Bicol’s favorite son
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - September 12, 2020 - 12:00am

Congress lost one of its enduring heroes when former House Speaker Arnulfo “Noli” Fuentebella passed away. Tito Noli was a Master Parliamentarian. He shepherded the passage of the EPIRA and is also credited for being principal author of that industry reform measure. Camarines Sur hosts the pioneer PARTIDO Development Administration in his district, hailed nationwide as a model for district development planning. Countless bills became good law with his critical participation in their passage. He was respected on both sides of the aisle.

Noli Fuentebella brought honor to his region by becoming the historic first House Speaker from Bicol. A gentleman of the old school who was both whip smart and street smart, he was my boss and second father. Our condolences to Tita Evelyn and her children led by Usec. Wimpy and Cong. Arnie.

None so blind as those who will not see. It was in September of last year that Delfin Lorenzana was embarrassingly “blindsided” in the deal between Dito Telecommunity and the AFP. The Secretary of National Defense (SND) was clueless about the installation of telco facilities inside our military bases. Having been shut out, he could hardly lend his imprimatur to the deal. After all, he was hardcore against POGO operations in the vicinity of camps, bases and forts for potentially harboring covert Chinese security operations and intelligence information gathering.

The SND subsequently did his due diligence. The Dito-AFP co-location agreement was the same as the ones with Smart and Globe. For the SND, espionage concerns easily yielded to equal protection and anti-competitive arguments.

“Of all the gin joints … she walks into mine.” But Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto asks the obvious question: “The military is not that big a landlord whose holdings are crucial in a telco’s operations. Why insist on building on military real estate?” If security and convenience are the telco’s reasons, shouldn’t there be a balancing of interests with the nation’s own security requirements? Justice Antonio Carpio would have us ask any cybersecurity expert. “It’s like allowing China to put a listening device in your conference room… I think it’s a no-brainer.”

SND has signed the agreement. The secretary is unabashedly pro-Philippines. No one can accuse this man of remotely being partial. If he is comfortable with telecom providers in the military towers, installations and facilities, that should be an easy check. The House may let this slide. But the Senate will make sure there is a good explanation.

Spring sinking lower than the source. The ex-deal is equally problematic. Equipment and services are given in exchange. The COA will look into valuation issues. Smart and Globe arrangements involved microwave relays and base stations. But it’s the accessory obligations that may be the weak link: “equipment, upgrades, services and training...”

Smart and Globe are themselves partners of foreign telecoms (NTT of Japan and Singapore Telecom, respectively). Dito’s China connection is top of mind because their corporations are compelled by Chinese law to collect information for the state.

To spokesman General Edgar Arevalo, the deals have been “very instrumental in better operations for our military forces, saving the government millions of pesos in telecommunication services and equipment costs.” Forget the millions saved. It’s about time we revisit the best option of the military establishing its own communications facilities.

New Bayanihan. Manila’s social services budget has to be the largest in the nation. The city hosts two local universities, six local hospitals, city schools, social amelioration programs, land for the landless programs, among others. Certainly, it has always been the largest, even among the component LGUs of Metro Manila. As a proportion of budget, it’s at 48 percent. Mayor Isko Moreno has been furiously purchasing testing equipment. His predecessor, Mayor Joseph Erap Estrada, upgraded capacity by provision of dialysis machines, CT scans and MRI. A well provisioned healthcare system translates to better preparation to confront challenges, specially epidemics and pandemics.

There is a historic difficulty in non-residents attempting to avail of services subsidized by local taxpayers. The new normal is that these services have been opened to all. Mayor Isko made it clear that Manila’s COVID testing facility is also open to serve non-Manilans. Earlier, Pasig showed the same inclusivity in how Mayor Vico Sotto assured that beneficiaries of city amelioration support need not be registered voters. It was enough that they were residents of Pasig.

The melody lingers on. The NTC has officially recalled all free television and radio frequencies assigned to ABS-CBN. This includes Channel 2, dzMM 630 on the AM band and FM 101.9. Before that, the company offered free use of its facilities/network for the government’s distance learning program. This is an astonishing display of maturity.

Their offer has been criticized by media watchdogs as meekness. Or something done out of terror. But it is not so much an effort to appease as it is a keen understanding of its corporate role. In their statement, they concede that this offer is intended to help government. But the operative phrase there is to “continuously educate students nationwide.” I see this as paying forward to aid the needy children; not an absence of virtue but rather an abundance of magnanimity.

In all that has happened, the once giant network has obviously not lost track of its mission – in the service of the Filipino.

For Mom. On behalf of my family, we thank you all for the prayers, presence, kindness and love on the passing of our beloved mother, Ma. Azucena “Marichu” Vera Perez Maceda. She made a difference in the lives of so many. The outpouring of grief has been extraordinary and humbling. Often, we find ourselves consoling rather than being the ones consoled.

Mom’s time with us was brief but meaningful. The story of her life could not have been more beautifully written nor more wonderfully played out. We share this saying from St. Therese of Lisieux that honors the way she lived: “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifices, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

I love you, Mom.

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