Jojo A. Robles

NYT blames Noynoy

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Not all members of the foreign media are clueless “parachutists” who become overnight experts on the Philippines after sitting in posh hotel lobbies. Some of them actually understand what’s going on in this country and write accordingly.

Yesterday’s The New York Times ran an excellent piece on the spate of killings that started with the election of Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines. And because Amanda Taub’s NYT essay, “How Countries Like the Philippines Fall Into Vigilante Violence,” went beyond the usual, lazy Western media framing of the highly publicized deaths as a human-rights issue, it cannot be dismissed as just another anti-Duterte screed.

Taub’s thesis is that when a victimized citizenry seeks tough anti-crime measures from a weak state, leaders will rise who offer quick-fix solutions that the government cannot seem to provide. As it was in Guatemala and Colombia, Taub posited, so it will be in the Philippines, now that Duterte has assumed the presidency.

The comparisons to violence-prone South American banana republics are not new, of course. But unlike most Western commentators, Taub actually attempts to explain how the Philippines descended into weak-state status, to the point where its people started demanding Duterte’s ministrations.

This is what she wrote:

“The true roots of the problem can be traced to the administration of Mr. Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III. That is because, experts say, the true cause of this kind of extrajudicial violence is the public’s loss of confidence in state institutions and its turning instead to more immediate forms of punishment and control.

“Mr. Aquino, elected in 2010 on promises to support the rule of law and human rights, failed to fix the Philippines’ corrupt and ineffective justice system. His administration also faced a series of security-related scandals, [beginning with] a hostage crisis in Manila in 2010.

“And, perhaps most critical, Mr. Aquino was perceived as lazy and soft, unwilling to take the necessary steps to solve the country’s problems. Frustration with the government’s inability to provide basic security led to rising public demand for new leaders who would take more decisive action to provide security.”

It takes perception to see beyond the human-rights blather - peddled mostly by sidelined agents of the administration just past - and to recognize the culpability of Aquino in the creation of the country’s public security crisis. Indeed, if Aquino had merely decided to work at solving the problems of runaway crime and the proliferation of illegal drugs, Duterte would probably never had been elected president.

Now that Duterte is trying to solve the mess Aquino created, he is being pilloried by those who really should know better. Perhaps they really believe that doing nothing but paying lip service to reform and ignoring crime and corruption is really the best course of action.

* * *

I don’t remember the last time a House speaker and his majority leader attended a mere committee hearing on the budget of a department of the Executive branch. But that’s what Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas did, when Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade and his undersecretaries went to Congress last week to defend their budget for next year.

Alvarez, himself a former transportation secretary, was there for an important reason: He wanted to know if Tugade’s subordinates were really the hired help of big conglomerates sent to join the Duterte administration to take care of their rich employers’ interests.

In particular, Alvarez apparently wanted to find out if Tugade’s undersecretary for rail transport, Noel Kintanar, was not just a high-ranking dummy of the Ayala Group embedded in the department to make sure that the lopsided contract for the LRT Line 1 remains untouched. After all, Kintanar, as an executive of the Makati-based conglomerate, was said to have dreamed up the use of the “sunk cost” doctrine that allowed the Ayala-led consortium to purchase the original LRT line for a song during the previous administration.

The application of the principle to the train line did not only allow the LRMC consortium to secure the entire LRT-1, even if government only originally wanted to extend its service to Bacoor, Cavite. It also gave the Ayalas and their partners the P9 million in cash daily that the line generated - not bad, really, for a non-performing, sunk cost.

How Kintanar ended up as chief government official in charge of rail systems after a long stint in the company that bought a state train line is not really a mystery. It’s like the appointment of Tugade’s other subordinate, Roberto Lim, as undersecretary for air transport.

Lim admitted to Alvarez that he had only visited one of the country’s 80 or so airports other than Manila - and that was the politically strategic one in Davao City. Of course, Lim was formerly country manager for the International Air Transport Association, the organization of foreign airlines that could care less about all the other airports in this country outside Manila.

As they would say on the street, regulatory capture pa more!


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