Populist but uninformed
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - October 16, 2019 - 12:00am

It did not take long for some people to pick up on the complaints from motorists on SLEX demanding for discounts or removal of toll fees until the construction-related traffic is normalized. No less than Congresswoman Sol Aragones of Laguna and the private sector representative on the board of the Toll Regulatory Board (TRB) pushed for discounts or waiver of fees for 6 months. After watching commuters complain about the delays, I myself thought that the popular thing to do would be to discount toll fees. But it’s not as simple as we think.

The Skyway Extension project is not part of the original plan or project. However, authorities have observed a continuing build up of vehicle volume particularly at the Alabang and Sta. Rosa exits. The TRB expressed concern that traffic volume will seriously increase in the next few years and affect the speed and efficiency on SLEX so they asked San Miguel Corp. what they could do to pre-empt or prevent that certainty? As a result, the Skyway Extension project was put together and is being constructed. Like any and all such projects, pain comes before the pleasure whether it’s on EDSA, SLEX or NLEX. Now comes the populist proposal to suspend toll fees on SLEX for 6 months. I understand the sentiment but most of us don’t know or forget that Toll operators have been petitioning for rate adjustments for the last 7 years. But each time they request for a rate increase as provided for by law, it is deferred or denied as unviable and politically sensitive. After years of biting their tongue, NLEX had to go to an arbitration court or lose billions of pesos. They won.

Yes, the operators of SLEX and NLEX have billions of pesos in uncollected rate adjustments and revenues starting from 2012. SLEX has not pushed on the subject but the threat of a rate cut or 6 month suspension of toll fee could trigger a reaction that will be worse than the populist proposal. There is no free ride here just a populist proposal that could end up costing us more in higher toll fees long after the politicians and populists are no longer in the picture.

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The much-awaited decision of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal a.k.a Supreme Court regarding the election protest of losing candidate Bongbong Marcos turned out to be a decision not to decide. The Supreme Court did not dismiss the case they merely asked the litigants to submit their comments or position on a totally different matter: the desire of Marcos for the Supreme Court to review the elections in 3 new and additional provinces that were never part of the case to start with. This new motion already hints if not reveals that the Marcos camp discovered that their initial strategy backfired and the results of the SC review indicate that the results do not support their claim of fraud. 

So why did the SC decide not to decide? Some might say that the Justices concerned are thorough and leaving nothing to chance. Some might suspect that the decision to publicize the report of the PET is actually a self-serving move to create a public impression that the process is fair and transparent. But more importantly it might also be a tactical way for the Supreme Court to let the facts or details speak for themselves first and let the people decide for themselves who won round one. This presumably would soften the blow or make the ultimate decision a foregone conclusion. But there is no telling how people will read and interpret the report and how much more damage it could cause. The Supreme Court was expected to settle the matter but instead they have opted to extend everyone’s pain by extending the process.

What’s interesting is that a political analyst from UST, Professor Dennis Coronacion told us in yesterday’s episode of AGENDA on Cignal TV that no one has ever won such a case before the PET/SC. Beginning with Miriam Defensor Santiago vs. Fidel Ramos, Loren Legarda vs. Noli De Castro etc. The complainants either ran out of time or decided to run in the next election rendering their complaint moot and academic. It took the court one and a half years to review 3 provinces, it will take at least a couple of months for the litigants and the court to decide if the PET will review another 3 new provinces as well as several million pesos more to do so. Given the security risks and technical challenges of working in Mindanao that is under Martial Law, chances are it will take two more years to finish and by then it will already be campaign season for 2022. So chances are the case will be moot and academic BUT politically valuable.

When I challenged the logic of spending so much money on a losing proposition another political analyst this time from Ateneo University, Prof. Hansley Juliano pointed out that the protest of Marcos keeps the family name and the political brand in the spotlight, while soliciting the Streisand effect meaning the more you criticize or attack the name the more they get promoted. Simply put, it’s playing “The loser card”. Even if Bongbong Marcos loses his protest, for as long as he can stretch the game to 2021, they will have name recall. Bongbong might be labeled as the “Loser” but not necessarily any and all “Marcos”. There is Senator Imee Marcos who can run for Vice President regardless of whether she wins or lose because even if she loses she simply continues being Senator! That’s politics in the Philippines!

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Email: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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