Senate bets face off in UST debate

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Senatorial bets face off in a forum hosted by CNN Philippines at the Quadricentennial Pavilion on April 27. (Photo by Deejae S. Dumlao/The Varsitarian)

ELEVEN Senate aspirants sparred over basic government services, diplomatic ties with China and the administration’s war on drugs in a forum hosted by CNN Philippines at the Quadricentennial Pavilion on April 27.

Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano blasted the administration’s “secretive” agreements with China, adding that the government’s loans from Beijing were “unnecessary.”

“Dapat transparent ang mga dealings sa China, hindi ‘yung hindi natin alam… bakit nagtatago ang gobyerno kung ang interest ng bansa ang kailangan?” he said.

The government should consider “neutral” countries, or those not involved in the West Philippine Sea conflict, in taking out low-interest deals, Alejano said.

Former Interior secretary Rafael Alunan said the government should focus on fiscal responsibility and good management regardless of the countries involved. The country’s deals with China did not lead to debt traps, he claimed.

“Many of the [contracts] that we are talking about are still speculative in nature. We have not yet signed up to the kinds of loans that can lead us to a debt trap… to say that we are going to fall to a debt trap is premature,” Alunan said.

Data from the National Economic and Development Authority showed that 56 out of 74 infrastructure projects worth P2.1 trillion were funded by foreign loans.

Projects funded by loans from China include the P4-billion Chico River Pump Irrigation project in Kalinga and Cagayan provinces and the Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam proposal in Quezon Province costing P18 billion.

Only 11 out of the 64 candidates for senator were present in the debate, including Otso Diretso bets Alejano, Jose Manuel Diokno, Samira Gutoc, Erin Tañada, Romulo Macalintal and Florin Hilbay.

Also present were Alunan, human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares, former Philippine National Police chief and Hugpong ng Pagbabago bet Ronald de la Rosa, former Biliran representative Glenn Chong and Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, who is seeking a second term.

West PH Sea control

Colmenares said the Philippines should establish an independent foreign policy asserting the country’s rights over the West Philippine Sea, as the entire area is not under the government’s control.

The country, while waiting for another peaceful resolution, should gather the support of the international community, he added.

“Ang problema natin, lumuluhod tayo sa Tsina. Ang Vietnam, ang Taiwan, kayang lusubin ng Tsina. Anytime, matatalo iyon. They are not a military match. Hindi sila nanalo sa tribunal pero matapang nilang tinitindigan ang kanilang territorial integrity sa South China Sea,” he said.

He was referring to the Philippines’s legal victory over China in an international arbitration tribunal in July 2016.

Ejercito said the country was “no match” against China in terms of military might, so the country must exhaust all efforts to assert territorial rights through diplomatic means.
Hilbay said that the West Philippine Sea issue should be internationalized, based on the 2016 legal victory against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Energy, water crises

Diokno said the country should start using renewable energy sources instead of relying on coal plants that harm the environment.

“It’s about time we stop coal plants that are so damaging to the environment. I understand the need [for] these coal plants… [but] we will be locked in for the youth… unless we move to a renewable [energy source],” Diokno said.

Gutoc echoed Diokno, saying the country should shift to an “ecosystem-friendly” means of getting energy such as hydroelectric plants.

Tañada suggested a thorough review of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) to lower the cost of electricity, allow businesses to flourish and open more job opportunities.
Ejercito agreed with Tañada, saying that while the law allowed for the privatization of power plants, the cost of electricity did not decrease. He said the country should consider nuclear energy as an alternative energy source.

“The whole world is going nuclear… magandang [pagsamahin] na may nuclear at mayroong renewable [energy source]. Kailangan natin [ng] base load energy at renewable energy,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares said the Epira should be junked. The law, he said, was problematic as it permitted private companies to prioritize profits over the welfare of consumers.

Congress’ oversight power should be used to revisit tax provisions under the Epira, said Macalintal.

“Yan ang dapat pag-aralang mabuti, at hindi ‘yung para bang ang Senado at Kongreso ay parang kumakampi pa sa mga taong nagpapatakbo ng kumpanya. Dapat ang Kongreso kumakampi sa tao,” Macalintal said.

Republic Act 9136 or Epira, which was passed in 2001, mandates the Energy Regulatory Commission to level the competition in retail power markets, to prevent monopoly power following the privatization of National Power Corp. assets.

To solve the country’s water crisis, de la Rosa proposed the establishment of a department that would oversee the sourcing, pricing, distribution and regulation of water in the country. If other plans fail, de la Rosa said, the country should desalinate sea water.

For Macalintal, the government should establish a rain-harvesting system that would provide a steady source of water during the dry season, he said.

Ejercito said the government should invest in new dams to solve the water crisis.

However, Diokno said new water infrastructure would not solve the problem. The proposed Kaliwa dam, he said, would lead to environmental destruction.

“The proposal is to put it near fault lines and it’s going to result in the inundation of our katutubo’s barangays… Ang solusiyon ay isang comprehensive na polisiya ng pamahalaan,” Diokno said.

War on drugs assessed

De la Rosa admitted that the country was “still far” from being drug-free but claimed a “huge” improvement compared with past administrations.

“Sa panahon ni President Duterte mayroon pa ring droga, pero ang droga ay imported galing sa China,” de la Rosa said. “Noong panahon ng ibang presidente…. Ang droga hindi ini-import, ginagawa dito sa [atin]. ‘Yung malalaking drug laboratories marami, ‘yan ang malaking diperensya,” he added.

The death penalty should also be reinstated for drug traffickers, he said.
Diokno said that to end the drug trade, everyone involved should be punished, not just the small-time and poor drug pushers.

“Drugs cannot operate in this country unless it is organized. Alam natin na nakapasok dito ang mga kartel… nasaan ang mga ahensya ng ating pamahalaan, bakit hindi nila binubuksan ang mga account ng mga drug lord na iyan?” he said.

Killing drug users preceded prevention as there were not enough funds allocated for rehabilitation programs, Gutoc said.

Diokno said the country’s justice system should be fixed to solve the lingering drug problem.

Data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency showed that 5,050 people were killed in the administration’s drug war from July 2016 to November 2018. Human rights groups claim there were more than 20,000 deaths, most of which were extrajudicial killing.

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