ONCE again the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is in the news… news that once again displays its ineptitude, or is it wanton disregard for the citizenry?
This latest piece of news is the suit filed by the SM group against the government for reneging on its commitment in the building of the MRT-LRT common station on the North Avenue-EDSA-West Avenue crossroads in Quezon City.
Long story short, as indicated in the SM complaint: in 2009 the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) which is part of the DOTC and SM went into an agreement that they would jointly build a station atop the said crossroads that will link the LRT extension line from Caloocan and the MRT from EDSA. The agreement was approved by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).
In fulfillment of its end of the agreement, SM paid Php200 million in cash within seven days of the finalization of the agreement. And since the actual crossroads is right in front of SM’s North EDSA mall, the agreement also stipulated naming rights, naming the station “SM North EDSA.”
In the better part of the next four years technical meetings, planning and action were held between SM and LRTA/ DOTC. In fact, digging works wore already started in front of SM North. Then it abruptly stopped, and the diggings were covered up.
But in 2013, the DOTC announced through its press releases that it is changing plans and transferring the MRT-LRT station to the area of Ayala’s Trinoma mall which is across North Avenue from SM North.
At that time SM’s Hans Sy, interviewed during their stockholders’ meeting about the DOTC announcement, didn’t give it much thought since their P200 million and MOA with LRTA was signed sealed and delivered, and that their naming rights were secured anyway.
But nothing seemed to progress a full year later. Worse, the DOTC wants to even get rid of the naming rights but has not even returned the money. And all of DOTC’s malicious acts were confirmed when in May 14, 2014 – yes, just less than a month ago – the agency’s Special Bids and Awards Committee issued Special Bids Bulletin no. 06-2014 on LRT-1 maintenance stated specifically that the common LRT-MRT station will be on the existing MRT station at the Trinoma area.
Now for a business, Php200 million is no small bananas. If they invested it properly – which SM is known to do – they would have earned at least 18% per year on it compounded. But except for a passing mention by Abaya in one interview a long time ago, mum’s the current word on the money… have they spent that too?
That’s why the suit only came now… up until that May 14 document, there has been no indication what on earth was going on. Now it is officially documented. Government is officially reneging on its commitment.
In its suit, SM just wants one simple thing from government: live up to the commitment. It has been studied, has been determined legal and practical, and has been paid for.
Two things bother me about this scenario: First, is that either this government is too dumb or just plain callous about citizens’ rights. The administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III does not seem to have a grasp of what is proper, let alone legal. In this latest act – unfortunately perpetrated by the President’s fair haired boy Emilio Abaya and his DOTC – they have displayed that they don’t care about corporate citizen SM, just as they don’t care about the thousands of tired and weary citizen passengers of the MRT and LRT who have to suffer day in and day out.
Just as I am writing this, the MRT queues are still extremely long, the maintenance of the train system still in limbo and suffering from the corruption that its agency heads had bestowed upon it (no prosecution, just office suspension, mind you), and the land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), also a DOTC agency, is requiring people partaking of Makati City’s free shuttle service to the Central Business District to buy MRT tickets.
As I write this the LTO – another DOTC agency – has just started to release a pitiful amount of the new License plates for motor vehicles, very much delayed from their dates stated on press releases of September 2013 and April 2014. Renewal stickers for January 2014 onwards have not even been released.
As I write this, Metro Manila traffic has gone from bad to worse.
Most will just write this off as ineptitude. But I would say that these officials are implementing government policy. Covering past presidents as senior journalist, I have come to learn that the Chief Executive’s public pronouncements have the power of official policy. What he says will be done in a speech or public forum are marching orders for his people.
In a speech in Cebu during the last elections the PNoy clearly stated:
Maganda na siguro ang problema na binabanggit na ma-trapik sa EDSA, tama po yan, dahil marami ang nasa kalsada, buhay na buhay ang ating economiya kaysa naman walang trapik sa EDSAa dahil wala ng makabili ng gasolina na patakbuhin ang kanyang sasakyan (The heavy traffic on EDSA is a better problem, that’s right, because many vehicles are on the road because the economy is doing well. Having no traffic on EDSA, on the other hand, means nobody can buy gasoline for their cars).
