"What did Quezon know?"
Let me open with a commercial for my company CenSEI’s monthly webinar for June, on the topic of tourism in the new normal. Our usual distinguished speakers will be led by Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat of the Department of Tourism and Atty. Tonette Velasco-Allones, COO of the Tourism Promotion Board. If you’re free this coming Friday at 2PM, just go to the following link (it’s free, too): bit.ly/TourismWebinarNN2021.
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As the country celebrated its 123rd independence anniversary last Saturday, some wise-asses were overheard asking, “Na one-two-three ba tayo?” When former President Quezon famously expressed his preference for a government run like hell by Filipinos, did the old man know something we didn’t?
The extent to which we’ve fumbled the ball—again and again—is underscored by the persistence of what is now the only active communist insurgency in Asia. But social reforms aren’t the real answer to this threat, not when the majority of thinking and leading communist cadres come from the petit-bourgeois who’ve never known genuine poverty.
The real answer, we’re now finding out, is vigorous prosecution of the anti-insurgency campaign, the same way that it succeeded in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. It means meeting the NPA with implacable force—no matter how loudly they style themselves as mere “peace consultants”—while locking down the NDF propagandists and parliamentarians who’ve enabled the NPA, despite its paltry numbers, to survive, decade after decade.
The stakes always loom higher when we hear of innocent victims of the CPP’s “the end justifies the means” armed ideology. The latest victims were FEU football player Kieth Absalon and his cousin, union leader Nolven Absalon, who were first blasted apart by an NPA improvised explosive device (IED) in Masbate, then summarily shot to death. Despite their usual profuse apologies, the NPA invoked their self-arrogated sovereignty, their kangaroo “people’s courts”, the Geneva Convention, and who knows what else, as excuses not to give up their complicit comrades.
If we cannot even stamp out these roving rebel bandits, we have no business claiming to aspire to, say, upper middle income status for our economy. If we don’t have the political will to do one, we won’t have the persistence, nor the objective reforms, to sustain the other. It’ll remain a dream that many investors, also spooked by our refusal to open our Constitutional doors wider to them, will simply find not worth helping us with.
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The availability of cheap and reliable power has always been another stumbling block for foreign investors. EPIRA was supposed to improve efficiency through liberalization and privatization. But actual implementation—together with a still-uncompleted nationwide power grid and spot market—keeps tripping up over shortsightedness and greed.
Recent brownouts again have the regulators looking for culprits. The ERC, if not Congress, is looking into lax maintenance and possible collusion among the power plants. The DOE is even reexamining the basic underpinnings of EPIRA, like keeping the government out of power generation and distribution.
At the very least, the DOE wants the national grid corporation to contract for ancillary reserves to maintain system reliability even under peak summer-heat demand. But the NGCP has responded by threatening “astronomical” increases in customer bills if this happens.
This is no way for the operator of an essential utility to talk, especially amid recent stories about NGCP’s profit margins of over 60 percent, plus rising security concerns about the grid’s minority ownership by a Chinese state entity at a time when relations with China are rockier than ever. Now is the time for the grid’s bright boys to tone down their arrogance and open up to negotiations with the government and the power generators.
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Apart from power plants, another example of our chronic inattention to maintenance is our failure to simply clean up around ourselves. This is seen most sadly in the sad state of our inland waterways, which account for 28 percent of all the plastic waste dumped by rivers worldwide into the oceans.
The biggest offender is the Pasig, which dumps a huge 63,000 tons of plastic every year, making it the world’s most polluting river in plastic waste according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Eighteen other Philippine waterways are also counted among the world’s 50 most polluting rivers, including familiar names like the Tullahan, Meycauayan, Pampanga, Agno and Tambo rivers. And to top it all, another 466 Philippine rivers are among the 1,656 rivers worldwide that contribute 80 percent of ocean plastic waste.
This calls for another “whole of nation” approach that should be led by the private sector. The Pasig is already benefiting from the ministrations of SMC and ICTSI. For the other eighteen big polluters, it would be a good idea for other companies to join these two conglomerates and “Adopt a River”, especially in the locations they do business in, perhaps together with local governments and civil society in the affected communities.
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