Concept News Central

Road warriors

The Metro Manila Development Authority Task Force Special Operations has the most unenviable job in government. The team’s mission, which is to remove sidewalk obstructions and apprehend traffic regulation violators, is an endless undertaking with the many recidivist vendors, irresponsible car owners and colorum drivers infesting city streets. That is not to mention defiant violators who confront members of the Task Force who are merely doing their job. Facebook is replete with video posts of Task Force operations where they have to take a stand against insults and rants of arrogant motorists. The daily stress of facing angry car owners whose vehicles are towed away for illegal parking and vendors who fight against confiscation of their carts and goods or demolition of their makeshift stalls is compounded by the fact that there are also erring traffic enforcers, police impostors and fake towing services that prey on unsuspecting drivers or car owners. More than the expletives the Task Force has to endure, there is also the risk of actual harm from violent motorists or vendors particularly if they are armed during the confrontation. Despite the risks and the demands of their job, what is admirable is that they strive to conduct themselves professionally, extending courtesy to compliant motorists but being uncompromising for violators. In short, they get the job done: traffic violation tickets are issued for illegally parked vehicles or the offending car is impounded if not removed within the five-minute deadline. Stalls illegally occupying sidewalks are demolished. It’s a wonder why many people can’t understand that the Task Force is performing a public service. The Task Force’s critics are actually doing a disservice to motorists and pedestrians who have the right to the safe and unhampered use of roads and walkways. Theirs may be considered a thankless job, but it’s heartening to see that the Task Force perseveres in the performance of its mission. Surely there are silent fans cheering for them when they clear sidewalks of obstruction and roads from traffic offenders. Metro Manila is in a big mess and the job of fixing it can be likened to those of soldiers battling anti-government forces. They have to take on the role of warriors. Metro Manila motorists can actually enjoy a smooth flow of road traffic and pedestrians can walk on unobstructed sidewalks without the Task Force’s intervention. But that can only happen if everyone observed road regulations and extended courtesy to fellow motorists. For now, we still need these gallant road warriors.

Wild, wild West!

Government’s latest initiative to crack down on crime by enforcing local ordinances and existing laws has drawn flak from critics. How justified is the Duterte administration really in its goal of ridding the streets of danger and criminality? The death of Genesis “Tisoy” Agoncillo, one of those arrested at the start of the drive against loiterers, was unfortunate; it is one death too many. But unless the investigation proves police brutality or inexcusable negligence led to his demise, it would be unfair to lay the blame on our Philippine National Police. Neither should it lead to the negative conclusion on the merits of the anti-crime campaign. In fact, the PNP leadership deserves credit for vowing to cooperate with any investigation to determine the real cause of Tisoy’s death, who reportedly complained of shortness of breath while in a jail cell built for six people but holding 138 detainees. As a result of the incident, PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde issued a memorandum last June 20 directing all police officials in the country, among others, to coordinate with local and barangay officials in the implementation of the anti-loitering drive. More important was Albayalde’s specific directive that all such operations be conducted in compliance with “existing Police Operational Procedures and with due regard to human rights and dignity of apprehended individuals.” Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, chief of the National Capital Region police office, bared in an interview Tuesday that out of the reported 7,000 individuals “arrested” in connection with the anti-loitering drive, only around 100 remained in jail—and that’s because they are facing various criminal charges. He also revealed the PNP is coordinating with local government units to impose fines on individuals accosted for violation of local ordinances. This move would not only address the critical lack of detention facilities but also deter violators. While critics are correct in saying that loitering is not a crime per se, it is equally undeniable that various crimes are attributed to persons or group of persons hanging around in certain areas with no apparent productive purpose. Stories abound about victims of mugging in alleys, stabbing, robbery and holdup perpetrated by “tambays.” It should come as no surprise President Duterte has directed the police to launch a campaign against loiterers because he has sworn to address not only the country’s drug problem but also the menace of criminality. It is the primordial duty of the State to ensure the safety of its residents. And based on the March 23 to 27 survey by the Social Weather Stations, the police drive against criminality is producing results. It showed fewer Filipinos, or 6.6 percent, fell victims to common crimes in the first quarter of 2018, compared to 7.6 percent recorded in the December 2017 survey. But it seems many Filipinos — especially critics of the administration — view democracy as freedom to do everything they want, forgetting that with every right comes responsibility. If the critics would have their way, they would rather have our society go the way of the wild, wild West.

