This time the world will witness President Aquino’s ineptitude as the Philippines hosts the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila this week. In contrast to the brand new surroundings that greeted them in past summits, even in 1996 at Subic Bay, the APEC world leaders and delegates will be treated to decades-old facilities.
The Aquino Administration isn’t just being stingy with its funds, nor is it faced with a severe budget deficit problem – the World Bank itself had pointed out that it was too slow in releasing infrastructure funds that this had pulled down our GDP growth.
Aquino just had not put priority on the APEC events. Or he was too dense to understand its importance for the country’s prestige. Or he was too busy taking out Chief Justice Renato Corona and other opposition figures in those early years when planning for APEC was crucial. Or he simply forgot to ask his Administration to work on it early enough. Have you ever heard Aquino or his officials talk about APEC before this year?
There wasn’t even a single meeting with departments and the private sector to discuss how the historic APEC summit – the second in the country after 19 years – would be undertaken.
By the time he and his officials realized that APEC was approaching, there wasn’t time to do what other host countries, recently Russia and Indonesia, had done: Use the APEC as an opportunity to build new infrastructure to stimulate particular growth areas and make their citizens proud that their countries could host such an important event with brand new equipment and facilities.
That raises an important question the Senate should, I’m convinced, investigate: If no new infrastructure and facilities were built for APEC, how could its budget – P10 billion – have been used? Even with first-class accommodations for the APEC visitors, along with five-star wine-and-dine expenses, it is hard to conceive how the cost of hosting this event could require a P10 billion budget.
With elections really close, could some of these have been siphoned off to boost the campaign funds of the Administration?
The delegates will arrive through Manila’s airport terminals, the newest of which (NAIA 3) was constructed starting in 1997, and which has swiftly become dilapidated. This incompetent Administration hasn’t really done anything to renovate or expand the terminals for APEC, even as the government keeps saying there will be 10,000 people arriving in and leaving the country for the event.
The world leaders will pass through the Kalayaan Terminal. I bet you wouldn’t know where that is: That’s the small concrete building in Villamor Airbase President Arroyo ordered built as the airport terminal for VIPs, for their security and privacy and so as not to disrupt the operations at the crowded international terminals.
The summit will be held in the Philippine International Convention Center, built four decades ago for the 1976 first and last IMF-World Bank meeting of their board of governors in the Philippines. I wonder if Aquino would admit to a curious foreign leader who might care to ask, that it was built by Marcos.
What the heck has happened to our country?
Nearly 20 years ago, President Fidel Ramos hosted the APEC summit in Subic Bay.
The world leaders and most of the delegates arrived at the brand-new Subic Bay International Airport, its runway built from the old short US fighter-plane tarmac by Hanjin Heavy Industries starting in 1993, and its terminal by Summa Kumagai.
A brand-new building was built for the APEC summit, which is now the Subic Bay Convention Center, still the biggest in Luzon. While criticized at that time, Ramos had seaside villas to house the world leaders, which after the summit were leased to business tycoons.
Ramos used his persuasive powers to convince magnates to build new hotels there for the summit. Expensive these facilities were, they made Filipinos feel that after the brownout and chaotic years of his predecessor, the country was starting to move.
The event put Subic on the world map as a site for investors, maybe even to the Americans’ chagrin that their brown friends in Asia had managed to make something out of its naval base. Imagine if the delegates had arrived in Subic through the old US military terminal, or were housed in those “officers’ hotels.”
Contrast Aquino’s build-nothing “pwede-na-yan” attitude to that of former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who designated Bali as the site for the 2013 APEC summit, using it as opportunity to improve the infrastructure of its prime tourist site.
A $270 million 12.5-kilometer toll road from the airport was built to decongest traffic on the way to the Bali resort enclaves, along with a $10-million underpass at a busy intersection. Whether given tax incentives or not, the international Sofitel Hotel and Westin Resorts owners were persuaded to build new hotels for the delegates, together with the convention halls for the APEC meetings. The Bali airport was also renovated and expanded at a cost of $95 million.
Russia, on the other hand, used the APEC summit it hosted in 2012 as the coming-out party for Vladivostok, which had been closed to the world during the Soviet era since it was the base for its secretive Pacific Fleet.
