FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - March 23, 2019 - 12:00am

This should help build our national pride. Later this year, the country will be hosting the 30th Southeast Asian Games.

The venue for the event will be the New Clark City, the first of several “smart” cities we are looking to build. A significant part of this new urban center will be the world-class sports complex now rapidly rising from the ground.

The centerpiece of the sport complex is the 20,000-seater Athletics Stadium. It is complemented by a 2,000-seater Aquatics Center. Nearby, the Athletics Village is an aesthetically appealing Athletics Village to accommodate all the delegations. It is surrounded by a 1.4-kilometer river park development with bikeways and jogging paths.

After the Games, the complex will surely become the Mecca of Philippine sports. After many decades of neglect, this is the first major boost for our athletes. They are now all training hard to deliver a respectable medal tally for the host country.

A brief tour of the emerging complex is enough to build the morale of our athletes. As host country, we are sparing no effort to properly showcase the nation’s achievement to the rest of the region.

At the center of the spirited effort to have both the facilities and our athletes ready for the competition is the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC). Even as the infernal squabbling between the Senate and the House of Representatives resulted in a large budget cut for the PHISGOC, the organizing team is not disheartened. Preparations for the event are estimated to be 8 percent ahead of schedule.

Response from the private sector has been encouraging. Corporations are helping out with the preparations for the venue as well as the training of our athletes.

There are moments, however, when the much-despised crab mentality appears to be rearing its ugly head. To be sure, there are rivalries between our sports institutions and jealousies over turf.

But recent developments perturb. In the midst of hectic preparations, the chair of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) has chosen to constantly criticize the PHISGOC. This is strange since Butch Ramirez of the PSC is part of the PHISGOC and is free to give his inputs in the board meetings of the committee.

Stranger still, the PSC chair has been criticizing the training of our athletes. It is the PSC’s primary responsibility to oversee the training. If it has been up to its task, the organizing team could focus its efforts on the other aspects of the preparation for the Games.

Ramirez is often joined in disseminating negative commentary about PHISGOC by another old powerbroker in the Philippine sports establishment: Surigao Rep. Butch Pichay. The rest of the organizing team are perplexed as to the real motives of these two.  


The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has referred the case of unmitigated cement importation to the Tariff Commission. A few months ago, the DTI imposed temporary tariffs on cement imports. The referral seeks to make the tariffs permanent.

Several considerations underpin the DTI’s action.

From only 3,558 metric tons in 2013, cement imports surged to almost 5 million metric tons by 2018. Imported cement now accounts for 15 percent of the domestic market. Of total cement imports, 75 percent come from Vietnam.

The surge is explained by many other things apart from the rise in domestic demand caused by government’s massive infrastructure program. Because no tariffs used to be imposed, imported cement turned out cheaper than domestically produced cement.

But some of the imports are considered substandard. A senior Vietnamese official admitted as much, saying exported Vietnamese cement was cheaper because they were of poorer quality.

There are other economic costs to importing what we already produce. It drains our foreign currency reserves and undermines the peso. It discourages new investments in cement manufacturing. At the most extreme, it threatens the jobs of Filipinos employed in the local cement industry.

Then there are the public safety issues.

Domestic manufacturers could be held accountable in the event the cement they produce is found to be inferior. It will be nearly impossible to trace and hold accountable those responsible for substandard imported cement. Those who make money from the importation are merely traders who set up no plants and employ no Filipino labor.

For instance, in 2016 the National Consumer Affairs Council warned that a shipment of cement from Vietnam amounting to 6,000 was contaminated by seawater. This was after the ship delivering the cargo sprung a leak. The contaminated product appears to have been sold down the market anyway.

Most major infrastructure builders avoid suing imported cement because of their spotty quality and because no line of accountability exists to guarantee the product. Much of the imported cement is sold to retail buyers. As usual, it is the poor that bears the risks brought about by substandard construction materials.

Our local cement manufacturing industry is not small. It directly employs 42,000 workers. An additional 125,000 jobs are contributed through the value chain. The industry’s sales of P155 billion account for 1 percent of total GDP.

It is, to be sure, a sector that deserves protection from dumping of inferior products from traders who bear no responsibility for the products they bring in, create no quality jobs for Filipinos and, in all likelihood, evade proper taxation.

Our consumers, above all, deserve to be safeguarded from substandard products.

These are the reasons why some amount of protective tariffs needs to be imposed and why a generous amount of port inspection of imported commodities is indispensable.

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