"I have this sinking feeling that the movement of the informal settlers from Isla Puting Bato may be part and parcel of the planned reclamation of portions of Manila Bay. "
I hied off to Bacolod last week, first to inspect some schools which offered short-term ESL or English as Second Language courses to foreign students. My staff had earlier gone to Cebu for the same purpose, and later, we also went to Iloilo City.
These cities are still favorites of mine, though Cebu’s traffic gets me stressed out, especially when I have to catch a flight from a mainland hotel to the airport in Mactan.
In Iloilo, traffic within the city has also worsened, but still bearable. And through Senator Frank Drilon’s efforts in the past administration, there is a wide boulevard “peripherique” that is an alternative to the old route that goes from poblacion to the Sta-Barbara-Pavia international airport through ever-busy Jaro.
Cebu, despite the traffic and its narrow streets, still serves the best lechon in the country. But that is digression, aside from the fact that both Bacolod and Iloilo are culinary destinations always worth savoring. Bacolod’s chicken inasal is as good as it was 40 years ago when I first tasted it, if you know where to get it. Iloilo’s seafood fare is so good, and it’s pancit molo and bachoy are always to die for.
All three, but for Cebu’s nightmarish traffic, retain their bucolic, provincial character. Citified without losing charm and character, with all the conveniences of city living, plus the pace of provincial life and the genuine smiles of people.
It was also an occasion for me to bond with good friends from way back: Mike Dino who is now a cabinet member as Presidential Assistant for the Visayas, and Jesus “Clint” Aranas who is president and general manager of the GSIS, the state pension fund for civil servants, and its sole insurer for assets.
There are very few places in the country where one can still savor original Pilipino food, regional or provincial, the way our ancestors cooked their daily and festive fare. Despite the garish presence of the usual fast-food outlets, one can still identify restaurants that have stood the test of time and the unwanted competition from the purveyors of commercial and oft-execrable convenience food in Cebu, Bacolod and Iloilo. You find the same in Pampanga, in Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, but quite unfortunately, in the Tagalog provinces from Bulacan down to Laguna and half of Batangas, so close to the National Capital Region, the holes in the wall serving real native delicacies have surrendered to high rent and the McDos and Jollibees.
One of the “must-dos” in my bucket list is writing a culinary travelogue from North to South, identifying the best local cuisines and their purveyors, from San Nicolas’ crispy dinuguan in Daoang’s to Digong’s favorite food haunts in Davao.
The digression has taken so much space.
In my lengthy conversations with the ever-voluble but always common-sensical Clint Aranas, the GSIS CEO, he spoke of a problem he has with another government agency, the Philippine Ports Authority, over property owned by the GSIS.
Apparently, the PPA allocated a property titled to GSIS at the Manila North Harbor for “social housing purposes” without the knowledge and consent of the real owner.
PPA executed a memorandum of understanding with the National Housing Authority, the City of Manila, privately owned and publicly listed International Container Terminal Services Inc. and the Manila North Harbor Port Inc. covering an entire area of five (5) hectares as a resettlement site of informal settlers along Isla Puting Bato in Manila without indicating nor disclosing that GSIS owns 1.2 hectares of the property.
“We support the government’s social housing program, but it has to be done within the purview of law. The property is registered under the name of the pension fund. PPA cannot commit something it does not own,” Aranas said.
“GSIS is owned by civil servants, and management has a fiduciary duty to the millions of civil servants who own it. We cannot dissipate assets even for “noble” purposes without legal cover, Clint added.
In a letter to PPA General Manager Jay Santiago, Aranas demanded that PPA rescind, modify or revise the MOU to exclude the portion of land owned by GSIS, otherwise he would be constrained to file the appropriate legal action to protect the GSIS and its members.
Replying to Aranas, PPA’s Santiago questioned the validity of the GSIS title.
“The title speaks for itself. And that title can only be questioned in a direct attack filed before a regular court. Even the National Housing Authority has confirmed in inter-agency committee meetings the overlapping of properties based on its own ocular inspection,” Aranas said.
The GSIS property is covered by TCT No. 272972 with a land area of 109,212 square meters.
Clint has a long list of public and private corporations which have been violative of GSIS legal rights and claims for the longest time, but which have been un-acted upon by previous managers and trustees.
“I have a fiduciary responsibility to protect our members. These are not mine to give, nor even government itself, without the appropriate legal remedies”, Aranas told me.
I have this sinking feeling that the movement of the informal settlers from Isla Puting Bato may be part and parcel of the planned reclamation of portions of Manila Bay. Not that I agree that the informal settlers whose daily detritus dirties the bay should be allowed to live in the dangerous fringes of the “island” in perpetuity. But I maintain that a plethora of reclamation projects from Manila to Cavite will only add to the congestion of the national capital region which is already reeling from quotidian problems of over-capacity, aside from worsening the environmental degradation of the bay.
Incidentally, last April 13, as mandated, the three offices of MECO in Taiwan opened to conduct overseas balloting. In our main office in Neihu District in Taipei, 78 registered voters cast their ballot. In our Central Taiwan office in Taichung, 45 cast their vote, and in the southern district in Kaohsiung, 33 voted.
Our offices are open to those who would cast their votes for our mid-term elections every day until May 13, including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, as requested by Comelec for all foreign posts.
It will also be the first time that Taiwan OFWs will be using the automated machines supplied by Comelec. Common complaints center on choosing the candidates’ names from a long list of 60, some of whom are totally unknown to the voters, and the number of party list “parties,” which is 100.
But generally, the average time used up by a voter was five minutes, much faster than when they had to write their choices by longhand.