Robredo’s massive failure of mind

IN a report from her 18-day stint as co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo has concluded that President Duterte’s key program, his war on illegal drugs, was a “massive failure.”

It seems though that, based on one of her main arguments for that, she has demonstrated a massive failure of mind.

Robredo claimed in her report: “More than 1.2 million users had surrendered since 2016, while 300,000 had been arrested in police operations, for a total of 1.5 million. If we use the 4 million estimate of drug users and pushers, and only 1.5 million had been accounted for, where are the 2.5 million?”

That the 1.5 million had been “accounted for” means that number of addicts and pushers has been taken out of the population involved in illegal drugs. While there would definitely be backsliders, it is very reasonable to assume that most of these have stopped being addicts and therefore users, and sellers of illegal drugs.

That means approximately a 38 percent reduction in our illegal-drugs world. To use Duterte’s metaphor of war, that means that more than one-fourth of the battlefield has been won by the Duterte administration.

That’s certainly not bad at all. The past Yellow regime in its six years of power had allowed it to prosper. Why, its Justice secretary, Leila de Lima, according to the government charges against her, even protected the drug lords, and allowed its prison to be the nerve center of the trade. After decades of fighting it, other countries with similar scourges — Mexico is a prime example — have seen it even worsen, giving rise to that term “narco state,” or governments controlled by the drug lords.

Yet Robredo claims that she’d give this administration a success grade of 1 percent. Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Airport immigration offices a disgrace

TO be fair, this kind of nightmare for airline travelers has always been a perennial problem during the holidays, when the number of international travelers drastically increase. Then President Gloria Arroyo in 2003 even had to make a surprise visit to the airport to knock airport authorities’ heads to make the gates to our country tourist- and OFW-friendly.

I am referring to the unbelievably long, nightmarish queues at the immigration counters I myself witnessed returning from an overseas vacation during the holidays.

Worse, Philippine Airlines Terminal 2 doesn’t appear to have been improved at all so that passengers have to be brought from their planes to the terminal on buses. The terminal though was so crowded because of the long immigration queues that the arriving passengers had to wait in their buses — which either had no air-conditioning or had malfunctioning ones. Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Arbitration tribunal’s most useless ruling, and its worst

Last of four parts
THE tribunal’s ruling that was most hailed by the Yellow regime as well by the United States government and media was its judgment that China’s so-called, even infamous “nine-dash line” has no legal basis under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). Benigno Aquino 3rd’s Foreign Affairs secretary, Albert del Rosario, claimed, and continues to claim, that the Chinese therefore have no right to be occupying features within that line, which includes eight reefs in our Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) and Bajo de Masinloc, off Zambales.

The tribunal did rule that the line has no justification under Unclos. However, that was really one of its most useless rulings: China’s claims in the South China Sea are not based on maritime entitlements specified by the Unclos.

Even the official Chinese documents (among these, the Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea of 1958 and the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone of 1992) in the post-war era that declared that the Nansha Islands (Spratlys), Xisha (Paracels), and Zhongsha (Macclesfield Bank, which it claims includes our Bajo de Masinloc) are part of its sovereign territory, do not even mention the nine-dash line. Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

We lost our islands with arbitration award

Third of 4 parts
AS discussed in my last column, the arbitral tribunal declared only one feature occupied by China in the Spratlys, Mischief Reef, as within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which the superpower cannot claim since as a “low-tide elevation,” or one which sinks to the sea at high tide, it cannot be appropriated by any country.

Even that victory is doubtful because China argues that it claims Mischief Reef not as a separate feature, but as part of its Nansha islands.

Whether China is right or not, that the tribunal declared Mischief Reef as within our EEZ is dwarfed in significance by what we lost as a result of the award, which prompted not a few scholars to conclude that the arbitration ruling was a pyrrhic victory for the Philippines. The term’s origins refer to King Pyrrhus of Epirus who lost so many of his troops in one victorious battle with the Romans. In this case, the Philippines lost so much in getting the tribunal to rule that Mischief Reef is ours. Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Sovereignty claims, not maritime entitlements

Second of 4 parts
AT the core of the arbitral tribunal’s errors in its ruling was its refusal to recognize that the dispute between China and the Philippines involved sovereign claims over territory. The Philippines’ lawyers though deviously tried to package the suit as involving which country has the right maritime entitlements such as exclusive economic zones (EEZ) if such exist in the South China Sea (SCS) under the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

They did so because they knew full well that neither the tribunal nor any international panel nor the Unclos has the authority to rule on territorial disputes between nations.

“The tribunal should have got below the surface of the Philippines’ claims, but it did not,” Chris Womersley, an international law expert who has been an adviser to the British government on territorial issues pointed out. (In “The South China Sea: The Award of the Tribunal in the Case Brought by Philippines Against China — A Critique.”)

Similarly, Oxford University professor on public international law Antonios Tzanakopoulos pointed out: “The dispute between the Philippines and China is obviously over sovereignty over… features in the SCS, and only relatedly over maritime zones and the entitlements that the relevant features generate.” Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Arbitral PH vs China: A colossal deception

First of 4 parts
IT is a colossal deception that the Philippines in 2016 won the arbitration suit against China involving our disputes in the South China Sea and that the country should pursue the “enforcement” of the arbitral tribunal’s “award.”

If it was a victory at all, it was a pyrrhic one, not a few international law scholars have concluded, That means that the damage to Philippine interests, and to the integrity of arbitration based on the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (Unclos), made it tantamount to defeat.

