GOTCHA – Jarius Bondoc – The Philippine Star, January 4, 2023
Ex-President Gloria Arroyo joins Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s ill-timed China visit. China’s explosive COVID-19 surge can infect their planeload of companions, and family and staff when they return. Isolated in a pandemic bubble, they won’t get enough work done except to banquet.
The insistence to fly to China is as odd as Arroyo’s midnight sneak-in to Hainan in 2007. Leaving her husband who had just undergone delicate heart surgery, she signed the $329-million National Broadband Network-ZTE deal. A whistleblower later testified at the Senate that ZTE top execs handed over an initial $10-million kickback from the $200-million overprice.
Filipinos meanwhile suffer breakdown of state services and facilities.
Fifty-one perished and 19 went missing from Christmas flashfloods in eight regions. Hillside quarries triggered mudslides that swelled rivers and destroyed P1.1 billion in homes and farms. The quarriers are local and former natural resources officials.
Hundreds others died and thousands lost homes from two 2022 superstorms. Congressmen had pocketed P113.5-billion flood controls that year. Expect worse deluges this 2023 as they again steal P183-billion dredging funds.
Government falsely promises squatter rehabs. Slums remain electricity- and water-less. One neglected candle tipping over razes entire neighborhoods. Bureaucrats take commissions from contractors of shabby resettlements.
Calling it a “glitch” can’t minimize the backlash of the New Year’s Day crash of the country’s Airspace Monitoring System. Four hundred daily international and domestic flights of 60,000 passengers had to be cancelled, delayed or diverted up to three days later. Philippine travel and tourism image cracked.
Worst hit were 3,000 departing overseas workers who missed connecting flights to jobsites. Also those homebound who went hungry and sleepless from days-long flight diversions to other capitals. Who will reimburse their extra expenses?
Aeronautics bigwigs chest-thumped to uphold the Air Passengers Bill of Rights. Meaning, faultless airlines must feed, billet, refund and rebook at their expense the distraught flyers. Plus, pay emergency overtime of pilots and cabin crew, larger aircraft and airport re-slotting charges.
General aviation bled. Chartered, medical evac, company, student-pilot and fresh seafood flights were grounded.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines alibied that its equipment was antiquated. Yet the P13-billion airspace traffic system was installed only four years ago, 2018. Obviously it had no requisite backups. CAAP’s present chief was at that time transport undersecretary for aviation and airports.
Past Manila and Cebu airport bosses have yet to answer for myriad sleaze. In Manila they monopolize airport taxis. Highway robber-cabbies victimize passengers waiting for hours for rides.
Land transport everywhere is a mess. Disjointed routes of the EDSA bus carousel to elsewhere in Greater Manila is but a microcosm of nationwide commuters’ woes. Buses and jeepneys are hard to come by. Commuters resort to colorum vans. The ride-hailing monopoly exacts arbitrary “surge rates.”
Gridlocks plague urban and rural areas. Potholes pockmark highways and inner roads. Dozens of bridges have collapsed in recent years. Filching funds, national and local officials delay repairs. Absent from streets, policemen prefer assignment to special investigations, special operations, special tactics, special siopao; no regular foot patrols.
Yet they bungle a special criminal probe. Thirty-four “sabungeros” and companions were abducted on different dates in different cockpits under one e-sabong operator two years ago. All are presumed murdered. Three policemen have been indicted for kidnapping three victims in two incidents. No mastermind because money talks. From a gross of P3 billion e-sabong netted P300 million a day, enough to buy off top law enforcement and justice officials.
Sea transport sucks. Ports impose arbitrary wharfage, pilotage, storage. Authorities neglect skills upgrade for 400,000 Filipino seafarers. A fifth risk losing jobs on European-flagged vessels.
Deficient transport inflates food prices. As well, faulty data gathering, planning and logistics; costly fuel, feeds and fertilizer. Food producers and suppliers stagger from illegal pass-on of steep power generation costs.
Misinformed about harvests, Marcos Jr. failed to import undersupplied onion. His Bureau of Plant Industry withheld import sanitary/phytosanitary inspection certificates. Knowing better, hoarders began smuggling from China.
BPI inspectors detected toxins and E. coli in contraband onion. Yet Customs is donating the contaminated bulbs for retail in Kadiwa rolling stores. Marcos Jr. is rushing the legalities. The poor can buy cheap – dirty – onions.
The country is P13.5 trillion in hock. Most borrowings went to crooked deals: P15-billion PhilHealth scam, P42-billion Pharmally scam, China COVID vaccine scam. Cronies took over Malampaya gas rights. Agencies with no law enforcement or intelligence functions grabbed confidential/intelligence funds. Coming up: Maharlika Fund.
Up till Marcos Jr.’s departure for China, health officials dithered over stricter COVID-19 protocols on Chinese travelers like other countries. They’ve enforced only mumbo-jumbo “heightened alert.” They avoid offending Beijing, whose state media screeches that harsher rules on Chinese are discriminatory – forgetting that Beijing singled out flights from London, Brussels and Manila during surges.
The past admin too had refused to screen Wuhanese travelers at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Expect infection resurgence. Aligned with that admin, Marcos Jr. is repeating its mistakes. As it did to Rody Duterte, Beijing is bamboozling Marcos Jr. to sign a joint petroleum exploration in Recto Bank within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
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