By: Conrado R. Banal III, January 16th, 2013 11:14 PM

Aha! Finally the top honcho at the Department of Transportation and Communications, Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya, publicly defends a remarkable creation of his boys.

The DOTC bright invention is the rule banning any group that has interest in any air transport business from any bidding for any airport project in this country. The DOTC “ban” only blocks, automatically, the biggest conglomerate in the country today, the San Miguel group, from bidding for the new terminal at the Cebu international airport. San Miguel last year announced it would bid for the project, along with the Ayala-Aboitiz consortium and the Metro Pacific group.

It so happens that only a few months ago, San Miguel closed a deal with the Lucio Tan group for San Miguel to inject $500 million into the floundering PAL for a 49-percent interest in, and management of, the national flag carrier.

And so in a recent press briefing, as Abaya tries to justify the “ban,” he says that the DOTC only wants to be careful in the Cebu project in watching out against “conflict of interest.” That was it—no further explanation. This is a P10-billion venture, which will set the tone for other multibillion-peso airport projects all over the country. The DOTC only wants to be “careful.” Abaya of course did not say that, in effect, the DOTC “ban” instantly eliminated the competition, none other than San Miguel.

It does not matter that San Miguel, as the biggest conglomerate in the country, also happens to be quite loaded with cash that it plans to invest heavily in infrastructure such as airports and toll ways. That is perhaps the reason that, inside the DOTC, during the heated debate on the “ban,” the technical career guys vehemently objected to it, pointing out that it would seem to target San Miguel alone.

From what I gathered, two high officials at the DOTC also pushed for the “ban,” namely Rene Limcaoco (undersecretary for planning) and his subordinate, assistant planning secretary Jaime Raphael Feliciano, who were both political appointees of our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS).

From what I heard, the “ban” was only inserted into the bidding rules, which were already done in prior consultation with other government offices, when from out of nowhere Limcaoco and Feliciano suddenly pushed for it. (By the way, another guy with the surname Limcaoco, i.e. Jose Teodoro Limcaoco, is the president of BPI Family Savings Bank. I wonder how the Limcaoco in BPI Family and the Limcaoco in DOTC are related.)

Anyway, when the “ban” was still under deliberation within the DOTC, the incredible boys of our leader BS did not bother to get inputs from other government offices such as the Department of Justice regarding the legality of their clever idea. Nor was the private sector, particularly the airline companies, ever part of it all—even considering that the Cebu project is one good measure in our leader BS’s banner program, the PPP, in which the government intends to tap private companies to fund our enormous infrastructure needs.

Still, the DOTC boss himself comes out defending the “ban,” sounding like he is all for it, although he seems to be doing all the defending rather weakly. Look, the DOTC wants to be…well, “careful.”

Really, if being “careful” is what the DOTC only cares about, I wonder why the DOTC never even bothered to consult other government offices, particularly the Neda and the DOJ, regarding the controversial “ban” since it obviously targeted one and only company that happens to be the biggest cash-loaded conglomerate in the country today.

Besides, the DOTC seems to set aside the fact that airport operation is a highly regulated business. And so is the airline industry, for that matter. Do I take it that, by being “careful,” the DOTC does not trust the government to do its job in preventing airline companies and airport operators from doing any foolishness?

I mean, really now, when airport operators and airline companies do wrong, the government is not exactly powerless to make them suffer for their foolhardy ways. Abaya’s feeble defense of the DOTC-imposed “ban” implies that the DOTC is really the one government body that initiated it. It was not. My information is that some other group actually proposed it.

From what I heard, this little-known government office called the PPP Center got a little whisper from one of the proponents to push for the disqualification rule in the Cebu project bidding. Word went around business circles that the proponent actually approached the head of the PPP Center, Cosette Canilao.

Here is another info: On the sidelines of the recent press briefing, Abaya nevertheless intimates that the idea of the “ban” really came from outside the DOTC. What do you think—perhaps some other bidders are afraid that San Miguel is really capable of coming up with the best bid for the Cebu project? If that is the case, the eventual winner can only be the second-best. In short, we do not get the best deal. Again.

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