Matters under the radar

(Published in the Dumaguete MetroPost 22nd June 2014)

No, this is not about Bong Revilla’s privilege song number.

Because, as I wrote about JV Ejercito’s pending political dynasty bill a few weeks ago, there are other, more important, and more pressing matters on the legislative table that run the risk of being ignored because of all this pork barrel brouhaha.

First, and closest to my heart, is the Rubber Industry. In recent years the price of Philippine rubber has been plummeting as a result of bad practices in the sector. Many Filipino rubber producers hid rocks inside rubber latex blocks to increase their weight or mix bark into cup lumps to increase their volume. This has seriously damaged the reputation of Philippine rubber. As it stands there is no action I know of being done on this matter both in Congress and in the concerned departments. I appeal to the more sensible of our legislators (particularly Sen. Cynthia Villar and Rep. Mark Llanandro Mendoza, chairs of their Houses committees on Agriculture and Food) to look into this matter and see what can be done. The rubber industry is dear to me – I finished college thanks to the rubber trees my grandfather planted in Kidapawan.

Then there’s the growing clamour for a One Negros Region here in sugarland. From the fringe call it was some years ago, the movement has gained such momentum that it now calls for National attention. Ordinary folks here in east-side Negros may see this as an issue that does not concern them (because there are no song numbers?), but this affects us a lot: with a Negros Region, we don’t have to go all the way to Cebu to process our PRC or NBI or other department business on the Regional level, and with the cities of Kabankalan and Mabinay being proposed as Regional centres the move will boost their economy. We’re hoping for an Executive Order, but a law would also be welcome.

And on this note let me digress and say that I’ve been flirting with the idea of voting for Mar Roxas for President if he ever decides to run. The guy’s track record as a legislator (the law on equitable education and the one on giving the lowest of conflicting prices to costumers) and as a minister (he did start the BPO boom, though he was only DOTC for a while many airports now have wifi, and he’s doing something to fight the growing coconut plague in Luzon) are impressive, and it would be no exaggeration to say he had laid the groundwork for our current economic growth. If he does something stupid with this Negros Region deal, though, I might get turned off. If he begins singing ‘Call Me Maybe’ I will change my mind completely.

But back to legislation. Another important matter that went under the radar was the Senate inquiry into the country’s abominably slow internet connection. Led by senator Bam Aquino, the inquiry sought to address the anomaly that we as one of the highest users of the internet also have one of the world’s slowest connection and one of the world’s most expensive. It is serious enough that, according to a recent feature by the BBC, it hinders our growth as a regional hub for technological advancement. The inquiry’s first hearing last May only began scratching the surface: the National Telecommunications Commission only labels internet connection as a value added service and not as a basic service, as per a 1936 law (a pre-War law governs our internet good heavens). This means it is outside of the NTC’s regulation and is only market-governed. Providers then say there is not enough infrastructure to accommodate the number of internet users (read: cost cutting) leading to congestion (read: Enrile downloading porn) and consequently slow connectivity. Additionally, they claim that some LGUs (I hope Dumaguete is not one of them) charge very high fees, leading to higher prices and less money for infrastructure expansion. The most pressing task now is for the legislature to stop showbizzing and begin working on amending the telecommunications law to make internet a basic service that the NTC may regulate it. Another hearing for the inquiry is set for July, and here’s to hoping Jinggoy doesn’t distract it with his rendition of ‘Paalam Kaibigan.’

Finally, the problem with Fisheries. Last Tuesday the European Commissioner for Fisheries has warned of a possible ban of Philippine export of fish into the European Market if it does not fix its fishing regulations. As it stands our fishing industry is mired with illegal practices, and our produce contaminated by unmonitored catches. The EU is a big market, and this yellow card is cause for alarm – imagine the billions in revenue we will lose, and the many fishermen who will suffer from the decrease in demand. The revelation of this regulatory inadequacy is also worrying for the environment, as current practices may be unsustainable (I’m not living in a world with no bangus, no thank you). Congress must look into this matter as soon as possible, or our fishermen will suffer, our coffers will lose needed revenue for continued public service, and I may not get a chance to eat kinilaw again.

With all these serious matters on the legislative table, doesn’t it make you wonder why you voted for Bong Revilla in the first place?


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