Hollow
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - July 4, 2019 - 12:00am

During the oral arguments on the petition for a Writ of Kalikasan filed before the Supreme Court, the magistrates asked the petitioners telling questions on matters of practicality.

In a word, the magistrates wanted to know how, if a Writ is indeed issued, the Republic might possibly enforce it across the wide expanse of the areas we claim in the South China Sea. The Writ will be nothing more than a piece of paper if it does not entail a feasible course of action.

The oral arguments happened close to the third anniversary of the undeservedly celebrated ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the petition brought before it by the Philippines. The telling questions asked in the course of last Tuesday’s oral arguments might as well apply to the ruling issued by the PCA.

To begin with, the PCA has no jurisdiction over countries that have not agreed to submit to it. It is not an agency of the UN. It is neither permanent nor does it actually do arbitration. It cannot rule on sovereignty issues nor settle territorial claims.

Those who huff and puff about our “victory” at the PCA have overstated the importance of this ruling.

Although the Philippines paid about half a billion pesos to the American lawyers who represented us at the PCA, the ruling was entirely predictable. The PCA ruled that certain shoals and reefs are indeed within the 200-nautical mile “exclusive economic zone” of the Philippines.

A quick check of the maps or a GPS reading would have told us that.

The concept of an “exclusive economic zone” is peculiar to the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS). The US is not a signatory to the UNCLOS. They cannot now invoke “exclusive economic zone” in their effort to hem in Asia’s rising superpower.

It is funny that some of our legislators proposed, after that little maritime incident last month, that we invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty to bring the US into the matter. The treaty says the US will defend us if our territory is attacked. That does not include the vast “exclusive economic zone” we claim. In this zone, we have “sovereign rights” but not sovereignty.

We do have a baselines law, passed during the term of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But that law applies only to us. It does not apply to the other countries who might have claims to certain features found in the South China Sea.

The “exclusive economic zone” we claim for ourselves includes part of Taiwan. Surely we are not about to enforce that under pain of war. We cannot even enforce it at Scarborough Shoal that we lost because of the bungling of the previous administration.

All the lawyerly huffing and puffing about the PCA ruling is really much ado about nothing. It is fool’s gold that should not blind us to the other strategic considerations we should weigh in our comprehensive relationship with China.

Lottery

The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) is now running a much smaller business. That means much less funds for the hospitals and assistance programs that benefit the poor.

The downturn in the PCSO’s business began when taxes were imposed on bets and on winnings. Those who once routinely placed bets on the various lotteries were turned off by the taxes. Sales declined. Jackpots shrank. A vicious cycle began.

Now, it seems, the PCSO is undermining its own business model.

For years, the PCSO has been very careful in assuring the public full transparency in its draws. The proceedings are televised and the numbered balls are plucked from the air in such a highly visual exercise. Credibility is most important to a business like this one.

All that might now change.

The sweepstakes office recently decided to open bidding for a five-year lease of the PCSO Lottery System (PLS) with an approved budget P8,323,990,649.08. That looks like a lot of numbers. It is much larger than the P2.732 billion indicated in the PCSO’s 2019 Annual Procurement Plan.

Also significant, the PCSO set July 8 as the deadline for submission of bids. It appears they want to complete the bidding and award of contract before the lameduck board bows out.

The amount set by the bids and awards committee is for a main computer system, a random number generator (RNG) and system/gaming application. The random number generator sticks out like a sore thumb. This refers to a computer-generated set of winning numbers.

Why is that significant?

Filipino bettors are used to seeing the numbers physically drawn from a transparent device. They will not likely find a set of winning numbers spit out from the innards of a computer credible at all. In which case, betting will tend to decline even more if a random number generator is used.

This might not be the most urgent point, however.

A potential bidder, Global Artificial Intelligent Masters Inc. has asked the Mandaluyong regional trial court to issue a temporary restraining order against the conduct of the PCSO bidding. The complainant claims the bidding requirements were tailored to suit a preferred company in violation of several provisions in the Procurement Act.

To suit its own requirements about the bidder having a “similar contract” elsewhere, the PCSO should do a global market research. It has not done that.

The complainant also claims that by bidding for a main computer system with a random number generator, the PCSO is acting beyond its statutory limits. Only Pagcor is empowered “to authorize, license and regulate games of chance, games of cards and games of numbers.”

PERMANENT COURT OF ARBITRATION SUPREME COURT WRIT OF KALIKASAN
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