Space force

Last week’s announcement of US President Donald Trump to add a space force to its five military branches did not surprise the world more than his generals. The US armed services are supposed to be cost-cutting after spending at least $3.6 trillion in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria from 2001 to 2017 based on estimates by Brown University researchers. There is no question as to capability as the US is a space-faring nation since the space race with the then Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s. The main issue is the price American taxpayers would have to pay to copy the Russian Space Force established in 1997 and to avoid being overtaken by China and India, the two emerging powers in terms of space exploration technology and capability. The Pentagon’s budget for space-related defense systems is around $7 billion this year and it plans to increase this to $12.5 billion for 2019. For the proposed stand-alone space force, the cost is still unclear. Trump’s planned space force takes off from a 2017 space corps provision under the defense budget bill that was eventually shot down in the US Senate last year. But this proposed military branch, lampooned by American TV shows as an army of camouflaged and armed astronauts trained to combat “alien” invaders, is actually a defense against Earth-based and orbiting threats to US national security. Trump is actually not initiating the militarization of space which has already happened technically with the hundreds of military satellites hovering above the atmosphere and ballistic missiles passing the zero-gravity zone during test flights. Trump just wants the US to keep its dominance in space wary of the competition from China, Europe, India and Russia in planetary exploration. In case of war, a space force would not be scrambling fighter spacecrafts to engage in orbital dogfights a la Star Wars. They would still fire conventional weapons to destroy, disrupt, disable or displace enemy military satellites and Earth-based military installations remotely using computers hidden somewhere in orbit, the US mainland, a stealth plane, a secret base in the Pacific Ocean, a submarine or a naval ship. Even with space forces, a space war is a long way to go, except in a sci-fi movie.

Sison’s ‘worst nightmare’

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chair Jose Maria Sison slammed as a waste of taxpayers’ money President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval of the second phase of the military’s modernization program. Reacting to Sison, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday said the exiled CPP leader was only afraid for the already outnumbered and outgunned New People’s Army (NPA), the armed component of the CPP, and its political wing the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Under Horizon Two, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, specifically the Army, would be better equipped to handle internal threats including the NPA and extremist elements in Mindanao like the Maute Group, which held Marawi City for five months. Mainly effected during the past dispensation, Horizon One saw the AFP acquire three second-hand Del Pilar-class frigates, 12 FA 50 trainer fighters of limited capabilities and two strategic sealift vessels. Those frigates acquired under Horizon One, with their fire-control systems and missiles removed before being shipped to the Philippines, are next to useless unless they are retrofitted with missile systems. If Horizon One left much to be desired, Horizon Two would really give the AFP some teeth. For land battles, the Army would be equipped with towed and self-propelled howitzers, multiple launch rocket systems, armored recovery vehicles, fire support vehicles, tactical radios, ground mobility equipment, and night-fighting capability, among others. The Army needs more modern armored vehicles if it is to have total control of the battlefield. In Marawi, the extraction of pinned down infantry became problematic because of the vulnerability of thinly armored personnel carriers to rocket propelled grenades. Said Lorenzana of Sison: “He would prefer that our soldiers are ill-equipped so that his (NPA) fighters will have an advantage.” Lorenzana, though, may be giving the NPA too much credit as it is already a spent force with many of its members having surrendered or have died in battle. AFP officials correctly termed its modernization program, at least insofar as Horizon Two is concerned, as Sison’s “worst nightmare.” And why not? Imagine the AFP having night-fighting capabilities too against internal threats while the NPA can only fight during daytime. Concept News Central

Energy Security

Reports that the OPEC cartel has agreed to hike their current production level by 1 million barrels more of crude oil per day is a welcome development that would help arrest the recent spike in global energy prices. Analysts are quick to point out that the OPEC move does not actually constitute increase in production output. It was merely to enforce their agreement in November 2016 to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day. However, the production problems made the actual cuts even deeper. The steady uptrend in the prices of oil reached its peak when the benchmark Brent crude hit $80 per barrel, the highest since November 2014. Market analysts point to the deep production cuts of OPEC and other major producers like Russia as the principal factor that drove oil prices up. It could not have come at a worse time for the Philippines which had barely begun implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) that included excise taxes on fuel. The result is a five-year high inflation of 4.6 percent recorded in May. Rising prices of basic consumer goods have prompted calls for suspension of the implementation of TRAIN. Compounding the problem was the timing of the US Federal Reserve to increase interest rates early this month, weakening the Philippine peso to a 12-year low of P53 to a dollar. Notwithstanding the conservative increase in OPEC’s production output it would certainly relieve in the long run the current pressures against our domestic economy. But the undeniable fact that our economy is hostage to the pendulum swings of the world oil market trends necessitates a deeper look into the agreement between the Philippines and China for possible joint oil and gas exploration on the disputed territories in the South China Sea. A study by the US Energy Information Administration estimates reserves of 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in Recto Bank (Reed Bank), the area targeted for exploration. While critics raised concern over China’s sincerity amid its aggressive posturing to enforce its territorial claim, there is wisdom in pursuing the joint exploration. If the estimated reserves are proven to exist, that is a resource that would remain untapped if we shun joint exploration. On the other hand, joint exploration and agreement on sharing of the resources could help ease our dependence on the vagaries of Middle East oil production. It is axiomatic that a reliable supply of energy security is critical for sustained economic development. It is imperative that we explore all avenues for improved energy security.

