Wednesday, June 28, 2006

BCDA rebuffed

HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes
The Philippine Star

The Northern Luzon business community appears to have won the initial round in its bitter tiff with the beleaguered Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and its subsidiary, the Poro Point Management Corp. over the issue of the attempted takeover by these agencies of the Poro Point seaport from its current private operator.

It will be recalled that the region’s businessmen raised a howl when they found out about the takeover move, fearing this would set a bad precedent and send the wrong signals to local and international investors who may be worried about how BCDA is treating investors. They said they saw no legal nor moral basis for the seizure of the facility, noting that the operator, Bulk Handlers Inc. (BHI), has faithfully kept its part of a 1999 deal with BCDA despite the latter’s apparent breach when it failed deliver several hectares of land in Poro Point to BHI.

Thanks to the courageous judges of the San Fernando, La Union regional trial court who bucked alleged pressure for them to hold their reins on this case, BCDA and PPMC suffered legal blows after the court slapped them with a temporary restraining order, and later with a writ of preliminary injunction.

At this point, the two agencies cannot proceed with the planned takeover reportedly engineered by two Singsons: BCDA and PPMC chair Filadelfo Singson-Rojas, a former Yuchengco junior employee; and Felix Singson-Racadio, PPMC president and allegedly Singson-Rojas‚ relative.

The ruckus has raised a lot of questions.

For one, was the bungled takeover plot hatched under the very nose of former AFP chief and now BCDA president Narciso Abaya? The business community found Abaya’s statement after the takeover plot was divulged by national media both comic and sad. Comic, because Abaya appeared to be clumsily dissociating himself from the potential legal mess triggered by the Singsons by saying "Only the courts can declare the Poro Point contract null and void". Well, the big question was why didn’t Abaya tell the Singsons this right away so the legal brouhaha could have been avoided?

Sad, because there is a growing and gnawing sense in the business community and political circles that Abaya is not really on top of things at the BCDA – a forlorn figure head, as some would describe. The big question, therefore, is: Was the bungled take-over plot hatched without Abaya’s knowledge?

The corollary question, of course, is this: Who really is running this giant government agency with billions of pesos and valuable real estate in its arsenal of assets?

One of our media friends from another daily cited an incident which tends to reinforce the fear that Abaya is not in control. Our friend said Singson-Rojas attempted to have the Poro Point take-over resolution taken up by the BCDA board after the TRO has been issued. The move by Singson-Rojas was made while Abaya was out of the country. So who really is in charge?

Now, the talk in media circles is that BCDA has gotten the services of several highly paid "consultants" to engage in an "adverse information campaign" against Poro Point. Isn’t this contrary to Administrative Order 103 issued by President GMA directing the continued adoption of austerity measures in the government?

We hope this rumor is not true and Abaya must once again disown this. But the analysis in media circles is that the "consultants" are loyal to the Singsons and not to Abaya, and are once again apprehensive that the reported black propaganda against Poro Point may have been hatched under Abaya’s nose.

Noticed the barrage of good news lately from BCDA attributed to Singson-Rojas and not to you, General?

The "consultants" have been reportedly trying to get some of our fellow writers to bite their spiel that "Poro Point is a haven for smuggling".

The "consultants" it seems, are unable to answer the basic question: How can smuggling take place at Poro Point when there are three or four major government agencies present in that facility – Customs, Bureau of Immigration and PPMC itself? Are the BCDA consultants accusing these agencies of sleeping on the job?

Further, our media friends point out that the Poro Port that is the subject of the PR assault has actually been cited as one of the country’s most efficient ports.

Our media friends, however, noted that the BCDA "consultants" have succeeded in getting their piece used by some tabloids. But the concern is that the "consultants" materials are making collateral damage out of Rep. Mikee Arroyo himself. One piece which landed in a tabloid courtesy of the BCDA "consultants" averred that the effort to kick the current Poro Point operator is due to the interest of the President’s son in running the facility.

If for this reason alone, Abaya must quickly check if these consultants operations are properly supervised by his agency. Otherwise, the Palace might be pissed off to know that a government agency is spending PR money to hit the President’s son. Making collateral damage out of the President’s son might make collateral damage out of the general in this operation that might have been set into motion while he was away on those frequent trips overseas.

Finally, if BCDA does want to hit on smuggling in Northern Luzon, our media friends from that region suggest that Abaya recommend the investigation of the ports that have token supervision from government agencies.

These northern Luzon-based journalists tell us that "Poro Point" is actually not just one but four ports. The current object of the smear campaign is the Poro Point Wallace port over which the PPMC attempted to take over and from which Abaya has dissociated himself.

There are three other sub-ports under the "Poro Point" label: Salumague, Currimao, and Sual.

We do not know if these ports are under BCDA supervision. But it might help convey that Abaya is still in control of his agency if he himself could conduct a probe on purported smuggling in these ports.

It might be that by putting the heat of the black propaganda on Poro Point Wallace, BCDA just might be missing out on where the real action is. Try Salumague, Currimao, and Sual, General. Our Northern Luzon-based media friends just might have some good leads for you.

Who knows, the black propaganda against Poro Point Wallace might just be a smokescreen to hide what is happening in the other three "Poro Point" ports.

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