Right after President Duterte appointed me as Chairman and de facto ambassador to Taiwan, we worked on a major investment project that both my predecessor and the DTI’s commercial counsellor had informed me as possibly ripe for the picking.
One of Taiwan’s largest steel manufacturers based in the industrial city of Kaoshiung was looking at the Philippines as a site for a stainless steel plant.
The plant would make use of our huge nickel deposits and other minerals to produce stainless steel sheets and extruded tubings which are in high demand all over the world both for construction projects and appliance manufacturing.
They were looking at Indonesia and Australia to source iron, as we did not have an integrated steel mill capable of producing the billets they required.
The Iligan project started by President Diosdado Macapagal foundered from a slew of bad loans and, later, neglect and mismanagement.
We enticed them to locate in the Phividec area in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental, where there was a guaranteed supply of water from a nearby river, and two power plants, one by a Japanese consortium and another by a Filipino company.
Apart from which, large deposits of nickel abound in the Caraga Region, next to the proposed site.
I had several meetings with their chairman, an 82-year-old self-made billionaire industrialist who owned health, educational, entertainment and hotel facilities in Taiwan, other than his core steel business.
The chairman sent a group of engineers to Misamis Oriental, and, through our efforts, got the interest of Phividec to lease some 300 hectares of flat land to them, beside the seaport.
The engineers found the proposed site suitable for their plant, which would hire some 8,000 locals and even middle management executives.
President Duterte, Secretary Sonny Dominguez and Secretary Mon Lopez approved of the project which would mean an FDI of some 8-0 billion US dollars.
DTI USec and BOI Governor Ceferino Rodolfo made two trips to Kaoshiung upon our arrangement and the interest was genuine on both sides.
The Taiwanese company was already starting to negotiate terms of the lease with the government GOCC when, on May 23, 2017, while President Duterte was on a state visit to Moscow, terrorists laid siege to Marawi, and a lengthy shooting war began.
Despite our assurances that Tagoloan was quite far from the area of conflict, the steel magnate politely withdrew its interest.
“Our engineers and executives are afraid to reside in Mindanao,” he said.
I told him that Marawi was some 140 kilometers away from Tagoloan, but he said, “no one wants to invest in a country where bullets fly.”
I tried to offer Cagayan’s export processing zone, just 14 hours away by cargo vessel from the huge international port in Kaoshiung, and with a soon-to-be-completed airport in Lal-lo, which was just half an hour away by air from his headquarters.
But CEZA did not have the required 300 hectares of contiguous flat land, and Port Irene was not properly equipped.
Later, two Chinese mainland firms showed interest in similar projects in Phividec, but up to the present, not an inch of earth has been moved.
I will always remember what the old chairman, who became a personal friend, told me about FDIs and their aversion to places “where bullets fly.”
The dashed Taiwanese investment project came back to mind when first, some senators railed against, and in fact succeeded in preventing the showing of a Hollywood motion picture in the country.
The film “Plane” depicted a plane forced to do an emergency landing in Jolo, Sulu, where supposedly, terrorists who used the Islamic faith as excuse for kidnap-for-ransom and pillage, abound.
Although the film was shot in Costa Rica, the supposed setting was the island of Sulu, where indeed, there had been many kidnapping and killing incidents involving foreigners which drew world-wide negative reactions and tarred the image of the country, particularly the entire island of Mindanao.
We can always reason that Davao or Butuan or Cagayan de Oro are miles away from such troubled places, but as in the Taiwan investment which failed, no one wants to go to any place “where bullets fly.”
Huwag naman sana, but even those foreign businessmen, who many have been enthused to take a second look at our country as an investment destination after the president’s successive sojourns abroad selling the country for FDI’s, may have had second thoughts by now, after the spate of highly publicized assassinations of public officials.
I always loved Dumaguete and the province of Negros Oriental for their serene beauty and, even better, the environment of peace and discipline among its population.
Most of it leaders may have been influenced by its center of learning, Silliman University, such that for the longest time, elected officials of the city and province were models of temperance and quiet dignity.
I had even considered residing in Dumaguete or Dauin for retirement, and tourists have discovered the place not only for the marvelous dive spots in Apo Island, Bacong and Dauin, but likewise for the genteel, laid back but un-boring Dumaguete capital.
