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Before stepping down, a P-Noy trip to Pagasa

/ 12:09 AM February 01, 2016

SPEAKING ABOUT the Kalayaan Atin Ito (KAI) student volunteers who last month visited Pagasa, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Palace was not against the idealism of the youth group that wants to assert the country’s claims to islands in the West Philippine Sea. It was concerned about the group’s safety due to “the risks of traveling in that area citing rough sea conditions.” Coloma added that “it was also ignoring warnings by China against these activities.”

If this were true, then why did the government not offer to transport the students by air and thus avoid the risks of “rough sea conditions”? It could easily have called on the Air Force to fly them to Pagasa, just as China used commercial jetliners to fly in planeloads of Chinese nationals to Kagitingan Reef.

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The fact that it was discouraging our idealistic students from visiting Pagasa only showed that instead of ignoring warnings from China, the Philippine government was actually scared of incurring the displeasure of the neighborhood bully which is now telling us that the Philippines’ occupation of these islands is “against the law and without effect.” Pretty soon, they will be demanding that we evacuate Pagasa.

By the way, various dictionaries define “bully” as one who intimidates weaker people with aggressive behavior or threats of violence.” We should always stand up to bullies because if we show restraint, more often than not this is taken as a sign of weakness and results in greater bullying.

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If the Aquino administration truly believes in the idealism and patriotism of our KAI student volunteers, it is only fitting and proper that the leader, President Aquino, himself demonstrates his love of country, his commitment to upholding Philippine sovereignty and maintaining territorial integrity, by visiting Pagasa before stepping down from office. Of course, to avoid “rough sea conditions,” air travel is suggested. Secretary Coloma should be part of the presidential party. There can be no greater demonstration of our resolve and determination to pursue what is fair and just within the framework of the rule of law.

Only a few days ago, Taiwan President Ma Ying-Jeou flew to Itu Aba (also referred to as Taiping Island) in the disputed West Philippine Sea. The trip was aimed at reaffirming Taipei’s sovereignty over the disputed islet. The Taiwanese president flew in on an Air Force C-130 and offered New Year greetings to residents on Itu Aba, mostly Coast Guard personnel, medical workers and environment scholars. Perhaps someone in the Aquino administration should have thought of the same idea—a P-Noy visit to Pagasa—instead of discouraging our students from such an undertaking and citing “rough sea conditions” as an obstacle. Incidentally, Taiwan has built an airstrip, a hospital and a freshwater facility for the island. Recently, it finished a $100-million upgrade of port infrastructure.

What have we done for Pagasa to show similar concern and interest for its inhabitants and those of neighboring communities?

Washington called Ma’s trip “extremely unhelpful” for resolving ongoing disagreements. It is very likely that Uncle Sam would also say the same thing about a P-Noy visit to Pagasa. Unfortunately, unlike the Taiwanese, P-Noy would probably heed Uncle Sam’s advice and stay away. Perhaps the next president can make a visit to Pagasa as his first out-of-town trip.

* * *

Two sides of “daang matuwid” (straight path):

One shows that the Philippine economy grew by 5.8 percent last year and remained one of the strongest economies in the world. In Asia, it was No. 4, after India, China and Vietnam. The six-year average GDP growth of 6.2 percent during the Aquino administration was the highest since 1978. During the term of President Corazon Aquino, it averaged 3.85 percent, followed by Fidel Ramos at 3.75 percent and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at 4.45 percent.

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Many economists say that growth during P-Noy’s term was not inclusive and failed to help the poor because of inadequate or inefficient social services, as well as “structural factors” such as costly energy and conflict in war-torn areas. Restrictions on local and foreign investments also contributed to less job creation.

The other side of the daang matuwid shows that serious corruption problems still plague the Philippines. According to the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, the Philippines’ ranking in 2015 dropped to 95th from 85th in 2014. Some 168 countries were assessed on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). The Philippines got a score of 38 and tied with three other countries in the 95th spot—Mexico, Mali and Armenia. In simple terms, the ratings indicate that we became more corrupt last year. This does not speak well of the daang matuwid.

Among Asean members the Philippines fell behind Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

As with poll surveys, when we are losing or falling behind, we have the usual apologists who blame the methodology for the negative results.

Just for info, for the second straight year, Denmark took the top spot, while North Korea and Somalia were the worst performers. The common characteristics of the top performers were the following: high level of press freedom, access to budget information so the public is aware where the money comes from and how it is spent, high level of integrity of people in power, and a truly independent judiciary.

The common characteristics of poor performers were the following: prevalent bribery, lack of punishment or erratic imposition of punishment for corruption, and public institutions that fail to respond to the needs of the people. One can understand why we are where we are.

Unfortunately, glowing economic statistics remain Greek to most Filipinos while prevailing corruption is an issue that many of us understand and continue to face in our daily dealings with government. We have a long and difficult road ahead and the results of the coming elections in May will determine if we move forward or we sink deeper in misery and suffering.

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TAGS: Kalayaan, Kalayaan Atin Ito, opinion, Pagasa Island, spratlys
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