To the President’s administration, this is a message that they are doing good work, and that all’s well. Their marching orders: continue what you’re doing (Or what you’re NOT doing).
The second thing that bothers me about this latest DOTC snafu is that it stinks too much of that evil “regulatory capture” that many reformists have been fighting all along. That the Matuwid na Daan mantra is nothing but lip service, but the weather-weather lang system still remains.
If we follow this line of thinking, the flavor of the month – or of the administration – it seems, are the Ayalas – well they have always been on the Yellow side of the political spectrum. But its magnetic pull has been quite amazing to watch. Just take a gander at the goings on with the way the Ayala controlled Bonifacio Global City (BGC) handled the opening of SM’s Aura, deploying even its own man in the inside of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), the same guy that has facilitated their favor in Camp John Hay in Baguio City.
Ayala, SM rivalry leads to roadblock, regulatory capture, reads the headline of the Cocktales column of Vic Agustin in Interaksyon.com, the news portal of TV5:
The Fort transmogrified into a gridlocked Makati on Friday and over into the weekend as the rivalry between developers SM and Ayala-government combine spilled over to a road blockade that marred the rushed opening of the SM Aura mall within the former military base.
The previously low-intensity conflict between the country’s leading developers became public shortly before the elections when the Fort Bonifacio landlords, the triumvirate of BCDA-Ayala-Campos groups, closed the McKinley Parkway in a last ditch-effort to stop the mall opening… BCDA president Arnel Paciano Casanova, an Asia Society alumnus who has taken the cudgels for Ayala and Campos, is steaming not only with the backdoor entry of SM into their Fort fiefdom ….
Of course, you can’t go wrong if you can arrogate the role of government to yourself, as clearly stated publicly by the company’s most senior officers, as clearly reported in this the Philippine Daily Inquirer Bizz Buzz of May 12:
ALI’s winning formula
Save for a few exceptions, company officials tend to be very reserved when speaking to members of the local press. But they do tend to speak their mind when being interviewed by the foreign media.
And so it was with a couple of ranking officials of property giant Ayala Land Inc. who gave a rather candid interview (jawdropping, actually, if you’re used to the conglomerate’s “stick to the message” approach) to Singapore’s ‘Business Times,’ which was published last week.
In it, ALI’s chief sales and marketing executive Thomas Mirasol explained how the country’s largest real estate developer was able to leverage the absence of a state-run urban planning or development agency.
The article said: Not having to adhere to a regulatory body’s land-use blueprint has enabled it to acquire large plots of land and develop them according to its own plan and design. And as long as the developer is paying its property taxes, building financial districts to attract multinational corporations and foreign investment, and providing infrastructure and services that benefit the city, the government has no complaints.
“The fact that there is nobody in the Philippines who regulates urban planning has been great for Ayala Land because we are probably the only company there that has the scale financially to take on large plots of land,” Mirasol said.
“By developing big tracts of land, we become the government; we control and manage everything,” he added. “We are the mayors and the governors of the communities that we develop and we do not relinquish this responsibility to the government.”
“We don’t have to rely on the government very much at all,” added ALI vice president Jose Juan Jugo, who explained further that, going forward, it no longer matters to the business community who the country’s president is.
“The political impact on business each time there is a presidential election has been significantly less and less— to the point where it doesn’t matter anymore who the president is,” Jugo said. “Because business would continue to proceed and nobody on the political side would want to do anything that would upset what’s happening in business, so they tend to be quite supportive of us.”
Wow. Talk about being candid. Daxim L. Lucas
And now this: the MRT-LRT common station.
So, is this government just stupid? Or is it purposely reneging on signed and sealed commitments to favor its hijos, the citizen’s interests be damned?
You tell me.