Is there sense in common towers?
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Long before he could assume his post in the Cabinet of President Rodrigo Duterte, Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II may face loyalty test as Secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). The loyalty check is not about his checkered past as an erstwhile rebel soldier before he became a politician.

   It’s more of how Honasan would settle the raging policy feud between two former superiors on the controversial common towers proposal with the entry of a third telecommunications company (telco) to operate in the Philippines.

The feud is between Ramon “RJ” Jacinto, presidential adviser on economic affairs and information technology communications and “acting” Department of Information and Communications Secretary (DICT) Secretary Eliseo Rio.

Rio’s comments on the common tower have been deemed irrelevant by Jacinto. Jacinto was quoted saying: “The implementation of the policy will be done by incoming Sec. Honasan and the NTC, so Rio will have little or no say in it.”

It was in response to Rio’s social media post earlier when the “acting” DICT Secretary expressed grave concern over the draft common towers policy as proposed and being pushed by Jacinto. According to Rio, RJ’s proposed policy faces possible challenge in court from telcos because it potentially violates their legislative franchise that gives them the right to build their own telecom infrastructure, including towers. 

During the Cabinet meeting in Camarines Sur on Jan. 4, Jacinto argued, the President directed Rio not to be cowed by legal impediments that might delay things that need to be done to improve the services from the country’s telco industry “and not to be afraid” of lawsuits and temporary restraining orders from courts.

Honasan will take over from Rio, his former senior officer when they were still together in the active service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Both were graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). Rio comes from PMA Class 1968 while Honasan is from PMA Class 1971.

On the other hand, Honasan previously worked as head of one of the sequestered companies owned by the Jacinto Group of Companies. The industrial conglomerate, owned by RJ’s family, were among those run by elite military officers designated by former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile during the martial law regime of the late president Ferdinand Marcos.

In a trial balloon so to speak, Jacinto staunchly proposed a common towers following the policy decision of President Duterte for a third telco. The third telco is supposed to break up the existing duopoly of the country’s two biggest telcos, namely the Philippine Long Distance and Telephone Co.-Smart Communications (PLDT-Smart) and the Ayala-owned Globe Telecommunications Company.

Initially, President Duterte gave this task to Rodolfo Salalima, his first DICT Secretary. Salalima, however, resigned from the Duterte Cabinet on Sept. 5, 2017 over alleged “conflict of interest” issues. The President would later admit he asked Salalima to resign because of complaints regarding his alleged preferential treatments to some “giant” telecommunication companies.

“There are many complaints so I asked someone to tell Rudy (Salalima) to resign. Many complained to me that he appeared to be partial because he’s a former vice president of Globe. I’m not saying he’s protecting other giant telecommunications in China [or] Singapore but there’s no action [on his part],” the President explained.

On Sept. 21, Malacañang disclosed Salalima resigned because of “personal and work-related” reasons. Salalima, on the other hand, cited “corruption and interference” as reasons behind his resignation from office as he failed to deliver on the President’s desire for a third telco to come in.

It was Rio who finally delivered the third telco after China-based Mislatel Corp. won the controversy-marred public bidding late last year. But before Rio could finish the task on the third telco, words came out about Honasan being tapped by President Duterte to be his permanent DICT Secretary.

On Nov. 20, the President officially appointed Honasan as DICT Secretary. Malacañang earlier expressed confidence that Honasan could effectively lead the DICT and implement genuine reforms, especially following the entry of the third telco player in the country.

Malacañang immediately submitted Honasan’s nomination to the Commission on Appointments (CA) for his immediate confirmation. Nomination of Honasan and fellow newly appointed Cabinet officials suffered technical by-pass when the CA failed to confirm them before the 17th Congress adjourned for their month-long Christmas break.

Turning 71 years old this March, Honasan assumes the DICT post if he gets confirmed by his CA colleagues.  As of this writing, Malacañang has yet to resubmit Honasan’s nomination anew to the CA.

As far as confirmation is concerned, Honasan has nothing to worry about because he previously served as CA member. Besides, the 25-man bicameral body is chaired by Senate President Vicente Sotto III who happens to be Honasan’s bosom buddy.

In his press conference at the Senate yesterday, Sotto rather gave ominous remarks that things are not going well for Honasan’s assuming his DICT post. Sotto refused to elaborate and Honasan could not be squeezed to comment on the latest rumored developments of his DICT posting.

The President has repeatedly expressed his preference to appoint former military and police officials in key government posts because they get the job done fast and without complaint nor argument.

Is this the looming blowback for Honasan as a result of the Jacinto-Rio feud over common towers issue?

As I’ve known him, Honasan is someone who would do a lot of study before taking any definitive stand or action. The CA’s technical by-pass is more of a blessing in disguise of sorts for Honasan while this common towers issue is not resolved yet.

But is there sense in pushing duopoly on common towers while President Duterte has already broken up the duopoly in the telco industry?

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