Then came the dastardly killing in such an unbelievably daring fashion as what happened in Pamplona, where Gov. Ruel Degamo and nine ordinary folk were massacred.
Reported all over the globe, the massacre came after an attempt on the life of Lanao del Sur Gov. Bombet Adiong, and a Pasay City attempt on a Maguindanao mayor, apart from the killing at a makeshift police checkpoint in Nueva Vizcaya of the vice-mayor of Aparri Portraits of criminality in government.
Nothing demoralizes this society of inequality than crime going unpunished because of venality and incompetence or both together.
The matter of contract killings has to be seriously addressed. They are now an occupation, for some a livelihood, and, for the rest of us, a display of how weak our institutions are and how depraved some of us have become.
These killings are closely related to politics.
And they are intertwined with local government politics more than anywhere else.
The Local Government Code has given more power and responsibility to local government officials.
Unfortunately, the unintended result, instead of a grassroots exertion towards better standards of living for all that belong to towns, cities and provinces, has been more of a struggle for accumulation of power without the responsibility to use it for the good of all.
Instead it is used for the good of the local officials and their families, their businesses, their vested interests.
This selfish, irresponsible and unjust use of power has created more inequality and fostered the symbol of it in the proliferation of dynasties.
It seems this country has been divided into a series of kingdoms where ruling dynasties reign and fight tooth and nail, or shall we say with arms and armies, to keep them out of rivals’ hands.
This is how warlords proliferate.
Have we not heard enough of mayors extorting payments for business permits when large corporations or even ordinary business people want to do business in their localities?
Remember the telecom towers and what setting them up entailed through demands from local government officials for permits to build them and keep them secure in rural or even urban locales?
The same with any big business that needs to locate within local governments. Extracting what they can for their personal purposes rather than for the good of the people in the locality is the default move of local government officials. In the process, they stymie progress by keeping away those entities that can give jobs, provide social services, raise standards of living.
Without articulating it, perhaps by instinct, the idea of the dynasts seems to be progress only for themselves, and not for their constituents which ends up in a patronage society — people so poor, they can be bought, bribed, helped to buy them votes, loyalty, fear.
Another thing the Local Government Code has brought about is the total devolution of services like medical facilities, agricultural extension and such formerly national government services.
The result is poor health services as some local governments may be too poor and others too venal to provide them efficiently and properly.
Perhaps the rest of us are not aware, but lives have been lost due to their absence or poor presence.
So far when contract killings occur, only the paid killers are caught, those who paid them are not.
And even then the trials in connection with these crimes take the slow route of incompetent prosecutors, or is it paid prosecutors, same with judges, same with witnesses.
Only the victims’ families are left to rue the incompetence and venality. Their grief never ends. And a repetition of the incidents keeps occurring.
It is time we pass a law on standards of service for local governments and if they are not met, appropriate sanctions.
And while we are at it, whether in the legislature or in the executive or even at a constitutional convention, address the issue of dynasties or we will not be a true democracy, just a pretend one.
And now to focus on the other criminal outrage, the extortionists posing as airport security personnel at our airports.
Time and again caught, and time and again either dismissed with no cases filed or just transferred.
Then they go back into action.
Their evil deeds range from planting bullets on passengers’ luggage, to absconding with their personal property like watches and telephones when passing through the security apparatus.
Then, of course, the outright picking of pockets, lifting of wallets and whatever else their dishonest behavior leads them to do.
It is not enough to dismiss these crooks, or transfer them to other positions where supposedly they will not be able to ply their nefarious activities.
It is time to file cases against them and dismiss them outright from government service in whatever form.
If they can sue for illegal dismissal, let them.
The cases can go on till kingdom come as is the national wont of justice here and even if they win and will have to be paid for lost income, it will be worth the money to keep them away from the general public.
The Office of Transportation Security has just proven its complete incompetence in their recruitment, training and supervising of their employees.
I will go one step further than the suggestion to have all of the OTS employees fired.
I suggest the abolition of this office with all its personnel from the top down.
They deserve removal from government service and particularly security service for utter failure.
Start another agency from scratch and get competence, responsibility and honesty into the operation.
Drastic situations and intolerable conditions that cause the general public demoralization, pain and outrage need drastic decisions.
We are not talking of solutions here, we want punishment first. It may help bring solutions.