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Friday, March 20, 2009


Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero on Monday urged China to exercise caution in responding to the passage of the Baselines Law by the Philippines, saying that “good neighborliness, not bullying” should prevail.

“Let this issue be resolved through legal and diplomatic channels. China should not engage in moves that might be construed as bullying tactics,” he said in a statement.

Escudero was referring to reports that Beijing has dispatched its most modern warship to the South China Sea to conduct patrols in waters off the contested Spratlys island chain.

Beijing has said that the Baselines Law is “illegal and invalid” even as it reasserted its ownership of the group of reefs, islets, and islands which are said to be rich in oil and other mineral resources.

Apart from China and the Philippines, the Spratlys is also claimed in full and in part by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei.

“The Philippines made a legal move and the appropriate action from China should have also been a legal one, i.e., a diplomatic protest, which they did. It would benefit us all if we resolved this issue within the arena of diplomacy,” said Escudero.

In the past, the dispute over the Spratly has triggered violent clashes between Chinese and Vietnamamese forces stationed in the area as well as verbal skirmishes between China and the Philippines in 1992 over the Chinese occupation of Mischief reef.


Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero on Monday asked Ombudsman Merciditas Gutierrez to release her office’s findings on the 728-million peso fertilizer fund scam as it promised to do so last month.

“The Office of the Ombudsman promised to have the report on the fertilizer scam ready by first week of March, or at the latest by March 15. It’s March 16. What will she say next?” he asked.

Her deputy, Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus, was quoted as saying that Gutierrez was reviewing with a “fine tooth-comb” the 125-page report of the special panel.

“Baka nagkabali-bali na ang suklay sa tagal ng pag-review,” said the opposition senator, who has asked the Ombudsman to step down in October when she completes the seven-year term of her predecessor, Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo.

He also said that continued inaction on the part of Gutierrez will only bolster the perception that she is out to protect big-time grafters in government. Escudero also reiterated anew his call for the Ombudsman to release a list of cases still pending in her office so the people will know their status and why they have not been filed with the Sandiganbayan.

The Senate has already recommended the filing of plunder charges against former Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc Joc” Bolante and eight other individuals for their alleged involvement in the diversion of P728-million in fertilizer funds to the 2004 campaign kitty of local officials allied with President Arroyo.

The Ombudsman has also been slammed for its failure to act on a number of controversial cases such as the alleged rigged bidding for World Bank-funded road projects and the ZTE-NBN national broadband deal.

In the impeachment complaint filed against her, among the cases cited by the petitioners were the Mega-Pacific agreement contract entered into by former Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos, Sr., the extortion case against former Justice Department Secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez, and the case against the “Euro” generals.
“How can we expect the public to trust government when many high-ranking officials involved in such allegedly anomalous practices and transactions are not taken to task for their actions? If we allow this to continue, we will witness the collapse of institutions and, subsequently, democracy itself,” Escudero said.


Opposition Senator Chiz Escudero on Tuesday said taxpayers are paying for “ghost riders” in the Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRT) as he backed moves for a government takeover of the light rail firm.

The senator issued the statement in light of frail state of finances of the MRT which he says “continues to drain the national coffers of much-needed funds.”

By his calculations, Escudero said the government subsidy per rider is about P42, computed against the amount of public funds being funneled into the MRT.

“It is like paying for almost three riders more at the current fare rates of the MRT, which on the average is P14 per passenger. The government is paying for riders who are non-existent,” Escudero said.

“The MRT has long been bailed out by the government. While its coaches are always full, its coffers are always empty. The national government subsidy is the one that lubricates its operations. This comes as no surprise because the project was financially engineered to be dependent on government aid,” he points out.

In this case, the senator said, it would be better for the government to take over MRT.

“If we own it, then let’s run it. And let it be a reminder that when it comes to private-public ventures, never again should we end up privatizing profits while debts are nationalized,” said Escudero.

He revealed that to pay for the arrears of MRT alone, the government shelled out P2.2 billion in 2007 and 2.45 billion in 2008. He added that this year, it will remit some 1.19 billion for the same purpose.

Escudero also said that the government subsidized MRT operations and maintenance to the tune of P579 million in 2007 and P618 million in 2008, while a total of P645 million is earmarked for this purpose this year.

“If fares are priced to recover costs, you court a commuter revolt. Mass rail transit is a losing proposition. Rents of real estate in stations or depots are supposed to make up for the losses but these have been ceded to private partners. So government ends up picking the tab,” he said.

“And MRT is economically viable, meaning it is an important cause in the overall scheme of things. But alone, it is not financially viable if only turnstile or farebox income will be considered.”

Escudero noted that the because of the “high guaranteed ridership forecast” of the MRT at its inception, with the shortfall to be shouldered by the government in this railway version of the “take-or-pay provision in the independent power producer (IPP) contracts,” the government will be paying for the fares of what are essentially “ghost riders.”

“This should serve as a cautionary tale in future light rail projects so ridership won’t be inflated,” he said.

Escudero said that another cause for the hemorrhage of public funds through the MRT is the cost of its maintenance.

He said that the MRT has a high maintenance contract with a Japanese firm, which is onerous if compared with lower fees the LRTA is paying for the upkeep of its two lines.

“To top it all, MRT debt carries a high 12.5 percent to 15 percent annual interest rate,” he explained.

The senator also said the government should refinance the $865-million debt with “low-cost money,” a mode that will book savings in the long run.

“But the pricing of obligations should be done transparently and verified by independent appraisers when warranted.”

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