Saturday, January 16, 2010

Opinion: Teodoro’s plans

Written by Marvin A. Tort / Sway
Thursday, 14 January 2010 20:57

Original Story:

Presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro, a former secretary of national defense, is proposing a national development plan that includes interconnecting the country’s main islands through a modern network of bridges or tunnels. Tunnels or bridges can be built initially to link Bohol and Cebu, as well as areas of Southern Leyte, he says.

“We are still trapped in the time of Roros [roll-on, roll-off ferries]. It is time we seriously consider linking the country through bridges and tunnels between the islands…. Hong Kong has it. Malaysia has it. Why should not the Philippines?” Teodoro was quoted as saying in a recent news report.

He reportedly envisions building a modern national road infrastructure and communications network to hasten economic development and strengthen government efforts to fight rural and urban poverty. At the same time, he wants more funds for local governments for disaster control and management.

And this can be done, he says, by asking Congress to amend the law to allow local governments to utilize more than 5 percent of their Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) for that purpose. The 5-percent limit set by law, he claims, is inadequate for effective disaster response and control by local governments.

Gilbert Teodoro is young, energetic and bright—qualities that can serve him well if and when elected president of the Republic. But other than having served in the Cabinet as defense chief, he has very little executive experience. Not as the CEO of a corporation, nor as governor, nor mayor, nor even barangay captain.

Having served as congressman of his legislative district in Tarlac province for several terms makes him a fairly experienced lawmaker, but not an administrator. And this, in my opinion, is the chink in his armor. In fact, it is highly debatable whether he performed effectively as head of the National Disaster Coordinating Council during typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng last quarter.

This executive inexperience is betrayed by Teodoro’s own recent suggestion of using tunnels and bridges as opposed to ferries, primarily because of the spate of nautical mishaps in recent months, and removing the present limitations on the use of IRA funds for disaster response and management.

To begin with, local governments are lucky if they actually get their IRAs on time. IRAs are the local governments’ rightful share in national taxes. In many cases, sitting administrations have been accused of delaying the release of IRAs, as well as pork barrels of lawmakers, either for simply lacking money or to irritate officials belonging to the opposition. And Teodoro would have realized this had he been at the receiving end of IRAs.

Even assuming that Teodoro, as president after May 2010, can convince the new Congress to remove the 5-percent limit on IRAs dedicated for disaster response and management, he still needs to urgently address the fundamental problem of lack of funds. And considering the government’s present fiscal state, this is going to be a very big problem for the next administration.

It is easy enough to make recommendations as to how local governments can make use of their money from national coffers, but perhaps one should first consider how to make such money actually available and accessible to them, if and when they need it.

Professors from the University of the Philippines School of Economics are actually suggesting the imposition of a national real- property tax or RPT to piggyback on local real-estate taxes, and whatever is collected through this tax can be used to augment the IRA. Had Teodoro suggested earmarking 5 percent of the RPT for disaster response, as he detailed how he would convince Congress and the people to accept the RPT proposal, then he would have made a more effective suggestion.

As for tunnels and bridges to connect the islands, that’s very old hat. The San Juanico Bridge is proof enough that the idea has been considered even decades ago. But the ferry system was deemed a more practical solution to date because it was easier to implement, and passes on to private enterprise the burden of providing for the service.

Had Teodoro taken up engineering rather than law, he could have also realized the difficulty of implementing his suggestion. Moreover, as a motorist he must have realized how the Department of Public Works and Highways has so far mismanaged the maintenance of public highways as well as of public tunnels and bridges. Worse, it remains unclear whether or not the road tax had actually fallen prey to the designs of corrupt and unscrupulous individuals.

Again, it is easy to suggest a project without detailing how you intend to pay for it. Given the present state of the economy and government finances, are Teodoro’s public-works suggestions actually feasible? Or maybe he plans to have such bridges and tunnels built by the private sector under build-operate-transfer arrangements?

One can only hope such a grand plan does not have anything to do with the fact that his uncle’s company, San Miguel Corp., is planning to put more money in infrastructure and is actually already part of the consortium building the expressway that will extend from Tarlac to La Union.

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