Train of trotBy Conrado Banal
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The boys of our leader, Benigno Simeon (aka BS), are busy answering tons of media flak over the alleged extortion attempt by DOTC officials in the P3.8-billion expansion of the Edsa MRT-3.
None of them says a word about the hundreds of thousands of commuters using the train system, the only alternative of the poor (we have 40 million of them in this country) to the hellish traffic on the road.
So the public must continue to suffer. Long lines of huddled masses form at the MRT-3 stations, from the train platforms, passing down through the stairs toward the street levels. The MRT-3 cars are still overflowing, the passengers forced to pack themselves together tighter than the grains in a sack of rice. Taking a horse trotting on its three legs is said to be more comfortable than the MRT ride.
Yet, DOTC boss Joseph Emilio Abaya over the weekend went out of his way only to deny reports that the DOTC blacklisted Czech firm Inekon that supplied the original trains and cars of the Edsa line.
Of course nobody in the Aquino (Part II) administration would dare say that the blacklisting was done officially. It is just that we know how things work in excluding a particular company in the award of government contracts.
The fact remains that the Czech ambassador in Manila came out with the alleged $30-billion extortion—OK, “attempted”—by officials of the DOTC, backed up reportedly by private individuals, with reports implying that they were close to our leader BS.
It was such a bold, never-been-done-before leak by a member of the diplomatic community. Do you think the boys of the administration would take it all sitting down? In business, nobody expected that the boys of the administration would start falling over the heads in rushing to do multibillion-peso projects with any Czech company, for that matter.
Now, lost in the din of the extortion issue was nevertheless this disturbing question: Why did the DOTC decide to do the MRT-3 project by itself, thereby, embroiling the entire administration in this extortion scandal, when it had received a proposal from MRT Corp., the actual owner and builder of the Edsa line, for the expansion project, in which the government would not spend a single centavo?
In 2010, the group of Manuel Pangilinan bought into MRT Corp., offering to the government $300 million in investment in MRT-3 to double its capacity.
At the same time, the DOTC took over the maintenance of MRT-3 by scrapping the contract with Japanese firm Sumitomo. More than 20 percent of the trains today no longer operate, resulting in jam-packed cars and bursting stations.
So, the DOTC trashed the investment of MRT Corp. so that the DOTC could do the project itself so that the DOTC boys and unnamed private individuals could extort $30 million—is that it?
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On July 3, our columnist Botchi Santos (Motoring Section) tackled the traffic woes along Edsa, a rather timely commentary since MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino recently splattered all over the newspapers his bright ideas to solve the Edsa traffic problem.
Santos made quite a valid observation about the choke points along Edsa that I personally must confront almost every day. Truly, traffic is always most problematic in those choke points, particularly on Taft, Kamuning, Guadalupe, Magallanes, Ayala, Ortigas, Cubao and the Trinoma-North Edsa.
One item in the column caught my attention: the effort of SM to help ease the traffic on Edsa. It seems SM Megamall volunteered to curve out a huge area from its own prime property—fronting Edsa—to build a bay area for public buses on the northbound Edsa route. This single measure helped to unclog Edsa traffic by the mall, providing untold comfort to commuters that, aside from Megamall customers, include everybody else using Edsa.
Earlier, another Henry Sy mall, SM North Edsa, constructed the first multicapacity bus stop along Edsa, again giving up a huge portion of its own land. You can see bus drivers behaving rather well on that part of Edsa, helping decongest the normally heavy traffic around it.
But our beloved MMDA of course messed it all by putting a U-turn slot in front of the Trinoma mall that served as bottleneck, slowing down northbound traffic in that part of the road.
MMDA perhaps can ask the big establishments along Edsa to consider the SM bus bay model, particularly where there is heavy foot traffic due to their own businesses. They are, on the northbound side, Trinoma Mall (North Avenue), Central Mall (Shaw Boulevard), Edsa Shangri-La Plaza (Shaw Boulevard), Robinsons Galleria (Ortigas Avenue), Robinsons Forum (Boni Avenue), Araneta Center (Aurora Boulevard); and on the southbound side, Starmall (Shaw Boulevard) and the POEA building (Ortigas).
In the meantime, the MMDA chair told us he would ban provincial buses from Edsa as a desperate measure to ease traffic on the most major of the major thoroughfares in the metropolis.
Boss, this group called SM already showed us a working design!
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If the Aquino (Part II) administration imposes the 20-percent duty on flour coming from Turkey, according to two groups of bakery owners, the price of pan de sal will go up to P3.50 per piece, from the present P3.
It sounds like blackmail. You see, the 20-percent import duty on Turkish flour is an antidumping measure.
Yet consumer groups even think that mere antidumping duties will be such soft measures that they do not protect consumers. The real issue with Turkish flour has always been its doubtful quality.
Only a couple of years ago, authorities revealed that their quality checks on the imported Turkish flour showed pest infestation, and certain shipments were already over the expiry dates.
It is true that the local flour industry was clamoring for the 20-percent antidumping duty, as they already showed the government that some large importers declared suspiciously low prices for Turkish flour. They were even lower than the price of flour in Turkey.
That, in international business, is known as dumping, which the WTO (World Trade Organization) punishes with the imposition of prohibitive duties.
Only last year, for example, the price of flour from Turkey was only $340 per metric ton, compared to the price in Turkey at $470 per MT. More revealing were the prices in 2011: imported Turkish flour at $388 per MT, compared to $600 per MT in Turkey.
Thus, Turkish flour ate into the market share of the local flour industry that employed thousands of people. Records showed that Philippine importation of Turkish flour rose by an astonishing 71 percent last year. The local flour industry was estimated to have grown by 2 percent.
Thus, the administration correctly saw the threat from Turkish flour dumping, which could kill the local flour industry, since smuggling in the past already killed local industries such as tire manufacturing and textile.
The antidumping duties, aside from bringing into the government coffers more revenue, should help curtail this unfair trade practice.
Here we have the lobby groups, claiming to be made up of “small” bakeries, threatening to raise the prices of pan de sal. Believe me, they are huge businesses, being the suppliers of all the retail establishments in the country. Obviously they are also the biggest users of dumped flour from Turkey.