Bolahan at the Palace?

- Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

The admission of P-Noy that the former SAF Commander fooled him (“binola”) on what really happened regarding Mamasapano is par for the course. We can be sure that’s not the only serious instance of bolahan that has happened at the Palace.

A President cannot know everything and that is why he has Cabinet members to help him out. But what if the Cabinet member is also clueless and feeds the President bullshit or in other words, bola?

During my stint with government many decades ago, we normally write memos to the President to inform him of some developments and to give recommendations on courses of action. Those memos are handled with special care. The facts are checked carefully and the final document proofread by at least two other staffers.

Our boss, the Secretary of Energy had the memory of an elephant so we knew it could kill our careers if we gave him a fact or a number that later on we will try to change. He remembers things, numbers from several months back. So we don’t tell him anything we are not 100 percent sure and that applies more so to Memos for the President.

I am sure they are no longer as meticulous. Some months ago, I heard that DOTC Sec. Jun Abaya was explaining to the President why it was better to have the MRT/LRT Common Station near the Trinoma mall of Ayala. My source said that Abaya justified it by saying that putting the Common Station near SM North EDSA will require closing traffic on busy EDSA to put down the foundations.

P-Noy nodded as to agree until someone else had the guts to point out that the foundation had already been laid during the term of former President Arroyo. There would be no need to stop traffic to complete the common station. The President reportedly looked at Abaya who sheepishly tried to excuse himself by saying that was what he was told. In other words, Abaya did not fact check before offering the misinformation to P-Noy.

I decided to fact check by sending an e-mail to the head of one of the consortium members that built the LRT 1 extension from Balintawak to SM. Yes, I was told, the foundation is there. Indeed, they were ready to build the Common Station but were ordered to stop. No, there is no need to disrupt EDSA traffic by building the Common Station near the SM mall.

At least Abaya’s bola is not life threatening the way the Purisima and Napenas bolas on Mamasapano operations were. It is safe to assume that Abaya is not the only close aide of the President who has misled him. We will never know who else did unless we get more conscience-stricken underlings to spill the beans on their bosses.

Unfortunately for Abaya, he is the most visible because his failure to produce the vital transport infra projects under his wing is so obvious to common people who suffer the failure daily. Here is another Abaya story on the MRT.

Rep Sherwin Gatchalian of Valenzuela told me the other night that during a House hearing on the MRT, Abaya assured the congressmen that there is no legal hindrance for a government take over of the system because the private sector owner has breached the original Build-Lease-Transfer contract so as to render it invalid.

But as the Valenzuela congressman commented, that was many months ago. If what Abaya was saying is true, how come he has done nothing yet? Why has DOTC failed to take over the system so that it can be rehabilitated? Obviously, there are legal problems… exactly what I had been saying here. Nothing good can start to happen unless DOTC sits down with MRTH to clear things out.

Bureaucrats fudge the truth to cover up lapses and failures that may prove embarrassing or career breaking. Sometimes, they try to distract the public through hopeful press releases. Case in point is DOTC going into town with press releases about constructing a rather capital intensive subway in Makati’s Ayala business district and Ayala’s Bonifacio Global City.

Perhaps, Sec. Abaya is pushing the project to benefit the rich who live and work in the two high end Ayala developments since a subway that connects the two Ayala developments will likely increase land values even more. But experts are telling me the project must first surmount a legal hurdle – we don’t have a specific law to govern underground right of way issues.

The more important consideration is cost vs benefit to the greatest number. Then of course we have to consider the inability of DOTC to undertake any project, be it a short four kilometer LRT extension or a subway system. Maybe DOTC should just let Ayala undertake their BRT proposal that had been pending at DOTC for years now because that one is definitely doable and cost effective.

I am disappointed that NEDA is inclined to give DOTC a free pass on that subway project when it is NEDA’s obligation to set reasonable priorities for government’s scarce resources. What DOTC should focus its attention on is upgrading MRT and extending the LRTs because both systems serve the working class more. 

The other big thing to watch is how P-Noy’s underlings handle that helicopter purchase scandal. I am sure the President will hear a lot of bolas on that one too. If what have been published in the newspapers about that helicopter deal are anywhere near the truth, honesty, the one thing going for P-Noy’s watch will go up in smoke.

It should be easy enough to verify the facts if the bureaucrats will allow transparency in the probe. Did the supplier deliver an older model of the helicopters or a later model as required? To say that they are using some of the helicopters already is beside the point.

Is it true that the spare parts for the older model can no longer be had in the market? What model did we ask for in the bidding documents? Did DND officials pressure the Air Force to accept the helicopters regardless?

Despite P-Noy’s virtual admission of his gullibility when he said he fell for the former SAF Commander’s “bola”, I am also told that he normally asks tough questions when his aides make presentations. I want to believe P-Noy isn’t dumb… unless he wants to protect his incompetent friends he appointed to high positions.

If there is one thing P-Noy should have learned from the events of the last few weeks, it is to keep asking the tough questions and throw the boleros out. Indeed, even for many of us who initially supported him, we ought to not have suspended our better judgment with the wishful thinking that P-Noy had what it takes to run a tight ship that delivers on our expectations.

There are times when I feel like P-Noy is not just a lame duck but a dead duck. But for someone who has an influence in shaping public sentiment, it is also dangerous for me to be too negative so as to give rise to a self fulfilling prophesy of doom.

So I again say P-Noy still has time, very little time to shape up. I will judge P-Noy based on visible progress in the MRT, the airports and the internal probes of potential scandals like the helicopter purchase. All I know right now is that we all deserve better.

Metro gov’t

I had an interesting exchange of views with Rep. Sherwin and Mayor Rex Gatchalian of Valenzuela last week. I was surprised that the two young metro politicians don’t seem to be typical of their peers. They seem to have a longer term view not just in terms of time horizon but more importantly on how to make the current system work better beyond Valenzuela.

They agreed with my view that we need a stronger Metro Manila government even as they also realize that the current fiefdoms of the mayors will be difficult to break. But I am glad they share my view that the current system is a problem.

Perhaps, they can lead their fellow officials in looking for solutions so that metrowide problems like traffic management and garbage are handled efficiently. I know… mission impossible but we have to keep trying.

I proposed that the Metro government be given authority over all mass transport operations and systems in the area instead of national agencies where bottlenecks happen. LRT, MRT, BRT should all be managed at the metrowide level rather than DOTC. Dealing with buses, jeepneys and taxis or new concepts like Uber should be metro government functions too rather than LTFRB.

Why insist on the current system that is obviously broken? It is time to try something new. Maybe the next Congress can do something useful by changing the way government works in our Metro Manila.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco










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