On the subject of the unilateral abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement arising from President Duterte’s displeasure at the cancellation of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa’s US visa, one of those who should be at the forefront of the issue is remarkably passive and deferential. Sen. Koko Pimentel, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations, thinks that the Senate has absolutely no say in the termination of treaties; “the President may cancel it [VFA] with or without a reason,” he declared—despite the Senate’s constitutionally mandated oversight role in the treaty-making power of the President. The default tack, it appears, is to abdicate all responsibility to the chief executive. Pimentel even goes so far as to rationalize, unpersuasively, the President’s bewildering hijacking of the VFA vis-à-vis Dela Rosa’s visa: “It’s only timing,” Pimentel was quoted as saying. “The VFA was already under review, and the President probably only remembered that when he heard that Senator Dela Rosa’s US visa was canceled.” (“Probably”?)
On other matters of national attention, Pimentel has been likewise muted. The country’s dismal showing in the latest international corruption index? Silence. On the startling dip in GDP, the lowest in eight years, and the self-rated poverty among Filipinos that’s highest in five years? Or the royal welcome the Philippine Coast Guard laid out for the “goodwill visit” of its Chinese counterpart, notwithstanding the many acts of harassment and aggression by the China Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea—something that’s right along Pimentel’s alley as chief overseer of foreign relations in the Senate? Crickets.
Something else appears to be preoccupying Pimentel’s mind these days. For instance, just when it looked like it was now smooth sailing for the motorcycle-for-hire pilot run, Pimentel tried to put a spanner in the works with an unusually belligerent call to declare the CEO of motorcycle taxi pioneer Angkas, Angeline Tham, “persona non grata.” In a Senate resolution filed Jan. 20 but released last Thursday, Pimentel called for nothing less than a Senate investigation into the “the high-handed, arrogant and irresponsible acts” of Tham, a Singaporean national, in a bid to “prevent similarly-minded persons from bullying and misleading Philippine government agencies and officials.” Angkas’ staging of a “mass indignation” ride in December last year and its “social media campaign [that] aimed to shame government agencies by providing false and misleading information…” constituted “blatant transgressions of our laws, misleading and bullying behavior targeting Philippine government officials that could only have been done with the explicit complicity of Angeline Xiwen Tham,” huffed Pimentel.There may well be basis for investigating possible violations by Tham and Angkas, but Pimentel should be the last person to show indignation and call for a taxpayer-funded probe, given what appears to be his less-than-impartial interest in this issue.
It was Pimentel who sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade endorsing the request of We Move Things Philippines president Neil Sherwin Yu for JoyRide, a competitor of Angkas, to take part in the pilot implementation of motorcycle taxis. He did so, he said, to prevent any monopoly from happening in the emerging motorcycle taxi services sector. Note that it was only Joyride that he endorsed, when a genuine push for free competition would have batted for all three—Angkas, Joyride and Move It, the third participating company—to be accorded equitable, nonpartisan treatment by the transport regulatory agencies.JoyRide initially denied it had any political backers, but later admitted that it did enlist the help of Pimentel to have its application endorsed to the DOTR. JoyRide spokesperson Noli Eala also disclosed that Pimentel was a “family friend” of the owners of JoyRide.
More: One of JoyRide’s key officers, Edwin Rodriguez, who is the company’s business development officer, is secretary-general of the Quezon City chapter of the ruling PDP-Laban. Who is the current president of PDP-Laban? Pimentel.
And some more: JoyRide is operating out of the same facility on Marcos Highway used for Pimentel’s Senate run early last year. Netizens were quick to share photos of Pimentel’s tarpaulins that used to adorn the frontage of JoyRide’s current headquarters. What’s the arrangement for that cozy relationship?
Pimentel is expending his energy and making his voice glaringly heard on behalf of JoyRide, but seems tongue-tied on so many other pressing national issues. His slip is showing, and it’s a troubling, unpleasant sight.
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