of business smarts, sheer hard work, and an unwavering faith in his adoptive country through all its ups and downs, and with the support of an unusually competent and close-knit brood of children, Tatang built the country’s largest property developer, largest landlord, largest retailer, largest bank.

As the country’s richest man, everything he did was outsized. But so too was his philanthropy, especially in the field of education, the focus of his philanthropic championship. So many young men and women today that he sent through college owe him their futures.

I’d like to think that all those bonus years of life Henry Sy enjoyed were part of his Divine recompense for his generosity. And with his passing, I’d like to think as well that his family and associates will carry on, not only with his business success, but also with the philanthropic generosity that marks any truly great man.

* * *

Our hats are off for the umpteenth time to our inveterate boxing champion, Senator Manny Pacquiao, who retains his WBA welterweight title after a bruising match-up last Sunday with American fighter Adrien Broner.

In his first bout past the age of 40, the senator ended up chasing his opponent all over the ring, landing more than twice as many blows as Broner. The days of a quick knock-out may already be in Manny’s past. But nobody can question his quickness, his innate talent honed by the experience of so many fights, and most of all, the aggressiveness and sheer heart that pushes him to test the limits of his ageing body, time and again.

In the Senate, he’s also developing a reputation as a quick learner, a team player, and a politician who puts himself on the line no less than he does in the ring.

Many were impressed by his bravura performance speaking recently before an academic crowd in Oxford. True, the words had been crafted for him by someone else. But wordsmiths are a dime a dozen, while a Pacquiao, who can charm his audience with a speech, alternately brash and self-deprecating, that resonated with so much color from his life, comes along only once in a while.

Is the presidency somewhere in his future? I’m sure the fastidious crowd who banned him from moving into their Forbes Park enclave would be horrified. But that—if nothing else—is precisely the biggest reason why I would give him my vote.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo , Roll-On , Roll-Off , Philippine Ports Authority , Department of Transportation
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