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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bully China simply can’t restrain itself

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star)
Bullies are the same anywhere in the world. In schools or slums they employ bare superiority – size, arms – to subjugate. They do so for food or favors, basically unearned respect. Unable to follow rules, they contrive their own. They make others submit to their imagined authority, instead of to prefects like the police or schoolmaster. Yet they fear those real prefects, and hurt all the more the defiers of their bullying. 

As with men, so with states: China is a common bully. It’s evident in its shameless treatment of Southeast Asian neighbors, regarding its concocted sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.

Big and militarized, China wants neighbors to bow. Its claim over the sea is to corner food and fuel resources, so it imposes regional rule. It invokes the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that governs modern maritime relations. But whenever handy, it flouts the treaty with invented “historical right” over uninhabited reefs, shoals, and sandbars as “ancient Chinese islands.” It has massacred Vietnamese sailors and interdicted Indian ships for exploring the Paracels. It grabbed in 1995 Mischief Reef and in 2012 Scarborough Shoal, both rich fishing grounds inside the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone under the UNCLOS. Flaunting warships, China scolds the ASEAN for unifying against aggression and for a Code of Conduct in the disputed waters. Under China’s bully rules, nations that wish to deal with it may not bind together. They must individually pay homage, and accept supposedly equal “bilateral agreements.”

China is about to invade oil-rich Recto Bank and Ayungin Shoal, also well within the Philippine EEZ. So Manila sought succor from the UN International Tribunal for Law of the Sea (ITLOS). It had no choice. China has ignored diplomatic protests against shoal-grabs and ASEAN’s calls for peace. Manila cannot expect help from the UN Security Council, where China sits as permanent member with veto-power against any disputant. Nor can it war with the mighty Chinese military. Its best option is legal arbitration.

To Manila’s filing of an ITLOS case last weekend, China’s reaction was typical of a bully. It squealed that the UNCLOS provisos that Manila cites are puny compared to its pseudo-historic right. For going to ITLOS as the real authority, China accuses Manila of ruining bilateral ties and provoking tension. It warns of punishments for Manila’s defiance.

Right-thinking Chinese must be cringing in shame at China’s bully antics. Aggression was never part of China’s history – till today. It is trespassing not only in the South, but also the North China Sea to claim Okinawa. Recently its border guards encroached 16 kilometers into Indian Kashmir, first on the pretext of getting lost, then denying the incursion altogether.

The Chinese can only blame their communist leaders. The China Communist Party’s time has come. It had led the great nation in anti-colonial revolution, then to economic rise. Amidst prosperity and democratization, Beijing commissars can no longer justify one-party reign. So they resort to Hitler-like jingoism to fool their masses.

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The MRT-LRT single-ticketing system is three months delayed; the government must contract it out now, for completion in July 2015. With that Transportation and Communication Sec. Joseph Abaya dismissed any more objections from rejected bidder SM Group. Never mind that SM had turned in the best offer. Never mind its complaint that a rival bidder, in conflict of interest, has ties with the rail operator. The DOTC simply will push through with its preferred bidder.

Just like that. Mere deadline, not legality, is now the crass excuse for the DOTC to force through its questionable deals.

In the past, the DOTC at least employed subterfuge. Example is its bidding for the vehicle license plate maker. The P3.85-billion contract is for 25 years, therefore requiring a Multi-Year Obligational Allotment from the Dept. of Budget and Management. The MYOA is a document that certifies consent first of the National Economic and Development Authority, then Congress, and lastly the Commission on Audit. But only five months after the bidding did the DOTC realize it had forgotten to secure an MYOA. Without the MYOA, the bidding was void; a new one, under the all-important document, needs to be held. But the DOTC by then already had fudged the original bidding to make the least qualified of eight bidders brazenly the winner.

The DOTC secretly negotiated with the DBM for a belated MYOA. The DBM acceded, despite no consent from the NEDA, Congress, and COA. To cure the legal infirmity, the DOTC-DBM colluders tried to wangle a favorable opinion from the Dept. of Justice. But Justice Sec. Leila de Lima wrote back that she would not provide legal cover for a (mis)deed they already had done. Last Feb. the DOTC announced that the deficient contract would start this month.

What trickery would the DOTC employ in yet another flawed bidding – that to refurbish the Mactan-Cebu International Airport? In it the consortium of Megawide Construction-GMR Airports (India) gave the highest financial offer. Coming in a close second was Filinvest-Chiangi Airports (Singapore).

Megawide-GMR had a fatal flaw, however: conflict of interest. The DOTC bidding rules defined such conflict as when a director, officer, or affiliate of one bidder is also with a rival bidder, or a DOTC consultancy, and so can rig the bidding.

The lowest of seven bidders, First Philippine Airports, has Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) as lead partner. At the same time MAHB is a partner of GMR in constructing and operating two Asian international airports. MAHB managing director Bashir Ahmad Bin Abdul Majid in fact sits in the boards of the two GMR affiliates.

The DOTC legal staff already pointed out the infirmity to the bidding committee. But the latter seems bent on awarding to the party it wants, no questions asked. It’s but a matter of time.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

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