Poorly planned, poorly executed
By Solita Collas-Monsod
IF it had happened, say, during the watch of then NEDA Director General Romulo Neri, when NEDA had reached the nadir of its reputation, speculation would have been rife about the role of partisan politics in the situation. But it is happening under a NEDA headed by Arsi Balisacan, who not only is extremely competent but is not known for any political savvy or partisan leanings, so I am ready to give it the benefit of the doubt.
By “it,” I am referring to the delay in the release of the NEDA review on the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (APECO), as ordered by PNoy last December. The Reader will recall that after opponents of APECO marched for 17 days to cover a 350-kilometer distance from Aurora to Manila, PNoy, after meeting with them, ordered NEDA to conduct an independent review of the project, to be accomplished in seven days.
Of course there was no way that NEDA could accomplish that task — if only because the creation of APECO was enacted into law without the benefit of any feasibility study (none could be produced, anyway) that would at least provide some starting point for the review. Moreover, NEDA had had no involvement whatever in the formulation of the project. Both of which circumstances already raise very grave doubts about the propriety or even the advisability of approving such a project.
In any case, after the end of seven days, NEDA submitted a report to the President, and asked for two more months (it became 2-3 months) so it could do a proper job of it. And the President granted the request.
That was on Dec. 17, 2012. The two-month mark occurred on Feb. 17, 2013, and March 17 marked the end of the three-month period. It is now April 11 — four months after PNoy first ordered the independent review. And nothing has been submitted.
Now one of the reasons I greatly admire NEDA (except for the unfortunate periods when it was headed by Neri and then by Ralph Recto, neither of whom are economists, with Recto having the added burden of being a politician) is because of its professional staff. And even though that number has unfortunately been dwindling (pirated by the private sector and international agencies), no way would a 2-3 month period for conducting a review have been asked for if that wasn’t a reasonable period, as determined by the staff.
In preparing for this column, I asked Director General/Secretary Balisacan why the delay. And the answer was prompt: it was still being “finalized.” Another question: estimated time of completion? Another answer: within two weeks from yesterday, yesterday being April 10. That means at the latest April 24.
I shouldn’t have pressed, but I did anyway. Third question: What bogged the study down? In another words, if March 17 was the outer limit of the review period, what caused the additional five weeks delay? No answer.
Again, as I implied earlier, if it were not Arsi Balisacan at the helm of NEDA, thoughts of partisan political motives for the delay would be dancing in my head. After all, it would be very convenient to postpone news that might redound to the disadvantage of administration stalwarts until after the election. But that would be un-Arsi like. And un-NEDA like, as a result. So I am withholding judgment.
But that doesn’t mean that I am not going to go over that report with a fine-tooth comb. Although I will be very surprised — shocked, more like — if the NEDA review were to give its imprimatur to APECO. Balisacan’s reputed closeness to Senator Angara should not be a factor (I myself am considered very close to the senator and worked with him when he was UP president, but that has nothing to do with the issue).
I say this because after having read all the documents on the issue I could lay my hands on, including complete transcripts of the Senate committee hearings on APECO, plus hearing arguments on both sides. Let me share with the Reader some of my more salient findings.
• A bill to create a special economic zone for Aurora was vetoed by President Ramos way back in 1997 or 1998 — this information courtesy of Ciel Habito, who was Ramos’s NEDA chief and who obviously was asked for his opinion.
• RA 9490, which created ASEZA and approved by Gloria Arroyo on July 29, 2007, was only for an area of 496 hectares. This, without any feasibility study backing up the project.
• Less than three years later, RA 10083, amending RA 9490, was passed. But it was not really an amendment, it was a sea change, because the area covered increased by more than 25-fold — from 496 hectares to almost 13,000 hectares. What’s more, in many respects, APECO was placed beyond the powers of the national government and local government units. Again, no feasibility study was ever produced to justify such changes.
• RA 10083 provisions violate at least four laws: the Local Government Code, the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act, and the CARPER law, trampling on the rights of the local governments of the areas covered, as well as the rights of fisherfolk, farmers, and indigenous people in the area. Which was why the APECO march took place.
