By Jun Ledesma

The debt trap scare and the rock star Bato

RONALD “Bato” dela Rosa, a former top cop of the Philippines and now running for senator, may not have the tongue of fire of Otso Diretso (OD) candidates but he handled the subjects in the CNN-sponsored debate with a dash of finesse and native wit. He is a straight talker, has the clearest and doable agenda than his adversaries.
In dealing with drug problems, Bato takes his audience to the world of reality while his opponents portray that the drug problems in the Philippines are merely a cinematic creation. What makes candidate Bato dela Rosa distinct from the rest is that he has his feet on the ground. He talks from experience unlike those who take their audience to the conceptual or the abstract.

On the issue of disaster mitigation and preparedness, I like Bato’s assertion that there should be a law that would allow policemen to arrest those who refuse to leave their places of abode despite orders of forced evacuation and the imminent threat of disasters. Again, obviously speaking from experience, Bato is absolutely correct in saying that many of those who were buried in mud and other natural calamities are those with “the matitigas ang ulo na ayaw umalis”.  And this ex-cop who have seen the faces of death wants the Philippine National Police be empowered to arrest the hard headed who refuse orders to vacate. Erin Tanada butted in with a silly comment: “Hindi inaaresto ang taong ayaw umalis”. And there lies the difference between a man who wants immediate action and one who wants to go to court to act even on the face of emergencies and disasters.

Otso Diretso candidates were not amused with the answers of the son of a tricycle driver who went on to become the Chief PNP, they ganged up on him. PDP-Laban senatorial bet Raffy Alunan and CNN moderators Pinky Webb and Pia Honteveros have to stay in the middle to avoid the debate turn into a boxing match. Mind you, if I personally knew Bato he can take them all.

Water crises is a current issue and make it a good subject to measure how the Senate bets would handle the problem. It would have been a good issue for OD to show what short, medium and long term solutions do they have to address the looming water crises, especially in Metro Manila.  Sadly, on the part of OD, it is only Romulo Makalintal who offered a sensible solution: rain harvest which he said is being done in Singapore. Davao City has actually an existing ordinance mandating that. In the case of Singapore, the city-state has to resort to recycling its wastewater called NEWater because of the very small (catchment)pond to include reservoir which is situated in the city center. They also have to resort to Importing water from nearby Malaysia and had started using the desalination process to augment their water supply. But there is a sense in Makalintal proposal for President Duterte to act decisively on dismissing officials of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System for being remiss in their job.

The mistake of the other OD senatoriables is that they always bring into the equation the hate and fear China debt trap issue. Chel Diokno is against putting up Kaliwa dam where water could be sourced. He painted a grim scenario of disasters and dislocations of indigenous tribes. Gary Alejano abhors the idea of borrowing money from China warning that the Philippines might be a victim of the so-called China debt trap which Pilo Hilbay and Neri Colmenares also frequently used in their dissertations of various debate issues. Alejano also doubts China’s agenda in extending loans to the Philippines.

The issue of how to address the water crisis is lost in proclivity of the other OD candidates to anchor their argument on China and the fear of debt trap. In this era of diplomatic tug-of-war, there emerge new financial tools to win friends, like concessional loans and grants. China, for example, is building two bridges across the Pasig and had written off the billions of penalties when the Aquino government unilaterally rescinded the contract with a Chinese firm contracted by the Arroyo administration for the construction of a railway system from Tutuban to Clark. Furthermore, Raffy Alunan is partly correct in saying that negotiations with China are mostly in the Memoranda of Understanding and not yet agreements. He asserted that the Duterte’s economic managers will not allow the Philippines to go in the way of Sri Lanka.

Actually, China and the Philippines have signed agreements for several infrastructure projects but there is absolutely no basis to compare the Philippines with Sri Lanka. Forbes Magazine tells us why. Our gross domestic product ($314-billion) and that is about four times than that of Sri Lanka. Our GDP growth is 6.1% compared to Sri Lanka’s 3.70%. Philippine debt to GDP is 42.10% against SL’s whopping 77.6%. And here’s more. Our foreign currency reserves stand at $74722-million against Sri Lanka’s 1386167 - million LKR roughly US $7,900. And here’s the feather in the cap of Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez: The Philippines is better in managing foreign loans, smarter and more experienced. These facts argue against the debt trap scare peddled by the desperate opposition candidates.

Otso Diretso, ironically was helped out by somebody named Dindo Manhit who was introduced as a political analyst. He cited the issues about how Sri Lanka defaulted on its loan from and became a victim of China’s so-called debt trap. Unfortunately, his statement was passed on by the moderators as gospel truth. In fact, it is a myth propagated by Western countries. Of total Sri Lanka’s indebtedness, China’s loan to Sri Lanka is only 10% and 60% of which is a concessional loan. Sri Lanka was hit by financial crisis some time in 2008. It borrowed money from international commercial lenders to address deficits and then borrowed more money to dodge default.

Not one from among the debaters seem to know the story behind Sri Lanka’s debt woes but OD took the cue from Manhit and went on to lambast the Duterte for the “quiet” and secret financial negotiations with China and again warning of a debt trap. Although not part of his expertise, Bato threw in a rebuttal question which took his opponents by surprise.”Bakit, did you ask for a copy of the contract from the President? Again the ODs ganged up on Bato. It was a comic relief but then again Bato gained some pogie points.

On the drug issue, OD attempted to overwhelm Bato by citing collateral victims on the war on drugs and police indiscretion in running after drug syndicates. In less than 2 minutes in their stage show, two OD bets bloated their victims-of-drug war from 20,000 to 25,000. Anyway, Bato singlehandedly demolished them because, again, he speaks of the truth, from the heart with his feet on the ground.

He may neither be the best speaker nor the best debater but he won his case in the hearts and minds of the electorate. 




About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.