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Monday, June 24, 2024

Moving forward

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Where, as they used to say, is the beef? I guess we’ll all know soon enough.

Today, the story of Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista and his alleged Croesus-like wealth would have hogged the headlines for a whole workweek. It’s now time to move on from the sleazy tabloid headlines and to get down to the business of actually finding out—through real investigations based on actual documents —if the allegations of ill-gotten wealth are more than just an estranged wife’s fevered and impecunious imaginings.

I’m glad that the Department of Justice has decided to step into the case, putting special emphasis on the paper trail of Bautista’s assets and the activity of the bank accounts supposed to be in his name. In the coming days, Congress is supposed to start its own investigations, as well, regardless of whether the end in view is impeaching Bautista or not.

So far, the case has only been probed in the media, online and otherwise. And considering the possible repercussions of the Bautista case, that is not where anyone involved (including the voting public) want it to be investigated exclusively and with finality.

Of course, the task of poring through bank statements and following the money trail is nowhere near as compelling and sensational as discussing alleged unusual sexual proclivities, “third-eye” abilities or even political conspiracy theories. But the real test of the truth of the original charges hurled by Patricia Bautista against her husband and his counter-accusations against her, in turn, will be how they hold up after the relevant documents and other evidence have been gathered and sorted out.

The last thing anyone, including the spouses Bautista, want is to keep the charges and counter-charges in the media, debated by lawyers of both parties outside of a regular courtroom or impeachment tribunal and programmed by public relations specialists. These advocates, after all, seek victory not in a long, boring legal battle but in the fast-paced kangaroo court of public opinion, where the verdict is never final and executory and no one really gets the vindication and justice that they supposedly seek.

The PR battle was necessary, in a way, because the legal processes required to handle the case need a lot more time to get off and running. And the news cycle needs to continue, never mind if the mudslinging gets progressively more ridiculous and incredible with each passing day.

But I think the time has come to get to the heart of the matter: Proving (or disproving) the charges that Bautista illegally amassed a king’s ransom while serving in mid-level government positions and whether or not he compromised the 2016 elections that he supervised if he did. Those are the only real matters of importance to the people involved or who are not related to them by blood or by marriage, after all.

The voyeurs have had their fun. Now the hard but supremely important job of finding the truth, punishing the guilty and exonerating the innocent must start.

* * *

Investments in cement manufacturing plants which provide jobs are not a license to exploit consumers through price and supply manipulation in collusion with some trade officials. That’s the position of the small cement importers and other industry stakeholders who have raised a collective howl over the Department of Trade and Industry’s issuance of an administrative order requiring cement importers to obtain an Import Commodity Clearance (ICC) on top of the requirement of a Product Safety (PS) mark.

The order, by the way, exempts the big cement manufacturers-importers from the same requirements. The industry has criticized the order for being grossly biased since it would allow the giant manufacturers-importers to dominate the cement industry by acting as a cartel ahead of gaining full control of the lucrative construction projects under the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build infrastructure program.

DTI insists that the order was issued to ensure consumer protection and ensure the high quality of cement that enters the country. The small importers, however, say that there is no proliferation of substandard imported cement in the domestic market because the big manufacturers-importers aget their supply from the same sources abroad, making quality similar across the board.

Ernesto Ordoñez, president of the Cement Manufacturers Association of the Philippines (CEMAP), in a recent interview, admitted that they cannot meet the demand for cement and that it takes up to three years to put a plant online. When manufacturers also import to meet great demand, then everyone is, in effect, an importer—the same rules would apply to everyone.

The obvious ulterior motive behind the issuance of the DTI order is to pave the way for the big manufacturers-importers to monopolize cement supply and control prices. The small importers can only hope that President Rodrigo Duterte will not allow the monopolistic tendencies of a few players in the local cement industry to triumph.


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