THE adjournment sine die of the 16th Congress last Monday also saw the “graduation” of six senators who had ended their second consecutive six-year term: Juan Ponce Enrile, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Pia Cayetano, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid.
Of the six, I covered JPE the longest – and for good reason. He has the longest stint in the legislature among them, with four terms in the Senate and one term in the House. I first covered him at the Regular Batasan (1984-1986), at the House in the 9th Congress, and at the Senate until I ended my stint as Senate reporter for the Manila Times three years ago.
JPE is still mentally sharp which belies his age, 92. His debates with Senators Nene Pimentel, Edgardo J. Angara and Joker Arroyo over many issues were very enlightening. He carried his work even as minority leader with gusto. One of the best majority leaders ever in the Senate, Kit Tatad, once said that JPE’s fiscalizing had led to the improvement of many priority bills, including the Electric Power Industry Rationalization Act. In many committee hearings I had covered, he would even supplement or dispute testimonies of supposed expert resource persons.
He used to be very temperamental and could ignore parliamentary decorum when incensed. He had tangled with Teofisto Guingona Jr., Nene Pimentel, Joker Arroyo, Jamby Madrigal, Alan Peter Cayetano, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Antonio Trillanes, all of whom also gave no quarters. In his valedictory address last Monday, JPE begged for the forbearance and understanding of his colleagues if he hurt them unwittingly or displeased them.
A blot in his name came when he was charged with plunder for the alleged misuse of his “pork barrel.” Last year, he was allowed to post bail worth P1 million that enabled him to attend Senate committee hearings and sessions once again.
Senator Miriam ended her public service this year after her failed stab at the presidency and continuing health issues. She and JPE are irreplaceable. Lapid, on the other hand, is expected to have a very able replacement in Senator-elect Manny Pacquiao.
More on the “graduating” senators in succeeding columns.
Tidings on telco deal good or bad?
The acquisition by Globe and PLDT of the telecommunications business of San Miguel Corp. for about P70 billion a few days ago has sparked a lot of debates about its impact to consumers and overall competition in the telco industry.
The public and even the government itself have been demanding improved coverage and faster broadband speeds from the two carriers. Some believe that these could be achieved by breaking the “duopoly” and bringing in a third player. But wait a minute! Didn’t SMC try to do this by seeking a partnership with an Australian carrier Telstra?
The entry of a third player never came to be. The deal with Telstra worth about $1 billion fell through last March so SMC did the next best thing – sell its assets “because the legal and commercial risks in the investment were far too large to take on alone.”
“This is a sacrifice we have to make to finally unlock the full potential of our high quality, mobile broadband spectrum faster and allow consumers access to its benefits thru the combined resources, network and expertise of the two carriers,” said SMC president Ramon Ang in a statement.
By giving up its quest to be the third player in partnership with a foreign partner, SMC immediately put to good use thru existing telcos its 700MHz frequency asset that has been lying idle for years and has failed to benefit millions of consumers. This we consumers hope to enjoy in a few months as Globe and PLDT are set to spend more without raising the cost of Internet access, in compliance with the directive of the National Telecommunications Commission. Globe said it would spend $750 million on capital expenditures this year, and PLDT, $100 million in 2016 and 2017.
Some economists with reservations about the deal have called on the newly created Philippine Competition Commission to review it. Their fears are based on their belief that a duopoly exists although facts point to a fierce competition between Globe and PLDT.
President-elect Duterte, who had earlier declared a plan to bring in a third player, said Globe and PLDT must be given a chance after their acquisition of SMC’s assets. For consumers, the two telcos’ acquisition of SMC’s idle telecom assets and planned expansion may actually result in better Internet services in the next three or four months.
This is much better than waiting years for the entry of that elusive third player.