(Salako, S. E. in “Entitlement to Islands, Rocks and Low-tide Elevations in the South China Sea: Geoeconomics versus Rule of Law” and Nordquist, Myron, “Unclos Article 121 and Itu Aba in the South China Sea Final Award: A Correct Interpretation”)

President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his foreign secretary Albert del Rosario told the country when it filed the suit in January 2013 that it would recover Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc), which Aquino and del Rosario lost to China in June 2012 because of their bungling of the two-month-long stand-off between Philippine and Chinese vessels in the area, as extensively discussed in previous columns. Aquino’s plea for the US to intervene for us to get back Bajo de Masinloc, through American warships escorting our ships back into its lagoon, was also rejected by President Obama.Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Never before such a foreign-controlled media empire

HOW has the Indonesian Anthoni Salim been able to defy the constitutional ban on foreign ownership in media? Through an entity under the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) which he controls as its biggest single stockholder, through several intermediate corporate layers.

As in his takeover of Meralco**, Salim did not use his own funds brought in from Indonesia or Hong Kong, but local capital to establish his media empire.

He used the pension funds of PLDT, called the Beneficial Trust Fund (BTF). One of the biggest such private pension funds in the country, the BTF had grown over the decades in order to pay for the PLDT staff’s retirement pensions and other benefits, as agreed upon in so many collective bargaining agreements with its unions and as part of the company’s incentive scheme for its employees.

In its 2012 annual report, PLDT reported that BTF had invested — when exactly it wasn’t disclosed — a huge P14.5 billion in a firm called MediaQuest. That accounted for 80 percent of the pension fund’s P18.4 billion assets, a total reversal of its portfolio mix before, for instance in 2005, when 60 percent of its assets were in blue chip companies (including shares in PLDT itself) and 23 percent in risk-free, fixed income securities.

It is strange though that PLDT’s annual reports before 2012 had not reported that its BTF had such huge investments in MediaQuest, a largely unknown unlisted firm. PLDT in fact hadn’t even reported the distribution of BTF’s investments in unlisted firms and listed companies. Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Maynilad owner Salim’s media empire

First of 2 parts
PRESIDENT Duterte, in going against what he calls the oligarchs exploiting the masses of metropolitan Manila through their water monopoly’s onerous rates, will be battling one of the most powerful magnates in our country — although he has remarkably succeeded in hiding from public view in the past 38 years.

This is the Indonesian Anthoni Salim who, through many corporate layers, controls through his Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd., the Metro Pacific Investments conglomerate, one of whose firms — not the largest largest in the group* — is Maynilad Water Services Inc. This is the monopoly distributor of water in the metropolitan Manila’s so-called West Sector as well as parts of Cavite, which made an astonishing P65 billion in the past 10 years.

Salim though has been so clever as to have brainwashed most people in this country that his top executive Manuel V. Pangilinan owns the conglomerate. A brilliant executive Pangilinan has been indeed that he has led the Metro Pacific through nearly four decades to become one of the country’s biggest conglomerates.

Yet, Salim for some reason has allowed Pangilinan to own only 1.6 percent of First Pacific and less than 2 percent of the conglomerate’s firms here, according to the company’s public records which anybody can access through the internet.

What makes Salim a dangerous foe is that unlike other oligarchs, he controls what could be the biggest media conglomerate in the country, the only entity that is both in print and broadcast media — the Philippine Star-TV5 Group. Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Move over, ‘tubong lugaw,’ it’s now ‘tubong tubig’

MARK Dumol was the chairman of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) when the state firm was privatized in 1997, and he became then-President Fidel Ramos’ chief implementer of that project that eventually turned over the government’s water business monopoly to two tycoons — the Indonesian Anthoni Salim and the Ayalas.

In his book* published by the World Bank (which pushed and financially supported the project), Dumol pointed out:

“While the total estimated investment was in the range of $7 billion, the estimated equity was in the range of only $200 million, and this was for the two zones. The equity per zone was even less and this would be split between the local and international companies. Most of the investment was actually going to be sourced from the cash flow. Later on, when I explained this to the owner of a relatively large local firm, he was extremely surprised and suddenly became very eager to participate. Can you imagine having a significant share in a company that provided water to Metro Manila for only $10 million?”

Dumol proved to be prescient, and that local company, if it had followed his advice owes him billions of pesos.

Metro Pacific Investment Corp., majority owned by the Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim through corporate layers, acquired Maynilad Water Services Inc. in 2006, after the financially troubled Lopez group had to give it up. Salim bid $60 million to get Maynilad and paid for its $31 million debts to MWSS.

Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Hilbay: A bad liar or bad lawyer

I WROTE in a recent column that former president Benigno Aquino 3rd and his solicitor general Florin Hilbay bent over to the water concessionaires’ demand to keep their arbitration suit against the government confidential, and therefore away from the prying eyes of the public.

When the Singapore-based arbitral panel’s ruling for Manila Water Co. Inc. became public a few weeks ago, it was so anomalous that President Duterte blew his top. He got so mad he threatened to throw in jail the oligarchs who owned Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services Inc.

Indeed, the arbitration by a mostly foreign arbitration panel was so scandalous that when it was made public, Filipinos were so outraged. Shamed so much by their greed, the water companies the other day announced that they are giving up the payments ordered by the two Singapore panels, P3.4 billion in the case of the Indonesian-controlled Maynilad Water and P7.4 billion for the Manila Water of the Ayalas.

But Hilbay wrote to his friends to claim that they had no choice since “the Uncitral rules mandate that the arbitration proceedings be confidential.” Hilbay claimed he was “fact-shaming” me on this.

Let’s do some real fact-checking.

The Uncitral, or the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s rules, adopted eventually by over 60 countries, govern arbitration between companies from different countries or between companies and governments. This was first adopted in 1976, and then amended in 2010 as well as in 2013. The Uncitral also issued in 2010 a template for adoption of the rules by countries, called the Uncitral Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.

Florin Hilbay

Continue reading

Filed under: Manila Times Columns