The working Speaker

"This is an executive who likes to make sure that whatever she started will get done."


Although the House is already in recess, many congressmen are still putting in long hours as members of various oversight committees deployed by House Speaker Arroyo to make sure various Executive agencies are also doing their jobs.

Arroyo herself is making the rounds of the country to follow up on the status of important initiatives launched during her presidency. Although her trips are being billed as a “sentimental journey,” as she nears the end of yet another chapter in her political life, they are also working visits by a former chief executive who likes to make sure that whatever she started will get done.

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A key initiative of Arroyo’s presidency was her program to assist informal settlers in Metro Manila and other urban areas to acquire titles to the land on which they may have lived for decades. Through over a dozen different proclamations and executive orders, she sought to “convert home owners into landowners.” This allows informal settlers to finally acquire real assets, secure their stability of domicile, and improve their access to utilities and other basic social services.

One of her biggest projects in Metro Manila involves around 8,000 informal settlers in the National Government Center (NGC) property near the Batasan, Quezon City. Despite coverage by R.A. 9207, the land titling process was delayed by issues of land grabbing and land reblocking failure. Speaker Arroyo tabled the project with the House oversight committees for both R.A. 9207 and R.A. 10023 (Free Patent Law) and requested a Ps 350-M budget to fund the distribution.

Another project goes all the way back to former President Ramos’ Proclamation 458, issued for the benefit of some 6,000 settlers along the Manggahan Floodway in Pasig. The Speaker went ahead to file HB 8255 to address the delays experienced in distributing titles to these settlers.

In 2002, then-President Arroyo issued Proclamation 234 for the benefit of some 8,000 settlers in Southville Subdivision, Poblacion, Muntinlupa. The National Bureau of Prisons enjoys usufruct rights over this property owned by the Madrigal family. This usufruct will now have to be extended for another 50 years, unless the Madrigals can be persuaded to sell their property for redistribution.

In 2004, Arroyo also issued Proclamation 581 to distribute land owned by government corporations GSIS and the Philippine National Railways (PNR) to some 5,000 beneficiaries in Parola, Tondo. As Speaker, she has convened an oversight committee to resolve delays in this project.

Outside Metro Manila, Arroyo had issued Proclamation 409 in 2003 for the benefit of 3,200 settlers in Brgy Apas Lahug, Cebu City. A land dispute that delayed the distribution process for up to 15 years is now nearing a compromise agreement. In Isla Puting Bato, some 2,000 settlers may be displaced by the Manila Bay clean-up project. At the Speaker’s request, the Philippine Port Authority (PPA) is donating 5 hectares plus P1 million cash for their benefit.

Other outstanding land distribution projects initiated by the former president may be found in Sitio Pajo Baesa, QC (1,300 beneficiaries under her EO 58); Tambo, Paranaque (400 beneficiaries under her EO 116); Brgy Escopa, Cubao, QC (Proclamation 6); Brgy Valencia Homeowners Association, Area 1 (83 beneficiaries under Proclamation 543); Brgy NBBS Proper, Navotas (Proclamation 225); Brgy Katuparan, Taguig (Proclamations 133 and 523); and Maricaban III and Barrio Putol, Pasay City (Proclamation 391).

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A better-known legacy of the erstwhile president was her famous RoRo program. With “roll-on, roll-off” vessels, Arroyo was able to roll out three “nautical highways”: two from north to south on both sides of the archipelago, the third from east to west through the Visayan islands. These highways have become indispensable for logistics and distribution throughout the country, as well as fixtures for travellers who now routinely hop from one island to another.

After Arroyo left the Palace in 2010, and in the infinite wisdom of her successor, the RoRo port construction program was suspended in 2011 on allegations of “corruption”. This was the same rationale behind PNot’s cancellation of many other infrastructure programs, from flood control to roads to the Laguna Bay dredging project, thereby reducing government spending and leaving behind nearly a trillion pesos in “savings.”

I can’t imagine why those “savings” are still being bragged about even today by PNot’s hand-picked “Otso Diretso” senatorial slate. Creditors and credit rating agencies would have been ecstatic—as they would be over any borrower who’s suddenly flush with cash—but at the expense of millions of Filipinos who were denied the benefits of all those foregone projects.

The recurrent problem with PNot was that he often forgot whom he was working for. When he was gunning for a Nobel Peace Prize, he forgot to look after the SAF troopers massacred in Mamasapano. When he was courting U.S. support for his OJT presidency, he pushed the country to the brink of armed confrontation over maritime disputes with China, regardless of how ill-prepared we might be for such a fight. And even in a prosaic area like infrastructure spending, he threw his countrymen under the bus in order to keep his investment-grade ratings and the bankers happy.

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President Duterte fixed the first problem by pushing the new Bangsamoro Organic Law through Congress. And he’s still working on the second one with his foreign policy “tilt towards China.” Even an irascible nationalist like Malaysia’s Mahathir opined during his visit here that he would prefer China over the U.S. as his long-term economic partner.

As for the third item, the “working Speaker” is doing her share by using Congressional oversight powers to make sure that her RoRo program is back on track, now within the general parameters of Duterte’s Build Build Build infrastructure initiative. The Maritime Industry Authority recently inaugurated eight new RoRo routes:

Daanbantayan, Cebu to Calbayog City, Samar 2. Tabuelan, Cebu to Ajuy, Iloilo 3. Laoay, Bohol to Cagayan de Oro 4. San Juan, Batangas to Calapan, Oriental Mindoro 5. Iloilo City to Cuyo, Palawan 6. San Pascual, Burias Island, Masbate to Pasacao, Camarines Sur 7. San Andres, Quezon to Pasacao, Camarines Sur 8. Lucena, Quezon to San Fernando, Cebu.

These eight are missionary routes, under which shipping operators will enjoy a five-year route exclusivity or protection of investment, as well as a 50-percent discount on government processing fees.

The new routes join another twelve that were opened earlier, in January, to service the following destinations:

Basco, Batanes-—Currimao, Ilocos Norte 2. San Juan, Batangas—Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro 3. Real, Quezon—Polillo Island, Quezon 4. Lucena, Quezon—Buyabod, Marinduque 5. Pantao, Albay—San Pascual, Masbate 6. Calbayog City, Samar—Cataingan, Masbate 7. Cuyo, Palawan—San Jose de Buenavista, Antique 8. Oslob, Cebu—Dumaguete, Negros Oriental 9. Punta Engano, Mactan Island, Cebu—Jetafe, Bohol 10. Poro, Camotes, Cebu—Isabel, Leyte 11. Lipata, Surigao del Norte – Dapa, Surigao del Norte 12. Siaton, Negros Oriental—Dipolog City

MARINA has already called on shipping operators to propose even more new RO-RO routes to expand the existing list. As PNot failed to learn from his former economics professor: Public money should be spent on the public, not hoarded for brownie points with the bankers.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo , National Government Center , Manila Bay , Rodrigo Duterte , Congress , Bangsamoro Organic Law
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