• It is noteworthy that RA 10083 was not signed into law by President Arroyo, but rather allowed to lapse into law — a Pontius Pilate act that does not absolve her of the blame for allowing the creation of the APECO.
• The implementation of APECO has resulted in any number of very costly mistakes, including the wrong use of land, the wrong choice of projects. Up to this point, almost six years after it was first approved, there is a dearth of investors. And justifiably so: anyone looking at a map of the area will see that Aurora is in a geographically very poor position to serve Central Luzon as compared to the other economic zones and free ports already located there.
In sum, it certainly looks like APECO was poorly planned and even more poorly executed — from the development point of view, that is.
Category: winnie monsod
I HAVE had three very long conversations on the Sabah issue with historian Samuel K. Tan (PhD from Syracuse), who taught at UP for 30 years and was at one point the chairman of the History Department. Tan is a very prolific writer with at least six books under his belt, including A History of the Philippines, The Muslim South and Beyond, Suratsog (annotated Bibliography of Jawi materials of the Muslim South), Selected Essays on the Filipino Muslims. His interest in the Sabah issue may be because he himself was born and raised in Sulu, but he is a treasure trove of information on the topic. And I’d like to share some of what I learned from him, as well as from his brother, lawyer Ancheta Tan.
First, the question of whether the transaction between the Sultan of Sulu (Jamalul Kiram I) and Gustave Baron Overbeck in 1878 was a cession (grant) or a lease. The contract was written in Tausog — the sultan spoke no English — and the controversy centers on the translation of the Tausog word “padjak.” You have American, Dutch and Spanish linguists on one side (lease) and the British on the other (cede/grant).
Well, Tan is Tausog, and his Suratsog is an annotated translation of Tausog documents spanning the reign of Sultan Jamalul Kiram II. And he says “padjak” is unambiguous: it means lease. Aside from the fact that the $5,000 annual payment in perpetuity is consistent with a lease contract and not with a cession, there is one argument, this time forwarded by Chet Tan, that should convince anyone but the British government, and now the Malaysian government. In Tausog, there is a specific term for “sale” (“dagang”), and “buy” (“bi”). So if North Borneo was sold or bought, the term used would not have been “padjak.” That British translation was clearly in bad faith, with malice aforethought.
I have elsewhere discussed another action in bad faith of the British government — when it annexed North Borneo as a colony a mere six days after the Philippines became independent, and faced with humongous problems related to the aftermath of WW II. But Samuel K. Tan points out another: this time related to the so-called Cobbold Commission.
But first, a little background. The Federation of Malaya, composed of 11 states in the Malay Peninsula, won its independence from Great Britain in 1957. It seems that there was growing international pressure at that time on the latter, including pressure from the United States, to grant independence to its colonies (their unpreparedness being no excuse, per the UN resolution). Two of its largest colonies were Sarawak and Sabah (formerly North Borneo) in the island of Borneo. Whether it was Tungku Abdul Rahman of Malaya or the British government who first got the idea to enfold Sabah and Sarawak into the Federation of Malaya (and call it Malaysia) is immaterial — but both countries certainly were enthusiastic about it. For the Federation, it would mean increasing their land area by two and a half times. For Great Britain, it would at least ensure that the former colonies would be “safe” from Indonesia and the Philippines.
And so the Cobbold Commission (CC) was created (Jan. 1962) formally known as “Commission of Enquiry,” with the stated purpose of ascertaining the views of the peoples of North Borneo and Sarawak on the proposed merger.
The CC was composed of three British: Cobbold, former governor of the Bank of England, plus a former governor of Sarawak, and a former official of the Federation of Malaya; on the Malayan side, a former chief minister and the top official of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Samuel Tan points out a glaring flaw: the citizens of Sabah and Sarawak had no representation in the CC.
Tan also points out another glaring shortcoming: that no referendum was actually held, in the sense of the people of Sabah and Sarawak casting a vote to be part of the proposed Malaysia. What instead happened was either that their “leaders” were consulted and/or “hearings” were conducted.
Understand, Reader, that Sabah and Sarawak together have a land area about two-thirds the size of the Philippines. And yet by June of 1962,or scarcely five months after the CC was formed, its report was submitted (in confidence) to their principals — the prime ministers of Great Britain and the Malayan Federation respectively.
