POSTSCRIPT / December 4, 1997 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Coping with NAIA customs, traffic mess, water shortage

HOW would you feel if your president, hat in hand, calls on the richest man in the world who then receives the visiting chief of state in just his open-collar shirt, denim pants and Nike sneakers?

That was how Microsoft boss Bill Gates received President Ramos, proper in his dark three-piece suit, when the latter recently made a pilgrimage to the Seattle redoubt of the multi-billionaire (worth $18 billion at 41). The President had wanted to see Gates at 11 a.m., but his host said after lunch. So, the call was made at 1 p.m.

The President came out of the meeting with Gates’ condoning the widespread use of pirated old Microsoft software by many Philippine government agencies. The catch was that when the government shifts to the new releases, it would have to pay. Accepting his nominal appointment as presidential adviser on things computer, the software king promised to visit Manila next year.

Some Filipinos resented Gates’ studied informality, but others said that was okay since Mr. Ramos got what he wanted. What do you think?

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SWARMS of homecoming Pinoys have started to descend on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, clogging it with their bulging Balikbayan boxes. Not a few of the arrivals are complaining of taxes slapped on their pasalubong.

There are heated arguments, especially over brand-new goods, as Pinoys invoke the time-honored practice of bringing pasalubong while customs officers insist on the proper duties. Knowing our homecoming traditions, many customs men are actually accommodating, but you have to help them go around the rules.

Avoid bringing in the items, such as appliances, in their original unopened boxes. Even if the customs inspector wants to look the other way, the spanking new boxes will make things awkward for everybody. Repack the items in the same boxes that had been turned inside out and taped all over to look old.

Or better still, travel light, then shop leisurely in the giant duty-free complexes just outside the airport and other places like Subic and Clark. Even your loved ones may prefer this since they can then personally pick their favorite gifts. Note also that with the peso still floating precariously (it was more than P35 last Tuesday), your dollars will go longer.

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IF your homesick heart is still in the right place, it should jump with excitement when you see the ubiquitous San Fernando lanterns glowing their warm welcome and the trillion tiny lights blinking like playful fireflies in the cool December air.

Other things you will notice as you wend your way through traffic are the huge pillars in the middle of EDSA being topped with pre-stressed beams for the tracks of the Metro Rail Transit. This is a 10-mile mass transport rail line from North Triangle in Quezon City to Ayala Avenue in Makati.

If you motor through the South Superhighway, you will see more massive columns which will support with outstretched concrete arms the toll Skyway, a non-stop overhead ramp being built from the Magallanes Village area to Alabang also some 10 miles away.

These projects will partly explain the traffic nightmare that will hound you everywhere you go. Yes, that’s right – everywhere. The buildup on EDSA and the South Superhighway has spilled over to other streets.

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BETTER enjoy your shower or soak in your bathtub while you still can. Depending on where you will stay, you might find yourself bathless or sleepless in Manila. The water crisis that we knew was coming has come.

Water is being rationed by shutting off whole districts at a time on rotation. Some people have to line up at public faucets or chase roving water trucks. They stay up till past midnight to catch the precious liquid when it trickles. The dams holding the raw water are drying up. Reservoirs are heavily silted and can hold less water, assuming there is water to hold. Trees protecting the watershed continue to be decimated so springs and rivers are drying up. Some water sources have been polluted, and therefore rendered useless, by indiscriminate garbage dumping. There is no system for catching and storing rainfall, allowing the runoff to drain into rivers and out to sea. Worse, there has not been appreciable rain lately. The situation has been so bad that we are now actually praying for typhoons!

Meanwhile, officials have found in the El Niño phenomenon a ready excuse for the mismanagement that has spawned the crisis. But has not El Niño been with us in varying degrees since the original (though unrelated) Niño was born almost two millennia ago? Worst, some officials have used El Niño to push their favorite projects remotely related to water.

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SORRY for saddling you with disconcerting news. But it’s better to be forewarned. When expecting the worst, your mind goes into Adapt mode to ensure not only your survival but also your sanity.

If I may give a piece of unsolicited advice, when you hear us in media whining, turn off your hearing aid. We’re just pursuing our avowed mission of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

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