Jojo A. Robles

Nobody home

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When the President says he has to be in Zamboanga to oversee military operations and improve the morale of the troops, how can we be sure if that’s where he really is? More importantly, is it the President’s job to act like he’s some sort of military field commander at all?


Since last Friday, President Noynoy Aquino has been in Zamboanga City, according to his spokesmen, where he is supposedly directing operations against Nur Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front. Neither Aquino nor his people see anything wrong with this situation.

There is simply no precedent for Aquino’s absence from Manila to visit an area where armed conflict is continuing. There is no protocol which states that Aquino—who, as President, should always be protected from potentially dangerous situations—has to be near such a place for as long as he has.

Nor has Aquino’s presence noticeably improved the situation in Zamboanga and its surrounding areas. While Aquino made what he thought were the appropriate macho noises that a commander-in-chief should say to soldiers (“their happy days will soon be over”) and personally handed out boxes of “Cloud 9” chocolate bars to them, the fighting has refused to subside and swing in the favor of the government.

Indeed, after the first day of photo ops and sound bites, nothing more has been heard from Aquino in Zamboanga. We only have the word of his mouthpieces that he is still there—doing what, nobody really knows.

For a President who can’t even be bothered to leave his palace during calamitous events, Aquino is sure taking a long time playing field commander in Mindanao. The Chief Executive has been criticized for taking several days to officially act on the crisis in Zamboanga; but nobody thought he would try to make up for his usual slow reaction time by taking up semi-permanent residency there.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with Aquino staying in Zamboanga until the conflict with the MNLF is resolved. But Aquino must realize that he has generals and even Cabinet members who can oversee the military operations on his behalf.

Or is Aquino still in Zamboanga, really? No one can really say for sure.

Perhaps Aquino has already gone off to where he really wants to go, after establishing the excuse that he is playing field marshal against the MNLF. Perhaps he really is there, happily playing the role of Kibitzer-in-Chief in a real shooting war.

Either way, it’s strange that Aquino isn’t where he should be—at work in Manila, where there are many more problems to attend to, instead of pretending to be the commander of the troops in far Zamboanga. Assuming, of course, that he’s really there and not somewhere else.

* * *

And one of the problems that Aquino should be attending to, had he been at work here, is the recent decision of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System to roll back water rates. Some people even think that this is good news.

But of course it’s not, because MWSS wants to take the rollback out of the pockets of its two concessionaires in Metro Manila, who have valid contracts that dictate exactly how much in profits they can make. And this after the Aquino administration had earlier taken the perfectly logical position that it will honor the long-standing contracts of both Manila Water and Maynilad, which distributes potable water to the residents of the metropolis.

By declaring a rollback, MWSS is trying to put the final nail in the coffin of the Aquino government’s already moribund public-private partnerships. And, for those keeping score at home, the refusal of MWSS to honor the contracts of its concessionaires is just one more reason why no serious investor is plunking down actual money in a PPP project.

Of course, it was also MWSS which declared that the waiving of the income tax for the concessionaires is wrong, forgetting that it was the government itself that offered this incentive to bidders for the agency’s service areas. And ironically, MWSS is asking its concessionaires to cut their rates and pay income taxes that have been foregone in the past, even as it requires them to keep investing to improve their service to their customers.

What MWSS is attempting to do, while Aquino is busy playing soldier in Zamboanga and while Congress is suffering from pork barrel withdrawal symptoms in Manila, is violating the terms and conditions of perfectly valid and legal contracts—economic sabotage, really. It is also demanding that its concessionaires put in more money to improve their distribution networks while getting less income for doing so.

Where will these investors get the money to pay their own contracted debts, to say nothing of the funds to invest more in the services that they already provide? Is anyone even listening in government while all this —and a lot more—is going on and nobody is at home in Malacañang Palace?

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