Russia even focused on the development of Russky island off the city, where the actual summit was held, as a tourist area. The Vladivostok International Airport was renovated to world-standards and two giant cable-stayed bridges were built from the city to the island. Government gave incentives and loans to the private sector to build inaugurated resorts and entertainment facilities on the island.
The Russians were clever enough to build as the site for the APEC meetings a facility, designed to be the new campus for its Far Eastern Federal University. What it spent for APEC, which gave Russia international prestige, also had made Russky Island a booming university and tourist town.
So much has been lacking in the Philippines’ preparations for APEC and so vacuous the government attitude toward it, thanks to this dimwit of a president. Russia started planning for its APEC hosting in 2006 six years before the event, and launched the massive infrastructure projects in Vladivostok the following year. Russian President Vladimir Putin made it his priority, and supervised the preparations himself.
In our case, Aquino issued an administrative order to organize the so-called National Organizing Committee for APEC 2015 (NOC) only in December 2012. With Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa as its chairman, the committee consisted mostly of Cabinet members.
I was told, though, that the NOC had never met, and had not completed the so-called master plan for the APEC summit that it was tasked to accomplish under the order.
Nothing had moved in the APEC planning until San Francisco Consul General Marciano Paynor was appointed executive director in October 2013. (He became ambassador only in April 2014). Paynor managed to bring together government officials to discuss what should be done for APEC, though they consisted only of those at the assistant-secretary level and below, and the meeting was just a workshop, held in December of that year.
(Even as late as November 2013, Paynor was still in the US as consul general: a foreign affairs department press release reported that he was guest speaker at a Boeing factory in Seattle.)
It isn’t clear how the group reached a decision to hold the summit in Manila. A source said that by the time the NOC’s secretariat got down to work, which was in early 2014, everyone assumed that Aquino had ordered it held in Manila. There was no proposal at all for any new infrastructure or facility to be built.
Instead, Paynor’s group had to focus on rather banal problems as how to manage traffic (declare the APEC days as holidays, and close designated roads); keeping the homeless out of the city (by giving them P4,000 to disappear) and dealing with anti-globalization activists.
Why on earth was Manila, a congested city that has become ugly, chosen as the site of the APEC summit, when other countries wisely designated not their metropolises but other less-congested areas? Even the US had Honolulu as the site of the 2011 APEC and Japan, Yokohama in 2010.
APEC events are really uneventful for journalists. They will, instead, be looking for sexier stories in Manila, which would most probably be on how the government got its unsightly citizens – the homeless – out of the city for the duration of the APEC.
What is strange about this APEC event is that, even as Paynor has had to rely almost entirely on his Foreign Affairs personnel since he didn’t have the stature to ask other departments for help, so many meetings had to be held around the country for APEC committees, sub-committees and even “steering groups.” In past APEC events elsewhere, the number of meetings held in the host country averaged only about 50, so that the host could focus its attention and resources on the leaders’ summit itself.
In this summit though, 179 such meetings were arranged to be held all over the country, stretching very thinly the NOC’s resources. Liberal Party stalwart Franklin Drilon was clever enough to get the NOC conduct 10 meetings in his hometown, Iloilo City, which justified the building of his pet project – the Iloilo Convention Center. Was it a scheme to spread around the P10-billion budget so it would be easier to conceal it as campaign funds for 2016?
Two meetings were held in June – the Workshop on Fiscal Management Through Transparency and Reforms and the Senior Finance Officials’ Meeting – in a town I bet you’ve never heard of: Bagac in Bataan, a third-class municipality: Why on earth would APEC officials meet there?
They held the meetings at the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar (Philippine Houses of Acuzar), a huge 400-hectare complex dubbed a ‘heritage resort’ for the Spanish-era style of its accommodations facilities’ architecture.
It is owned by Jerry Acuzar, father-in-law of Executive Secretary (and NOC Chairman) Ochoa, believed to be very close to Aquino. I hope he gave the government a hefty discount.
APEC in MANILA under Aquino’s Administration is not going to be an international event our country will be proud of. I just hope it won’t be as embarrassing as the tanim-bala episode.