The most promising player
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - November 10, 2018 - 12:00am

What just happened in the search for the Next Major Player (NMP) to contend with PLDT-Smart and Globe? The intrepid Senator Grace Sonora Poe-Llamanzares and her committee on public services conducts an explanatory hearing, in aid of understanding, when session resumes next week. At the conclusion of the screening phase of 10 original aspirants, only the China Telecom backed Mislatel Consortium, remained standing.

This latest journey to NMP was a telenovela a la Dante’s circles of hell. The first hurdle was Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez’s insistence on auction when DICT Secretary Eliseo Rio expressed preference for the Highest Level Commitment of Service (HLCoS) model. A battle of wills; threatened resignations. Later, the process gets hit with allegations of corruption and cronyism. Even now, we await the outcome of challenges, some on legal grounds, from the disqualified bidders. Their cassus belli? Last minute rule changes; amendments to favor foreign bidders; stricter requirements than those imposed on the two majors; Mislatel being betrothed to another telecom – to name a few. Just yesterday, former House franchise committee member Rep. Terry Ridon accused Mislatel of gross misrepresentation in using a lapsed franchise.

Whichever entity ultimately prevails, cash will bleed before it is earned back. Mislatel has promised P150 billion in capital expenditures in the first year to go from the current internet speeds of 6 Mbps to its committed 27 Mbps minimum. Ultimately, they’ve bound themselves to deliver 55 mbps in years 2 to 5. The total investment stands at P258 billion. This is a tall order which Globe and Smart couldn’t “afford” to undertake. There are, as well, the logistical challenges. They’ll need permits from various local governments; expropriations; setting up relay towers in the usual places - Antipolo, Banahaw, etc. Their cell site roll out requirement will be at a rate around 10x that of the two established players. Failure to fulfill their promises means forfeiting billions of pesos of their performance security.

The Senate has echoed the popular concerns which they have telegraphed (remember this word?) ahead of the next hearing. A common issue is the security aspect of serving up to a foreign firm full access to our daily communications. And then there is the corruption angle. NOW Telecom’s sound byte rings in the ear: “Any speculation … that we don’t have the money is incorrect… we don’t have money for under the table deals or for corruption …”. These grievances are legitimate and deserve to be addressed. We expect the Senators’ full use of the oversight power to assure transparency. We forgive in advance the anticipated overuse of the same power to score spotlight points while they’re at it.

Sec. Rio has conceded that PT&T and Chavit Singson’s Sear Consortium may still have a shot if their reconsiderations are given due course. Their proposals were never even opened. That they have pursued the appeal process implies that they actually have better offers. 

Regardless of outcome, the selection of an NMP augurs well for all. It will be the first time since Digitel/Sun Cellular days that we get a crack at potential faster speeds, better service and lower prices. At least, that’s the promise.

The President with the shortest tenure? That would be Sergio Osmena at one year and 300 days. The longest serving at 20 years and 57 days was Ferdinand Marcos. Of the post Martial Law presidents, Joseph Estrada served the briefest. One of President Estrada’s best legacies is the quality of his men. His Cabinet is conceded to be the benchmark of administrations after President Marcos.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s Cabinet at the start was an eclectic admixture of personalities across the political spectrum and economic divide. There was no pretense of repudiating kaibigan, kaklase, kabarilan. The generous would characterize his group as “a work in progress.”

But now we are seeing his Cabinet turn into a who’s who. Legislative veterans Senator Gringo Honasan and Congressmen Teddyboy Locsin and Karlo Nograles have boosted the side. Long time bureaucrats Berna Romulo Puyat and Menardo Guevarra were given portfolios. Even the retired Generals he is rewarding had previous administrative experience leading huge military organizations. Of course, we are hoping that representatives from the left will again be welcomed to provide ballast and perspective.

The heft on top should make up for the perceived lack of it below, specially in the aftermath of the fiascos at his Bureaus. There is an advantage to getting talent from Congress. They supply popular perspective to the President’s decision making process. They balance out the technocrats in the Cabinet who tend to be less indulgent of the people’s moods.

The President may consider taking charge of a Department. Interior and Local Governments? If he remains committed to his federalism initiative, he accomplishes more by personally overseeing the campaign to educate our people on the merits of his proposals. Certainly more effective than any task force.

Exemplary and Extraordinary. To date, Judge Andres Soriano is still top of mind to many in the legal profession. His decision to deny the government’s motion to arrest Senator Antonio Trillanes and its rationalization has been hailed as brilliant, independent, courageous, common sense.

Some reason that Judge Soriano was just doing his job. This is true. But if you isolate the duty from how it is performed, you betray your want of appreciation of its milieu. The scorched earth conflict between PRRD and Sen. Trillanes transforms the context. Commonplace decisions, when brewed in the cauldron of highly polarizing national pressures, evolve from ordinary to monumental. To have to do it under the glare of the spotlight magnifies the difficulty quotient. By all measures, Soriano’s ruling was heroic.

There is a four-fold litmus test for the judiciary – honesty, integrity, probity and competence. These personal qualities should survive even when allegiances fade. Judge Soriano’s example reveals how there is a 5th pillar that undergirds these traits when exigencies test your resolve. You also have to be brave.

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