Despicable

It came off as a shock: The news that Dutch authorities have cracked a child sex ring in the Philippines offering babies, as young as five months, for online pedophiles. We have heard reports about syndicates offering young children to gratify the perversions of pedophiles, but babies! According to the reports, authorities have rescued five children aged between five months and 12 years old who were offered for online sex shows. What made it even more repugnant is that these children suffered exploitation from their own parents and grandparents. That’s the most abhorrent case of child exploitation you can imagine. Stories abound that even ordinary criminals find child sex abuse so repulsive that they reserve a “special welcome” to such offenders when they arrive in jail. Thus, the joint effort of Philippine and Dutch authorities to crush the child sex ring is commendable. But at the back of our mind remains the nagging thought of the likelihood the same practice is perpetrated in other areas of the country undetected, remaining under the radar of our authorities. It does not help that criminals take advantage of the ease of transaction and relative anonymity through the Internet and social media to hide their nefarious activities. As part of their social responsibility, social media platforms should take pains to include in their algorithm safeguards against child exploitation. It is imperative too for our law enforcers not only to partner with their international counterpart but also to keep abreast of the pace of technology and undertake proactive measures if they are serious in the effort of saving our children from this kind of abuse. Poverty is the usual alibi of arrested suspects, when asked why they resorted to such criminal acts. While that is not a valid excuse, poverty indeed can be correlated to a certain extent, to a life of crime. That is why the government must exert all efforts to sustain the momentum of its “Build, Build, Build” program meant to secure an inclusive economic growth in our country. There should be no letup in the campaign to protect our youth from this despicable crime, as well as similar kinds of exploitation, that would surely leave an indelible scar in their minds.

America on the retreat?

In January 2017, United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), undoing his predecessor Barack Obama’s move for America to spearhead free trade with 11 countries in the Pacific Rim. On May 8, the US withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal on Trump’s order undoing another Obama legacy set in 2015 despite appeals from allies that are party to the agreement. Trump’s move restores US economic sanctions on Iran for continuing its nuclear development program. Under the US sanction, countries and companies are banned from dealing with Iran. Doing so would cause them to lose their trade ties with the US. This is causing headache to European companies that have revived economic ties with Iran. On Tuesday, the US withdrew from the 125-country United Nations Human Rights Council over the membership of countries it called “human rights abusers” and hostility of the body to its ally Israel. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who announced the withdrawal, branded council members’ silence over the wrongdoings of other members as “hypocrisy.” Except for the latest rapprochement with North Korea, it seems Washington is in an isolationist mood. And Trump is not yet finished with his “America first” policy and impulsive geopolitics. Trump has just kicked off a trade war with China and his threat to bolt the North American Free Trade Agreement and insistence on putting a wall along the border with Mexico could add more cracks to US relations with neighbors. How Trump’s decisions would favor Americans or backfire remains to be seen. But the probability of polarizing the international community should be a cause for concern. Worse, the US may shift the center of gravity towards China which is aggressively establishing its superpower status economically, politically and militarily. Maybe Washington should calm down a bit and rethink its policies that could alienate its long-time friends and lead them to the welcoming arms of Asia’s economic powerhouse. Of course, Trump has the option of staying his course. An isolationist direction, after all, is not worrisome. Cuba, Iran and North Korea were able to cope and progress. And it may just be a strategy to reorganize and reestablish strength in the face of a more challenging world order.

