This year would be so crucial for the country’s future as perhaps no year really has been.
This is because both economic and political developments this year will largely determine if this unlucky country will or will not suffer another six years of a hypocritical and vengeful yet inefficient administration as that of President Aquino.
Perhaps it will solely be Aquino’s meeting with Pope Francis towards the end of this month – unless he scolds him for his pro-contraceptive stance – that will be this president’s only sunny days in a cloudy and storm-filled year.
Several problems Aquino created – largely because of his hubris – since he took power in 2010 will be coming home to roost this year.
One, the World Bank’s International Center for Investment Disputes (ICSID) will most likely rule this year on the case filed by the 150-year-old Belgian dredging firm Baagerwerken Decloedt En Zoon against the Philippines for unilaterally cancelling the Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project. Aquino cancelled the project just a few months after he assumed power, claiming that the project was riddled with corruption by his predecessor’s officials.
Costing P18.7 billion, the project was to be undertaken by and financed by a loan from the BNP Paribas Fortis bank, with Brussels providing a P7-billion grant—the biggest development aid it would have given the country ever. If Aquino had just left it alone, the project would have been completed by June this year, which would help reduce the massive flooding metropolitan Manila annually suffers each rainy season.
Four years after he made the blanket accusation, not a single elaboration of his charge has been made, and not even a single government agency has investigated Aquino’s claims.
Could anybody in his right mind doubt that the ICSID will rule in favor of the Belgian firm and order the government to pay P6 billion in damages?
Aquino didn’t even have the courtesy (or the legal sense) to issue a formal cancellation of the project. The Belgians have presented as evidence even Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s legal opinion that there was nothing wrong in the contract as well as a Congress resolution asking Aquino to continue the project.
In contrast, the Arroyo government justified, among many other arguments, the cancellation of the German Fraport AG’s contract to build the NAIA Terminal 3 (which the government recently won last December 14) by pointing out that the Supreme Court itself found the contract ridden with corruption and should be rescinded.
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima was clever enough not to issue any document to cancel the contract. He merely didn’t sign the loan documents for the concessional loan from the Belgian government to fund the project to be drawn by the Belgian dredger, thereby depriving it of funds.
If Aquino and only Aquino were responsible for cancelling the project, shouldn’t he be required to pay the cost of being penalized by the ICSID? Perhaps, garnishment of his shares in Hacienda Luisita? Such demands would hound Aquino – even to impeachment – this year.
Second, the Supreme Court won’t dilly-dally any longer. It would rule with finality that Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) Fund was illegal, and that administrative and criminal cases should be filed against those responsible for it. Aquino of course is immune from such suits while in power. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad – the brains behind Aquino – isn’t, and they would spend this year fending off such suits.
Third, Aquino’s and his naïve negotiators’ promising the moon to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the form of committing to the establishment of a Bangsamoro sub- state to the insurgents will unravel this year, as Congress can no longer pretend that it has to study it first before approving it. The bill, as even its champion Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, recently admitted, is just wracked with provisions violating the Constitution.
The Supreme Court will be kind to Congress if it relieves it of blame by ruling it unconstitutional, as it would have to this year because of several suits asking it to do so.
No one is expecting the MILF to sit on their asses when only a handful in Congress joins Aquino’s betrayal of the Republic. Was the December 9 bombing of a bus in Bukidnon, near Rodriguez’s district, that killed 11 and injured 40 a sample of MILF ire that Aquino fooled them with his Bangsamoro promise?
Fourth, power projects contracted this year, and those being constructed, won’t be finished by the first quarter of the year, and the biggest companies are expecting severe power black outs by this summer. With his mother dubbed the Queen of Darkness in the wake of severe brownouts in 1987, Aquino will be called the Prince of Darkness, sapping his regime’s legitimacy and therefore his camp’s capability to have their candidate win in 2016.
Fifth, while this government has been proud to have stood up against China by filing a case against it at the United Nations Permanent Court of Administration for it to declare illegal the super-power’s claims in the South China/West Philippine Sea, the costs of such stance will be enormous.
The court is likely to rule on the issue this year, and most experts are expecting that it will likely declare that the issue is beyond its jurisdiction, which would hew to the legal definition of “arbitration” as one in which contending parties voluntarily enter into and promise to abide by the arbitrator’s decision. The Philippines is also arguing on the basis of the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea – which however China signed with the qualification that it cannot be applicable to questions of sovereignty.
There is still of course the possibility though that the UN arbitral court would rule in favor of the Philippines — but which China would reject on grounds of its qualifications in its signing of the UNCLOS.
Any decision won’t be helpful to us though. Chinese public opinion would only harden against us for bringing the case to a court, creating demands for an economic boycott of the Philippines, and there’s no question who would be the loser in such breaking-up of economic relations. No power could enforce the UN arbitral court’s decision. The US? It’s not even a signatory of UNCLOS. Yes, global public opinion would turn against China. But really has that, without the backup of military threats, ever changed nations?
Of course the Chinese leadership could be enlightened down the road, and accept Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario’s mantra for nations to follow the rule of law. But that may be ten, twenty years from now – while China bypasses us and instead channels its ODA and investments to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Sixth, despite their silence in the past months, I don’t think jailed senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla have just been praying to God to be released. If the pork-barrel scam charges are true, they’d have hundreds of millions of pesos stashed somewhere that they would be mobilizing to make whistle-blowers suddenly reverse their testimonies, and for the Sandiganbayan to order them freed. Have they just been biding their time for Aquino to be a total lame duck, whom at that point the justices therefore will cease to fear, to make their move?
There are other major political and economic typhoons that would hit this year, sapping the capability of Aquino’s camp to stop the hemorrhage in its popular support, and therefore further weakening the chances of its candidate to win the presidency in 2016.
If it does miraculously weather these storms this year, the Aquino camp – considering its huge war chest raised through the DAP from 2011 to 2013 and the 2015 budget – will be poised to still win the presidency in 2016.
I’m betting though that it won’t.