Update (3:18 p.m.): Preemptive, Calibrated Response declared unconstitutional.
Yesterday, the President apparently held a command conference of sorts to look into the progress of the Charter change campaign. Apparently, according to scuttlebutt, she gave everyone a tongue-lashing, frustrated by what she is said to have described as the lack of progress of the people’s initiative, which isn’t gathering enough momentum. She was said to have been quite irked by the manner in which opposition to the initiative has been reported and more importantly, manifested.
No coincidence that yesterday, too, began a tremendous (and quite obviously, hugely expensive) “information” campaign on all media: television, radio, the broadsheets and in the tabloids, to push forward the administration arguments. The President is said to be quite adamant that the Senate be painted as the enemy. And destroyed. Billy Esposo explains why the Philippine Information Agency seems the wrong agency to mount such a drive.
The timeline seems endangered: Palace functionaries are said to be nervous because the maximum deadline for achieving Charter change is September (see how much time’s been wasted in this timeline). By October-November, all the political parties, including the administration coalition, will have to form and begin campaigning for their senatorial and congressional candidates, with elections scheduled in May of next year. Privately-commissioned surveys, on which the political strategists of all sides are heavily dependent, indicate that the administration won’t be able to elect any senators, and congressmen throughout the country, starting with the Speaker, are anxious over challenges being mounted even in previously “safe” districts.
The Speaker himself has tried to revive the Constituent Assembly solution, and party operatives are abuzz over what has become a three-track strategy:
1. People’s initiative calling for a shift to unicameralism, resulting in a referendum
2. People’s initiative calling for Congress to convene as a Constituent Assembly, propose amendments, and then call for a referendum
3. The House and the Senate to pass a “bullet amendment” calling for the immediate shift to a unicameral parliament, resulting in a referendum (the “bullet amendment” idea was borrowed from certain opposition quarters that wanted to propose cutting short the terms of the president and vice-president, thus paving the way for presidential elections in 2007).
The Speaker, formerly marginalized by the people’s initiative steamroller, can now say, seeing it’s getting bogged down, that signatures already gathered can be recycled with a new objective: to force the Senate’s hand, instead of bypassing Congress altogether. A Constituent Assembly is ultimately more manageable, politically, rather than putting out fires throughout the length and breadth of the country.
With these marching orders from the President, no wonder that the Manila Standard-Today goes great guns for unicameralism: Unicameral shift to save P250b annually is an example.
Would unicameralism save us money? One one point, as this article says, definitely: no more rentals for a Senate that should have moved its premises to Quezon City a long time ago. But otherwise?
If we take the computation of the probable seats in a unicameral parliament made by Winnie Monsod, that’s 400+ seats with pork barrel for each; there are allowances; would MP’s holding cabinet portfolios give up double salaries? I doubt it. if we add the current pork barrel of the President (which she would retain, and after her, devolve to the Prime Minister, or be split between them), including the following: the Intelligence Fund, the Social Fund, and unfettered access to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes and the PAGCOR: I don’t see where savings would come from. What’s more probable is that if the Senate spends 250 billion annually, that amount will be carved up by the members of parliament. Anyway, this is one question that deserves some serious number-crunching.
In other news…
The Inquirer says Lifting of VAT on oil mulled: Plan draws bipartisan support in House but the Manila Times says Ermita, Finance trash Defensor’s RVAT idea. The Inquirer editorial supports lowering VAT on gas and says alternative energy sources besides ethanol need to be explored, too -and goads the Senate committee on energy to speed up deliberations on the ethanol bill sent by the House to the Senate last November.
Funny, ha-ha: Impersonator sends cops scurrying after “Gringo”
Not funny: Armed Forces braces for another overthrow attempt set May 1
In the punditocracy, Bel Cunanan quotes the Sigaw ng Bayan people as claiming their website has received nine million hits since it was launched three weeks ago. Truly, as both Sigaw and Cunanan say, a phenomenal number, amounting to “almost 20 percent of the total number of registered voters.”
So for the more technologically-savvy out there, how can the media and the public verify such claims? Is there an objective way of doing so? Because I’m curious:
1. Are there 20 million Filipinos online as Cunanan suggests? Or is the figure misleading?
2. Can the claim of 9 million hits (unique?) within three weeks be verified? If so, how? If not, why not?
3. Does their error message -“Due to the huge volume of visitors, this site has exceeded its bandwidth limit and is temporarily shut down. To the Administrator, please contact service provider. Thank you.”- look and read like a genuine bandwidth exceeded message? Or could it be a propaganda trick? Here’s a screenshot:
Two op-ed pieces focus on development outside Metro Manila. Juan Mercado spotlights the water problems of Cebu City exacerbated by difficulties faced by potential investors in water projects; John Mangun looks at the disparity in the prices of basic commodities in and outside Metro Manila, which he says is due to a dependence on importation (which requires fuel for transportation and storage) to the metropolis:
In fact, the Philippines has two economies: that of the National Capital Region and everywhere else.
The NCR is oil dependant for transportation to get around the NCR and to bring goods to us in the Greater Metro Manila region.
Outside of this area, the fuel component of prices is much less for the goods that people need. We in the NCR pay a much higher price for vegetable and fruits than elsewhere. In fact, we pay double the price for tomatoes in Manila than in Dipolog. Outside of the NCR, fish is one-third to one-quarter of our palengke price. Premium rice is as much as 20 percent cheaper.
The 75 percent of the Filipinos who live outside NCR have not been affected as much by the effect of higher crude oil.
We, who inhabit the area, may be feeling the pinch of higher oil prices. However, the overall effect is reduced by the massive influx of new earnings primarily due to the 100,000 or so employees in the growing BPO business. The multiplier effect of all those call-center and transcription jobs is immense and notable.
Makati and Eastwood are now 24/7 areas with a tremendous amount of money flowing where it never existed before. High oil prices? It is not even part of the economic equation when you consider all the new jobs created in the last couple of years. If there are 50,000 new BPO employees in Makati since 2002, there are probably another 25,000 new jobs just to support those employees with food, transportation and other services.
The greater potential of negative impact as oil pushes higher is with the government’s budget deficit and debt serving programs. As oil goes higher, the risk of a depreciating peso increases as dollars are needed to buy oil. The Philippines will manage with $75 oil; the government may not.
Lito Gagni presents a rather frightening catalog of the defects of the NAIA Terminal 3:
The expert, Richard Francis Klenk, an American engineer who is an independent consultant in the areas of aviation, highways and marine, raised several safety issues and cited, in particular, “serious issues with respect to the structural integrity of the terminal structures.”
There were five areas that were found grossly defective: cracks in the concrete slabs, deflections in the beams, questionable pile installation, car-park structural problems and structural integrity problems of the roadways. It is no wonder then that the Naia 3 ceiling crashed down just because of the vibration from the switching on of the air-con unit.
Tony Abaya bats for the national ID card (I’m for it, too -preventing its abuse will just require vigilance). And an eloquent letter to the editor: Dissent has value. Also, Connie Veneracion takes up the cudgels for mall visitors.
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