Slow to lower prices

Go figure how gasoline stations in Bulacan and other provinces are able to consistently sell gasoline and diesel about four pesos cheaper per liter compared to pump prices seen in Metro Manila. Go figure how card-carrying members of a shoppers’ club are able to get three pesos off to the liter while Muntinlupa and Las Pinas residents get discounts of at least a peso per liter. The wide disparity in fuel prices from one gas station to another franchised by the very same petroleum companies somehow bolsters public suspicion of big profit spreads being enjoyed by oil companies. Question is, if oil companies are required at least 15 days of buffer stock, how come pump prices fluctuate on a weekly basis – every Tuesday – instead of changing every 15 days? It’s because local pump prices are benchmarked every Monday based on Mean of Platts Singapore (MOPS) and not on any of the three primary benchmarks based on actual crude prices such as West Texas Intermediate (WTI). MOPS is the daily average of all trading transactions between petroleum buyers and sellers as assessed and summarized on a weekly basis by Standard and Poor’s Platts, a Singapore-based market wire service. With MOPS, the peso-dollar exchange rate also comes into play in determining fuel pump prices as the peso landed cost of bringing in the finished oil products vis-à-vis their acquisition costs in dollars is computed on a week-on-week basis. On paper, there may be nothing inherently wrong benchmarking with MOPS. In theory, at least, benchmarking with MOPS should result in local fuel pump prices going down or going up based on a formula and a computation that is transparent and the variables checked for accuracy against padding. But how come local pump prices go up so fast with any slight upward movement in global oil prices as reflected by MOPS, and then too slow to go down when global crude prices have gone down? There is a disconnect somewhere in the benchmarking, in the computation of the landed cost and the final determination of pump prices that may be to blame for why fuel pump prices are slow to come down? Whatever the reason for the above, it is high time that experts tilting heavily in favor of fuel end-users take a long, hard look at the formula used to determine fuel prices, if only to guard against excessive profiteering.

Negativity

Business process outsourcing (BPO) in the Philippines is filled with positivity. To start with, the industry currently employs about 1.15 million people, according to the National Economic Development Authority, and job portal PhilJobnet said it remains a top job generator offering a total 133,300 call center agent positions in 2017. BPO jobs are attractive because the pay is very competitive and benefits include health insurance coverage, commissions and bonuses. The purchasing power of its workforce drive businesses and support families financially. The BPO industry generated $23 billion in revenues in 2017, accounting for 9 percent of the country’s gross national product. The Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines forecast an annual growth of 9 percent for the industry. It attracts foreign investments. In fact, three new BPO companies register in the country every week during the early part of first quarter of 2018, the Kittelson & Carpo Consulting found. The BPO sector even generates demand for property. In 2017, BPO firms took up 385,000 square meters of floor space and, for 2018, the forecast demand for BPO office space is 485,000 square meters, according to Leechiu Property Consultants. The positivity in the BPO industry, however, was shattered in the last two weeks when two call centers were raided by police and immigration agents for alleged cybercrime activity and immigration violations. One of the call centers based in Posadas Village in Barangay Sucat, Muntinlupa City, was not only operating illegally, but also defrauding Thai nationals in the Philippines. More seriously, fugitive foreigners involved in drug trafficking, including 16 Thais, were caught operating the call center. The other call center, named International Brandings Development Marketing, Inc. (IBDMI) based in Clark Freeport Zone in Angeles City, Pampanga, was raided on June 5 for allegedly stealing bank account and credit card information of foreign clients, who were duped into engaging in its online trading of stocks. Eight Israelis operating the IBDMI, which reportedly earns $1 million per day, were arrested during the raid along with 474 Filipinos employed by the company. All of them are facing charges of syndicated estafa. Over the last few years, call centers were also raided for employing foreigners without a valid working visa, for operating illegal online gambling games and for serving as a front for cyberporn or cybersex operations. With the latest raids on call centers, it seems the industry has been complacent, if not indifferent, to tightly policing its ranks. With criminals now masking their operation by disguising as a BPO business or call center, legitimate and law-abiding contact centers face suspicion from cybercrime authorities. If the good reputation of the BPO sector as a whole suffers because criminals are able to exploit it for their illicit activities, the repercussions would be serious. The credibility of the BPO industry is at stake if cyber criminals can easily operate call centers. It could give the Philippines that cybercrime capital tag and turn off foreign investors wanting to put up a BPO shop in the country. Worse, Filipinos might be duped into working for such call centers and get an unwanted criminal record when the police raid comes. For call center agents, it would help to be aware if their work is illegal and criminal to avoid getting into trouble like the 474 workers of IBDMI. Ignorance of the law excuses no one.
Scroll to top