Presidential interventions
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - March 22, 2019 - 12:00am

We had re-electionist Senator Bam Aquino as featured guest in our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast forum last Wednesday. Taking a break from his hectic campaign schedule, the 41-year-old Senator engaged us in conversations about the burning national issues he wants to share his thoughts on.

One of the Otso Diretso candidates from the Liberal Party (LP)-led opposition ticket, Sen. Bam is seeking a second term at the Senate in the coming mid-term elections this May 13. Like fellow re-electionist Sen. JV Ejercito, Sen. Bam has been faring low in the mock polls of voters’ senatorial preferences. Although both are outside the mock polls for the 12-man Senate race, Ejercito has both the endorsement of no less than President Rodrigo Duterte and his very influential daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. In his case, Sen. Bam along with his fellow Otso Diretso Senate ticket, has been getting the brunt of presidential tirades in the campaign rallies of Duterte-backed candidates.  

But the first cousin of former president Benigno Simeon “P-Noy” Aquino III is unperturbed by the continuing barrage of presidential attacks against him, dragged his political clan that includes his slain uncle, the late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. “It’s just politics. I joined politics with my eyes wide open to these realities to get criticisms no matter how false or untrue,” Sen. Bam quipped to shrug it off.

In both the latest surveys done by the Social Weather Station (SWS) and Pulse Asia, Sen. Bam has been outside the “magic 12” winning circle. As he describes it, his name has been “nasa laylayan” (fringes or outer edges).

From the Feb. 24-28 survey of Pulse Asia, Sen. Bam ranked likely to place 13th to 17th spot with 30.4 percent voters’ preference while Sen. Ejercito was ranked next to him with the probability of 15th to 18th place if polls are held today.

But no worries because the Aquino blood in him looks at these survey results as a challenge to work harder and reach much wider audience of possible voters. He remains hopeful Filipino voters would eventually come to realize he would be a good, if not better, choice to continue working for them at the Senate in the next 18th Congress.

He draws his confidence and optimism from the track record he has produced for himself during his first six years in office as a Senator. In his first three years at the Senate from 2013 to 2016, or the 16th Congress during P-Noy’s term, Sen. Bam served as chairman of the Senate committee on trade and industry. As such, he authored and shepherded the passage of laws institutionalizing the Go Negosyo entrepreneurship for micro, small and medium enterprises, and the creation of the Philippine Competition Commission.

Under the 17th Congress that started from 2016 up to the present dispensation of President Duterte, Sen. Bam was initially the chairman of the Senate committee on education when he joined the “super majority.” He was able to push his pet bill the Free College Tuition Law and several other education-related local bills.

When the “super majority” broke up, Sen. Bam continued with his constructive engagement with the Duterte administration. He joined fellow LP Senators and its coalition partners in opposing the passage into law of the bill restoring the Death Penalty; the TRAIN Law; the Charter Change Joint Resolution; the Lowering of the Age of Criminal Liability; and the proposed 2019 budget bill. 

Sen. Bam reiterated his vow during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast forum at Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate to sway his colleagues in the 17th Congress to approve his pending bill to remove the excise tax on gasoline and other fuel products that were imposed under the TRAIN Law, or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion. He filed his bill in August last year to amend the TRAIN Law, proposing to delete the provision on excise tax on fuel products and revert to previous specific tax.

Should he manage to win the next Senate race, Sen. Bam vows to work for the passage into law of the latest Senate bill he filed in which he sought to establish a super body that will oversee the various water agencies of the government. He believes the proposed creation of a Department of Water, Irrigation, Sewage and Sanitation Resource Management would prevent a repeat of the water shortage that burdened thousands of Metro Manila residents that no one in the government would take responsibility for.

Actually, Sen. Bam’s bill came before Malacañang announced President Duterte might issue an Executive Order (EO) that seeks to address the water crisis and proposes to turn the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) into a body that will craft policies on water-related issues.

As of last count of Malacañang, there are as many as 32 state agencies involved in the country’s water sector. 

These agencies responsible for water, irrigation, sewage, and sanitation management include the NWRB; the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA); the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS); the National Irrigation Administration (NIA); and a host of local water districts (LWDs) and rural waterworks and sanitation associations (RWSAs).

But Republic Act (RA) 10149 reclassified these water agencies and placed them under the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCCs) along with other state-run agencies. Under RA 10149, the Governance Commission became the central advisory and oversight body to determine the relevance and evaluate the performance of GOCCs. It also has the power to ascertain whether or not GOCCs should be reorganized, merged, streamlined, abolished, or privatized.

It took President Duterte to step into and untangle the obvious mismanaged water shortage problem in Metro Manila under the helm of the MWSS. The latest official word from Malacañang points to a possible presidential intervention to create a Department of Water as an offshoot of this problem. If indeed it will be created, pardon the idiom, will these problems be water under the bridge?

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