Lost and found
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - February 9, 2019 - 12:00am

There has been a severe strain on the rule of law under this administration. The tokhang and extra–judicial killings of the past three years have left a stigma on our conscience that won’t easily be erased. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s first Philippine National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa was even moved to seek forgiveness from Caceres bishop Rolando Tria Tirona for all who died under his watch.

It is not just the drug war nor the amnesty applications; the quo warrantos or the West Philippine Sea. The stress is also evident in how the rule of law has been “weaponized,” according to Rappler’s Maria Ressa, recipient of inordinate investigative and prosecutorial attention from the State.

The latest chapter in the tenuous tenure of the rule of law is the government’s handling of the public bidding for the telecommunications industry’s 3rd major player. The tension is clear in how events unfolded in the Senate.

Mea Non Culpa. Applicant Mislatel violated the terms of its legislative franchise. Congress expressly provided within the franchise itself that such violations would trigger ipso facto or automatic revocation. Mislatel weakly disputed this when challenged in the House hearings. Instead, they sought refuge in the proposition that even if they are in violation of the franchise, a positive quo warranto act is first required to treat the franchise as revoked. In short, there is no such thing as an ipso facto revocation under any scenario. Their argument was that a Court had the authority to limit the exercise by Congress of its prerogative power over the legislative franchise.

That was not just a crafty argument, it was outright brazen. The Senate’s own resident legal guru, Senate President Frank Drilon reminded all that Congress, in the exercise of its constitutional authority to grant franchises, could very well decide to withhold or revoke the same, at its pleasure, when the terms of the franchise are violated (in Mislatel’s case, there was more than one violation). In the same way, it can also extend the franchise at its pleasure. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines cited jurisprudence (Divinagracia v CBS) where the Supreme Court itself acknowledged that “the viability of quo warranto in the instant cases does not preclude Congress from enforcing its own prerogative by abrogating the legislative franchises of respondents should it be distressed enough by the franchisees’ violation of the franchises extended to them.”

This hostility to Congressional prerogative was underlined when Mislatel dared invoke to the Senators’ faces the National Telecommunications Commission’s approval of its application. The message was: the Senate is inferior to the administrative agency it created.

Turno en contra. We all know how the Senate reacted. They didn’t. Their response is a watershed for future franchise violators, a prescription for demeaning Senatorial prerogatives.

The dream of better service is a potent lure for overlooking technicalities in favor of immediate access. The crying need for a third player dictates that care be exercised in the selection in order to squeeze the best deal. But it’s the best deal for us, not for the applicant.

From the outset, MISLATEL’s application was problematic. To be fair, the other applicants were equally deficient. But MISLATEL stood apart with an apparently charmed existence. It bounded and rebounded from weakness to weakness – getting the friendliest interpretations all around.

The Senate was expected to apply its usual critical lens in the matter. To us, it has become the Alamo where famous last stands are made specially under this administration. When this caravan reached the Senate via the usual route, passing thru the House virtually unhindered, we were prepared to be schooled. We wanted our wise Senate to show us how to fix this broken bid. But, alas, where was Custer?

Our Senators are obsessed with calling themselves the last bastion. Right now, they’re really looking more like a lost bastion.

A beach disguised as a septic tank. Residents had to be restrained from surging toward the inviting seascape unexpectedly unearthed through the heroic efforts of Manila Bay rehabilitation volunteers. Who knew that underneath all that years of debris lurked a stretch of sand?

For now, the surface pollution has been vacuumed. The bay water looks like any other beach of the 7,107 (save the Boracays and El Nidos). But the pollutants in the water itself, those invisible to the eye, are far from being cleansed. The coliform remains at toxic levels. Prior to the clean up effort, readings were at 330 million mpn (most probable number) per 100 ml. The highest reading from 8 quality monitoring stations as of last week was 35 million. Recall that the safe level is 100 mpn per 100 ml. Its like taking a dip in your own toilet.

The Manila Bay inter agency task force has suddenly assumed legislative powers it does not possess by prohibiting swimming in the bay. It is actually the local government, the City of Manila, that is empowered by law to have its ordinances apply over the expanse of the bay abutting the City’s coastline, i.e. Roxas Boulevard.

The City does prohibit bathing in the Bay, and in the Pasig river, by way of an ordinance passed back in 1956. The ordinance, though, does not contain any penal provisions. I’m sure that the City’s avowed purpose even at that time was to protect the health of the bathers. This is in contrast to the same types of ordinances at the turn of the century which also prohibited bathing, washing but for a different legislative purpose: the protection of our water supply.

Apart from relying on its own public works infrastructure, the national government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), is tapping prominent businesses to cooperate in River rehabilitation to augment the efforts in cleaning the bay. This is an improvement over the palliative care approach of bay or river clean ups. Initially, Taipans Ramon Ang and Lucio Tan have been approached.

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