And guess what it said? That one-third of the people of Sabah and Sarawak were fully supportive; one-third were conditionally supportive (safeguards had to be included); and one third-wanted either that Sarawak and North Borneo gain independence first before thinking about a merger, or were totally against the merger.
That was June, right? And yet in August of the same year, the CC final report stated that more than 70% of the people of North Borneo and Sarawak were in favor. What kind of arithmetic did they use between June and August? Reportedly, the North Borneans were very surprised at the result.
What is not a surprise that the CC declared itself to be in firm support for a federated Malaysia.
In contemporary lingo, the whole process, although Samuel K. Tan was too polite to say it, was “lutong makaw.”
There is more: Tan says that when it was proposed that the UN step in, in light of several objections raised internally and internationally, Great Britain gave notice that it would not be bound by the findings and recommendations of U Thant (UN Secretary General at the time) Can you imagine the effect that announcement would have on the UN’s report?
And as if to add insult to injury, Tan also recalls that observers sent by the Philippines and Indonesia were hampered by bureaucratic obstacles.
…since 1998, there seems to be a mini pork barrel fund that the senators (and apparently members of the House of Representatives as well) have been feeding off, courtesy of some provision inserted in the General Appropriations Act at the time. In effect, the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) budgets of the legislators have been and are being treated like “confidential and intelligence funds” (CIFs), in the sense that when liquidating these expenses, the legislators do not need to produce receipts or other documentary evidence to justify them. All that is needed is a “certification,” signed by them, that they had spent the money on MOOE items.
everyone was expecting pained remarks from the aquino-cojuangco camp after the supreme court ruled that compensation is to be based on 1989 valuations. but, nothing. i wondered if maybe because they had read alex magno’s “Hacienda” where he says The price for the blood-soaked land is probably ridiculously low. That might be what social justice requires.
Recall that the agreement in the fifties, in exchange for government financing acquisition of the hacienda, was for the landowners to distribute the land to the farmers by 1968. Since that time, the matter was tied up in litigation.
It will probably take at least a year for the land to be actually redistributed. That means that all of 45 years was lost to the farmers fighting this case in the courts.
Any day added to the waiting and any peso added to the price of the land will be an injustice. A more militant position on this issue might have pegged land prices at their 1968 levels — the year the land was supposed to have been redistributed.
In addition, a portion of Luisita land was sold earlier by its owners to a private company. The farmers, who have been stockholders in the meantime, demand a share of the proceeds from that sale. Hacienda Luisita claims the money made from the sale have all been expended. But if the farmers deserve a share of that, the amount due them might be discounted from what they have to amortize from here on.
or maybe they read solita collas-monsod’s “Screwed coming and going” where she points out that in 1989 the cojuangcos used that same 40,000 per hectare valuation which gave the family absolute control of the new corporation, Hacienda Luisita Inc., and the farmers only one-third ownership.
which is really some kind of poetic justice, no? but wait. tila unfinished, incomplete, ang justice, after all. read mareng winnie’s punchline.
Remember: The total land area of Hacienda Luisita that should have been subjected to agrarian reform was 6,443 hectares, but the actual area reformed was 4,916 hectares. Which means that the owners of Tadeco, with the approval of the DAR, were allowed to keep for themselves 1,527 hectares of land.
That’s a heck of a lot of land. Even if one deducts 66 hectares that supposedly comprise the sugar mill land, 263 hectares supposedly unfit for agriculture, 266 hectares of roads and creeks, and 121 hectares “given” to the farmers for home lots, there would still be 811 hectares of land left for the owners of Tadeco.
Eight hundred eleven hectares of land is larger than most of the other sugar plantations in the country.
Which leads to the question: Shouldn’t the DAR reform that land, too? The original decision of the Supreme Court gives it the authority to do so. I sincerely hope that Agrarian Reform Secretary Gil de los Reyes is made of stern stuff.
wow. ang coconut and rice lands, someone correct me if i’m wrong, 7 hectares lang ang puwedeng i-retain ng landowner. ano ba yan, iba pang kaso? talaga naman. pahirapan. state of the nation.