FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Last year, Venezuela’s annual inflation rate was calculated at about 1,300,000%. This year, the inflation rate is expected to hit 10,000,000%.

These are astounding numbers, to be sure. They are not the only ones indicating the extent of the economic collapse of what used to be the richest country in this part of the world.

Last year, one in ten Venezuelans walked across the border to flee a country in disarray. Those that remained suffer from serious malnutrition. The country’s GDP is only half of what it was. No further indicator is required to declare this a failed state.

When the opposition won control of the Venezuela’s Congress two years ago, the tyrannical Nicolas Maduro stripped the institution of all its powers. Last month, a Supreme Court justice fled the country to seek asylum.

The irony of all this is that Venezuela controls the largest confirmed oil deposits in the world. But the country could not use this remarkable asset because it does not have the capital, the technology and the skilled manpower to do so.

Having consigned his own Congress to a political purgatory, Maduro took his oath of office before what is left of his country’s Supreme Court. Nearly all countries in the western hemisphere refuse to recognize his government. Maduro, after all, eradicated the opposition before orchestrating his own reelection.

Most other countries have withdrawn their diplomatic missions from Caracas. On the day Maduro took his oath, Paraguay decided to cut its diplomatic ties with Venezuela.

The crisis-wrought country is deeply isolated. Its closest ally, Cuba, could do little to be of help except to buy Venezuelan oil by paying in sugar stock.

Yet Maduro and his cronies, many making money through access to the official exchanger rate which is never made public, insist on defying the world – and common sense. Like Libya and Iraq before, when tyrants ruled both countries, the Maduro government is an outgrowth of government control over a precious natural resource.  These tyrannies did not need the support of their people to rule – or so the tyrants thought.

The only way anyone can take a handle on the deteriorating economic situation in Venezuela is to adopt the US dollar as currency and invite the oil companies to rebuild drilling operations in the country. But both options run against the ideological creed the tyrant Maduro, as his predecessor Hugo Chavez, profess. They insist on nationalizing the economy as a means to bring the country to some insane vision of socialism.


I cannot believe the debate over the proposal limiting participation in constructing common towers for our telcos to only two companies still persists. That proposal is absolute nonsense.

The main proponent of this seriously defective proposal, RJ Jacinto, continues to hold out, defying all legal and practical impediments to it. He seems to be hoping that things will work out to favor his proposal when Gregorio Honasan assume the DICT portfolio.

Outgoing DICT chief Eliseo Rio has vehemently rejected the Jacinto proposal. Limiting participation in building the common towers is not the way to achieve the goal of providing the 50,000 towers we need to be in place over the next five years.

As things stand, the Philippines, with potentially a hundred million telco consumers, has among the lowest tower densities in the world. In Rio’s view, limiting the provision of common towers to only two players will set us back even more. It could even undermine the viability of the third telco player designated by DICT.

In fact, the DICT has begun the process of accrediting foreign tower companies to begin building the facilities we so urgently need. Among these are: American Tower Corp., China Energy Equipment Corp., Telnor of Norway, Singapore-based Frontier Tower Associates and HIS Towers. All of them are hesitating until the Jacinto proposal is trashed with finality. Only one common tower provider, Isoc Infrastructures, has signed an MOU with the DICT.

It is clear that for as long as Jacinto is insisting on his unworkable proposal, even if this is not formally adopted, he causes delay in the provision of common towers. As a result, the faster, affordable internet service we all crave for is pushed further into the future.

Frontier Tower executive chairman Patrick Tangney pointed out that the countries that accomplished the fastest rollouts of telecommunications equipment are the ones that required no license at all. Limiting the provision of towers to only two providers, says Tangney “would be a recipe for not having a lot of towers built.”

Senator Grace Poe, chair of the public services committee, pointed out that limiting the number of tower providers would be counterproductive. Besides, they will violate the franchises of the telcos and replace the old telecommunications duopoly with a tower duopoly.

The Philippine Competition Commission disagrees with the limitation of tower providers as well. They observe this runs against the grain of our competition policy.

Since the two existing telcos have their independent capacity to build towers, the biggest casualty of the delay in communications tower construction will be Mislatel, the designated third major player in the vital industry.

Mislatel has put in a performance bond guaranteeing the provision of Internet services nationwide comparable in quality to those available in Singapore in just five years. Unless the provision of communications towers is opened up for all who want to build them, there is no way the third player can meet its promised goal. It has not one communications tower standing.

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