Friday, February 27, 2015


We do not know where that sanctuary is, that place, actual or figurative, into which President Aquino disappears when the going gets tough.
Not a few have noticed this disturbing pattern in Aquino’s behavior, his propensity to drop out of public view for days or weeks coinciding with stressful times. Sometimes, the absence is metaphorical: he is physically there but politically absent.
It took nearly four days after the Mamasapano calamity before Aquino materialized to discuss the matter with the people. That address, given full primetime play on television, was dull and evasive. It raised so much more questions about what really happened that a second address to the nation was booked the week after – to no avail.
Every year, the President of the Republic personally hands out the Ten Outstanding Young Filipinos award. This year, Aquino did not show face at the ceremony, which was held at the Palace for his convenience.
The backlash to his handling of the Mamasapano incident was massive, although it appears Aquino did not understand that until it was too late. It could be his work cycle or his personal habits: Aquino seemed to be responding in slow motion to a conflagration in the streets.
The same work cycle or personal habits might explain why scores of appointive positions, including dozens of senior posts at the PNP, remain unfilled. Among the most visible are three seats at the Comelec, the chair of the CSC, the head of the COA, the Secretary of Health, the chief of the PNP and several other sub-Cabinet posts.
Many of the appointive posts have been vacant for months. The adverse effect on the work of the national bureaucracy cannot be overstated. The Comelec will soon be preparing for next year’s polls. The OIC at the PNP, an organization now in the throes of demoralization, could not promote or transfer senior staff.
It does seem the national bureaucracy is in limbo. If the President will not do work, the bureaucracy will not move. Citizens will be short-changed.
The only time Aquino ventured out after Indonesian President Widodo’s state visit was when he popped up at Camp Crame, where relatives of the slain SAF commandos were processing their papers. The unscheduled visit dragged on for hours, a repeat of Aquino’s appearance at the Camp Bagong Diwa necro services.
It appears that Aquino was trying to compensate for missing the Villamor arrival honors by simply lingering too long in the company of the grief-stricken. It also appears the visit was a great chore for the President.  Soon enough he was arguing with the widows and allowing himself to say insensitive things that hurt rather than help the grieving.
After that, Aquino disappeared once more.
If the President is not functioning as he should, can the presidency be functional?


Two months ago, the arbitration tribunal hearing the case of Maynilad against the MWSS ruled clearly in favor of the former. The MWSS, in defying the ruling, puts itself above the law. The government agency is behaving in a manner that will scare away even more investors.
Each month the ruling is not implemented, the concessionaire loses hundreds of millions of pesos. This is not at all the rules-based regime investors want to be assured off when they bring capital into our economy.
The MWSS offers a nonsensical excuse for not acting on the ruling of the arbitration panel. It might confuse consumers, they say, if the forthcoming ruling on a parallel case filed by Manila Water against the agency favors MWSS.
MWSS has no right to use the Manila Water case as an excuse for not acting immediately on the ruling favoring Maynilad. While the two cases filed by the water utilities involve the same issues, they are two separate legal procedures. Obeying the ruling on the case involving Maynilad cannot possibly be contingent on the ruling on the case involving Manila Water.
MWSS’ logic is simply bizarre. It is also whimsical, imperious, arbitrary and possible criminal.
The two concessionaires sought arbitration when MWSS arbitrarily junked provisions in the contracts meant to protect the interests of the private investors who put in good money to modernize the NCR’s water distribution system. When the two utilities asked for the rate increases due them by the provisions of existing contracts, the MWSS instead despotically ordered them to bring down rates.
MWSS might be playing to the gallery, pandering to the populist crowd, trying to win political brownie points. That is not its role, however. Its role is to ensure long-term development of the water distribution system by ensuring a rules-based regime guaranteeing predictability and transparency.
If it cannot do that, MWSS betrays its mandate. If it politicizes everything, then everything will become uncertain. If everything becomes uncertain, no investments will flow into precisely those sectors crying out for modernization.
True, it is MWSS’ duty to protect consumer interest. It accomplishes that duty by ensuring ample and high-quality water for all consumers at a fair price.
It is not MWSS’ mandate to play the populist clown, to bring down water rates to unsustainable levels that might make consumers happy in the short-term but miserable in the long-term if no new investments are made in the distribution and bulk water system.
There is a fine line between adept regulation and populist pandering. That fine line must be observed, even if at certain points short-term populist demands might lose sight of long-term policy requirements. Utilities involve long-term investments. Those investments will come only if regulatory institutions govern with wisdom rather than myopic politicking.

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