Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Editorial, Manila Times - July 15, 2008

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Lobbyists in congressmen’s clothing ONE of the most puzzling questions—but puzzling only because there are “millions of answers”—is why the many bills that have been filed to reform the ancient Maritime Code of the Philippines are not being acted on. As a result, nothing could be done to streamline the maritime industry of our country. And there would be no end to such scandals as Sulpicio Lines’ happy escape from liability and accountability, despite its record of disasters and deaths.

The passage of these laws, or their consolidation into a new Maritime Code, might be one key to the end of sea disasters like those that Sulpicio Lines has become notorious for.

A hint of why a better Maritime Code can’t be passed was seen in the House of Representatives’ hearings on the sinking of the flagship of Sulpicio Lines Inc., the MV Princess of the Stars. Despite public opinion and a number of editorials, columns and broadcast commentaries asking for a thorough probe into the circumstances of the sinking, the House investigation did not at first (and maybe until now) seem to be going anywhere. It was obvious that there were enough congressmen whose moves worked against their colleagues whose aims were to dig up the truth and, if supported by correct findings, declare Sulpicio liable.

In fact, one of the questions bothering those who wish to reform the maritime industry and create a new Maritime Code is why the House opened its hearing as if to steal the thunder from the investigation of the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI). The members of the BMI have been doing quite an effective job. Sulpicio succeeded in getting the most incisive members of the board to resign. We hope that does not make the BMI a less rigorous investigative body.

Muntinlupa’s Congressman Ruffy Biazon probably wrote the most comprehensive maritime industry reform bill pending—or gathering dust—in the House. He has reminded his colleagues that since 1999 there has been in existence a complete set of findings and recommendations to effectively prevent sea disasters. The findings were arrived at from testimonies at the House hearings on the disaster of another Sulpicio ship, the MV Princess of the Orient.

Against Congressmen Biazon, Roilo Golez, Congresswoman Riza Hontiveros Baraquel and a handful of others, some congressman moved in a way that seemed designed to deflect questions about Sulpicio’s culpability.

Similar behavior was seen in the House when it was discussing what has been passed, thank God, and is now called Republic Act 9502 or the “Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicine Act of 2008. Congressmen acting as lobbyists for the foreign pharmaceutical industry did everything to frustrate passage of the House version of the bill which the Senate had already passed almost half a year earlier.

At one point the foreign pharma people even made the mistake of passing on a note of instructions to Congressman Teodoro Locsin Jr., who promptly exposed the vile deed. That incident confirmed suspicions that some congressmen where in fact doing errands for business and other vested-interest groups.

These lobbyists in congressmen’s clothing are a despicably malevolent breed. They serve their masters to the point of destroying honest and patriotic men and women who are campaigning effectively for reforms to serve the common good, who expose acts and systems harmful to the Filipino people, the Philippine Republic and the economy.

Using some columnists and commentators who do their bidding, these lobbyist-congressmen wage media and innuendo campaigns to make upright congressmen, congresswomen and media people look bad, portraying them as takers of bribes. They invent the existence of a lobby fund in the service of invented vested-interest groups. This way they succeed in maligning the reformers and making other congressmen reluctant to support reforms, lest they too be stained.

These congressmen-lobbyists are traitors. They must be stopped and punished.

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