Corona’s waiver challenge merits a closer look

first published on Blogwatch

In a suprising move, Chief Justice Renato Corona, speaking on the witness stand on Tuesday, said he would submit a signed waiverauthorizing agencies to probe and disclose all his peso and dollar accounts on condition that the 188 congressmen who hastily signed the impeachment complaint plus adminstration Senator Franklin Drilon would sign their waivers.

Corona may not be in the moral standing to pose such bold challenge. Up to day he took the witness stand, the chief magistrate failed to squarely answer all the allegations hurled against him. He instead indulged in a three-hour mix of diatribe, call for unity and personal story-telling which only further weakened his stance. Worse, he raised the challenge with the condition attached, and ended his opening statement with a walkout that brought the session hall into brief disarray.

But the waiver challenge is sensible and valid nonetheless. It merits a closer look.

The challenge at hand is actually an opportunity for the President Aquino and his allies to confer legitimacy to the impeachment process, which he said is part of the crusade for transparency and good governance. It is an opportunity to demonstrate his sincerity to expose the crooks and thieves in government, and to reassure the people’s trust in the trappings of “democracy” which he claims to uphold. That opening is ironically laid out by his nemesis, Chief Justice Corona.

As articulated by lawyer Jules Garcia Matibag of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL):

“If the signatories to the impeachment complaint (188 House members) and Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon (and even President Aquino) would execute a waiver of confidentiality for their peso and dollar accounts, as challenged by the Chief Justice, it would confer a solid sense of legitimacy to the impeachment trial — that prosecuting the Chief Justice is indeed a genuine effort towards transparency, accountabiliy and good governance.”

In fact, Aquino can expand the waiver challenge to cover all public officials – his Cabinet secretaries, other justices, even senator-judges and the Ombudsman – as a clear testament to his administration’s resolve to expose the corrupt in government. He can say that public officials will executive their waivers not as precondition for Corona’s waiver, but as an independent manifestation of their willingness to come under the banner of “Daang Matuwid”.

But quite oddly, President Aquino, who has consistently bannered transparency and good governance in his speeches, have yet to personally comment on Corona’s dare. We certainly miss his (snide) remarks on the sidelines of the impeachment trial. Now that a brilliant opportunity is there to initiate a simple yet concrete affirmation of his commitment to transparency, why is Aquino not taking the lead?

Perhaps he is aware that he failed to fulfill a campaign promise upon election into the highest post of the land. Barely three months before the 2010 elections, Aquino, along with two other presidentiables, pledged to waive his rights under the Bank Secrecy Law and disclose all his accounts to public if elected as president. That waiver is similar to what is being dangled by Corona sans the condition. Now, two years into his presidency, Aquino has yet to sign his waiver. You decide whose waiver qualifies more as a publicity stunt.

Some observers say that for public officials to execute a waiver is like biting into Corona’s ploy. But what grand scheme is there to save Corona from conviction? Will signing waivers really give Corona elbow room to execute more tricks? I don’t think so. The spotlight will not leave Corona even if the 189 lawmakers sign their waivers, especially now that judgment day looms. At this point, the waivers are already immaterial as far as Corona’s acquittal or conviction is concerned. As it appears, most of the senator-judges have already made up their mindson the case.

While the waivers are irrelevant to the verdict, they are nonetheless relevant to public interest. In fact, public officials should be urged to execute their waivers even after the impeachment trial. What’s in store for the people? Maybe bigger cans of worms. Maybe more tales of circituous money flows. Maybe more dizzying Powerpoint presentations that all attest that political power is intertwined with economic power. Maybe more dumbfounding figures of ill-gotten wealth of public officials which prove that bureaucrat capitalism, as national democrats call it, is still alive and kicking under President Aquino. And maybe, these are the reasons why our lawmakers are not keen on signing their waivers.

We can only presume based on their inaction. That is why public officials should open their accounts to the public in the spirit of transparency and public accountability. And no one else should be taking the bold lead other than the President, who has for so long brandished the sigil of the House of Daang Matuwid. Otherwise, we are merely paying respects to institutions teeming with hypocrites.

ADB, Aquino and the perils of private-public partnership (Part 2 of 2)

continued from Part 1

Aside from hefty financial guarantees, private firms involved in a PPP impose incessant rate hikes especially in the case of the water sector to reap superprofits. When the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) was privatized in 1997 through concession agreements, the quality of service has since deteriorated even as exorbitant fees have been charged to households, according to Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN).

“The privatization of MWSS is one of the largest PPP projects ever implemented in the country. Almost 15 years ago, it was touted as the solution to inefficient water services amid exorbitant user fees. Today, the basic charge for water services in Metro Manila has already soared by as much 1,000% since the privatization in 1997,” the group said in a report.

BAYAN noted the failure of private concessionaires to ensure universal access and interrupted service in their coverage across Metro Manila. “Less than 60% of 790,000 households in Maynilad’s service area have 24-hour water service while only 74% receive water at 7-pound per square inch (PSI) or stronger pressure,” it said.

Deeper in a PPP project, private firms can be ratcheting more profits on top of exorbitant rates in the realm of equities.

