Airport, railway chiefs under fire for opacity
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - December 21, 2018 - 12:00am

The Manila International Airport Terminal-2 is to undergo a P620-million makeover. But Management is mum about cost details.

Not even MIA Authority board directors were given breakdowns of the P620 million when Management recently sought their approval. Some rejected the rehab, lest they be in remiss of fiduciary duties. The sum is deemed excessive, since no major construction but only interior cleaning would be done.

The directors complain of Management's opacity. Seeking a copy of the work scope, private-sector rep Leonardo Lopez was told to first seek the consent of general manager Ed Monreal. Lopez grumbled that Management was controlling info to directors who set MIA policies.

Lopez questions a P46-million item for cleaning and treatment alone of the Terminal-2 floors, ceilings, and corridor walls. He found the work pointless since tests showed no difference between treated and untreated granite and marble tiles.

Another opacity issue is the ongoing airport safety audit by the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Sketchy reports are that MIA Management has flunked initial grading on training and equipment.

Reportedly Management was given 90 days starting late Sept. to comply with TSA requirements on securing US-bound flights. Results would be known after the Christmas holidays. Failure to meet US standards could lead to another downgrade of MIA to Category-2 airport, like in 2008-2012 and the mid-1990s.

If downgraded, MIA flight arrivals from the US and protectorates are lessened. Philippine carriers are also barred from adding aircraft and destinations to the US Such U.S. blacklisting can trigger similar acts by aviation authorities of the European Union, Britain, and Australia.

Passengers are inconvenienced and air cargo choked.

Monreal was unreachable for comment yesterday. He supposedly has instructed the engineering department to also inspect Terminal-2 to verify Lopez's findings.

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At Philippine National Railways too the general manager allegedly lacks transparency. So the workers' union charged him before the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission with serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the interest of the service, gross neglect of duty, and perjury.

GM Junn Magno supposedly diverted part of P875 million for commuter train operation and maintenance to security services of P63 million. That was illegal, president Edgar Bilayon of Bagong Kapisanang Manggagawa sa PNR purported. Broken were Presidential Decree 1445 and Commission on Audit Circular 2012-003. Payment for the three-year security services should have come from the Corporate Fund, as the directors' board stated.

Due to the fund diversion, diesel to run locomotives was not delivered last Sept., Bilayon said. The PNR shutdown disrupted 75,000 daily commuters. Magno allegedly ordered the use of O&M funds for the security agency through the corporate secretary.

Overstepping board authority, Magno has promoted that cor-sec to various "critical, incompatible, conflicting" positions, Bilayon charged. Those include legal, budget, bids and awards, corporate planning, quality management, rights-of-way, resettlement, utilities relocation, freight services, and organizational structure. Magno allegedly "dispensed with checks and balances and transparency ... to control all transactions," Bilayon swore. Even liaison with the PACC, before which the cor-sec is charged, is assigned to the latter. Magno disavows any wrongdoing.

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In the news yesterday, the government formally asked Sumitomo of Japan to propose to rehabilitate and maintain the MRT-3 commuter rail. In a Dec. 18 letter, the Dept. of Budget reportedly told the firm that the submission deadline is Dec. 20. It's "direct contracting" by the Dept. of Transportation (DOTr); meaning, no public bidding, only closed-door negotiation.

Here's the catch. The government as early as Nov. 8 signed an P18-billion loan from Japan for the rehab and upkeep. DOTr had come up with that price as far back as April.

Question: How did DOTr arrive at that P18 billion when Sumitomo has yet to name its price?

That's what this column has been pointing up since May. MRT-3's rehab is overdue, but DOTr can't give a breakdown of the P18 billion. It's odd, given that in tandem with Sumitomo, MRT-3's private builder-owner Metro Rail Transit Corp. had proposed in 2016 to rehab and maintain it for only P7.5 billion. What is the P10.5-billion excess for?

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Implementing rules for the Rice Tariffication Act had better be crafted soon. Then consumers can at last enjoy cheaper yet better rice imports. Timing is crucial to pricing. Smugglers-cartelists take advantage of even slight delays in stockpiling. The National Food Authority's last subsidized staples are running out. With NFA withdrawing from importing under the new law, private traders can fill the void once the rules are out. The more traders, the lower the rice retail rates. The more funds too going to rice farmers as fertilizer, pesticide, seedling, planting, harvest, and storage aid. Under the act, the yearly P20 billion from 35-percent import tariff from ASEAN rice and 50 percent from elsewhere (India, Pakistan, Africa) shall go to farm assistance.

Speaking of which, a "new player" raring to go into rice trade big-time is giant San Miguel Corp. President-CEO Ramon Ang's plan is to import palay. To be milled locally, unbroken grains shall be sold cheap to consumers, broken for animal feed and beer fermenter, and ipa (husk) for mill fuel. The conglomerate produces chicken, dairy, pork, beef, beer, and spirits.

SMC is readying six P30-million silos, each with 10,000-ton capacity, for the palay imports. Forty percent of Filipinos are deficient in cereals, the World Bank says. Ang is in position to ease that while doing good business.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

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