Profiteering through equity transactions

In a report by Dexter Whitfield for the European Services Strategy Unit, it was found out that private firmsgenerated £10bn in about 240 equity transactions involving more than 1,000 PPP projects in the UK. Based on this, the average profit rate was at 50 percent, compared to average profits in construction companies of 1.5 percent in the five years to 2009.

In a typical PPP project, construction firms, banks, investment houses and other private players have an equity stake. Additional profits are gained through sale of equity investments to other parties interested in the project.

Whitfield said that based on the findings, PPP projects were “little more than money-making ventures for builders and banks,” adding that the huge sums generated from equity transactions “makes a nonsense of the original value for money assessments.”

Multiple equity transactions can also lead to full ownership of a public asset or service by a private shareholder. To illustrate this, Whitfield’s report cited the Barnet hospital in London, which became 100% owned by banking giant HSBC through four equity transactions.

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What’s wrong with Malacañang’s wage hike math and investment mantra?

first published on

Philippine slums

By consistently rejecting the labor’ clamor for P125-legislated wage increase, President Benigno Aquino III is making two things clear: One, he doesn’t really know how to count the total number of private sector wage earners in the country. Two, he wants Filipino workers to race with other Southeast Asian workers down to poverty wages in the name of pleasing financiers, the likes of those huddling at the sidelines of the ongoing Asian Development Bank(ADB) meet in Manila.

In his Labor Day speech, President Aquino erroneously demonstrated how a P125 wage hike would cost the economy some P1.43 trillion. He came up with the figure by multiplying P125 by 22 working days, then by 13 months, and by 40 million workers.

“I repeat, we’re taking out P1.43 trillion from an economy that is worth P8 to P9 trillion,” Aquino told labor leaders attending the dialogue in Malacañang.

He indeed repeated a ridiculous mathematical mistake, using the same false assumption previously dished out by Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte to turn down calls for a significant wage hike. Supposedly, the proposed P125 wage increase would only cover wage and salary workers in private establishments, which is around 15.54 million based on the January 2012 Labor Force Survey. But the President used 40 million workers, which actually refer to the entire labor force, as multiplier.

Who are included in the labor force? All those employed – private sector workers, government employees, and even those in the informal sector (self-employed and unpaid family workers) – plus the 2.92 million unemployed comprise the country’s labor force. That’s why even the most rabid neoliberal economists would cringe at the President’s assumption that state workers, street vendors and even the jobless would stand to receive the P125 legislated wage increase.

Economist Winnie Monsod has in fact pointed out the Palace’s erroneous computation, only to put forward another wrong computation. In a report, she used 12 million workers as multiplier, referring to the alleged number of minimum wage earners in the country. But a closer look at the pending wage hike bill by Anakpawis party-list would reveal that the increase would benefit not just minimum wage earners but all wage and salary workers in the private sector.

Aside from bloating the purported economic cost of a legislated wage increase, President Aquino is also conjuring an economic disaster out of what is supposedly immediate relief for workers by portraying the wage hike as a huge cut on the domestic eonomy’s P9-trillion value. It’s as if the wage hike tab is something that is flushed out of the economy, like what the Palace and business groups are repeatedly saying. In fact, increasing workers’ incomes will increase the aggregate demand, stimulate consumption and may potentially increase household savings. Even the informal sector will benefit as increased purchasing power of private sector wage earners will translate to better sales of goods among micro and small businesses.

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From America: Deadly drones

first published on the Philippine Online Chronicles

It was not publicly known if America’s deadly drones are actually hovering over the Philippine territory and silently tracking “targets”, until the President confirmed suspicions in a media interview over the week.

On Tuesday, President Benigno Aquino III admittedin an Agence France Presse interview that US drones are flying over southern Mindanao “for reconnaissance”, adding however that the government would not allow US drones to launch airstrikes as it may violate the Constitution.

Still, the President’s statement raises the welcome banner to drone warfare, hinting at stealthier US military intervention in the country.

Palace officials and the military did not disclose though how long spy drones have been circling the south, but a scan of news archives would show that spy drones have been in the country’s skies as early as 2002, when additional US military forces arrived in the country with US “war against terror” as pretext.

The Philippines was chosen by Washington as its “second front” in its global war on terror.

Robot spies in the sky

GMA News reported that a US spy drone dubbed as “Predator” crashed into the sea off Zamboaga City in March 2002. Succeeding drone crash incidents were reported in 2006 up to 2008, wherein villagers held for ransom the damaged spy planes.

Spy drones are controlled through radio links by an operator or operators, who can be located on the ground, in other aircraft, or on ships. A report claimed that at least 168 people are needed to keep a Predator drone in the air for 24 hours, plus 19 analysts to process the footages captured by the drone.

While spy drones are not exactly similar to the ones carrying missiles, they could be as deadly as America’s flying assassins in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as what the country’s most recent experience would show.

Drones for counter-insurgency

Early in February, the Philippines’ armed forces launched an airstrike on an alleged Abu Sayyaf hideout in Jolo with support from a US military drone, killing 15 people which allegedly included three wanted terrorists.

Asia Times reported that the use of drone for the operations “represented the first known use of the unmanned aerial assault craft in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) counter-insurgency operations against terrorism-linked rebel groups.”

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