POSTSCRIPT / December 3, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Manila papers’ rivalry spills over to front pages

THE business and circulation rivalry between the broadsheets Manila Bulletin and Philippine Daily Inquirer has spilled over to the front page of the latter.

For its main cover photo, the Inquirer ran today (Dec. 3) a big color shot of the Bulletin annex rising in its Intramuros site in the walled section of old Manila. The building will rise 23 meters where the height restriction is only 11.5 meters.

The photo ran with an above-the-fold four-column head that blares “City Hall: Bulletin abused permit.”

Despite the building code restrictions in the historic Walled City, the Inquirer reported, then President Ramos allowed Bulletin to build a four-storey annex up to 16 meters above ground.

Not happy with that, it added, the Bulletin asked for and got Malacañang permission under President Estrada to go higher to 23 meters for five floors.

* * *

MANILA newspapers normally refrain from commenting on one another. When we have to carry an item of public interest involving another paper, we often do not mention the name of the paper.

But not everybody follows this unwritten rule. For instance, Today, which is published and edited by former Cory Aquino spokesman Teddy Locsin Jr., does not hesitate to name newspapers cited in its news and opinion columns.

That the Inquirer not only identifies but photographs the offending Bulletin structure and runs frequent negative stories on it is generally taken in press row as a declaration of war.

It won’t be surprising if the Bulletin, whose chairman is diversified businessman Emilio Yap, counters with its own series of stories on some stinking scandal involving its competitor.

* * *

BUT the quarrel of the owners of the big papers is usually not carried down to the level of the staff, who in the first place have their own problems to keep them busy enough.

If the debate is echoed at the lower staff level at the Press Club, the coffee shops and the kapihan (breakfast forum) that most hotels have institutionalized for media, it is usually conducted good-naturedly.

At the kapihan at Annabel’s restaurant in Quezon City this morning, columnist Neal Cruz of Inquirer commented on the Bulletin’s glaring violation of the height restriction.

Former Public Works Minister Aber Canlas, who habitually sits with the group every Thursday, nudged Bulletin editor Jun Icban beside him to prompt him to react to Neal.

Jun declined to bite the bait, saying with a smile that they don’t read the “other paper.”

There was laughter and the conversation went on alternately light and serious about other violations elsewhere of building codes and environmental protection laws.

If I know the Inquirer attitude (I think I know it quite well) and the war ethics of Don Emilio, we have not heard the last of this controversy over Bulletin’s alleged abuse of media power.

* * *

THE day of reckoning for Philippine Airlines is Dec. 7, its deadline to show the Securities and Exchange Commission a viable rescue package for the foundering flag carrier.

If it fails again to show how it intends to pay off mounting obligations and pull itself up from an impending crash, the creditors hovering above will swoop down on it and fight over its carcass.

But PAL Vice President Rollie Estabillo says resolutely that the airline will submit on time to the SEC a rehabilitation plan with or without an investor coming in to help bail out PAL chairman and majority owner Lucio Tan.

For a while there, it seemed that Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong was on course for a rescue — ready to pump in $100-million in fresh capital, take 40 percent of equity (the maximum allowed by the Constitution for public utilities), and actively manage the airline back to profitability.

* * *

BUT with what Cathay felt were false and malicious reports on the reasons for the recent suspension of its talks with PAL, it pulled out its top-level negotiators Yesterday (Dec. 2), it announced that the talks with PAL were off.

Cathay resented the reports floated in media that talks bogged down after it demanded the layoff of 200 of PAL’s pilots and 3,000 of its 8,000 remaining employees.

“This is pure nonsense,” a Cathay manager told this writer, pointing out that PAL has only 208 pilots and that it would be preposterous to dismiss 200 and be left with just eight pilots.

On the contrary, she said, under Cathay’s proposed plan, PAL will need 271 pilots — which means that 63 of the pilots who were fired in June will be rehired.

The reported scheme to lay off 3,000, it was added, was actually part of the retrenchment plan prepared by PAL itself last September, even before Cathay opened talks with it.

Cathay said it had not made demands for retrenchment of ground staff. In fact, in its proposed plan, Cathay seeks to reemploy some 500 cabin attendants.

* * *

INDUSTRY speculation has it that the bone of contention is not really the retention or dismissal of PAL employees but the uncertain fate of key PAL executives most of whom are likely to lose their high-paying jobs with the entry of Cathay.

With Cathay pumping in $100 million in fresh money, it is expected to insist on bringing in its own managers to ensure that it is able to nurse PAL back to normalcy and on to profitability.

The entire deal, however, is generally presumed to hinge on what some Malacañang big shots want. The theory is that a deal as big as the PAL buy-in will not be allowed to pass without somebody making big money.

Some Estrada cronies identified with other airlines are also being watched on suspicion that they want to torpedo the PAL-Cathay talks so another airline of their choice can take over as flag carrier.

* * *

THE family of the martyred Ninoy Aquino looks pathetic making noise about their trying to trace witnesses to unmask once and for all the mastermind behind the 1983 murder of Ninoy.

Why only now, 15 years after the fact? Why not when Cory Aquino was still president under a popular dictatorship? Why squeak out now just because the remains of Gen. Fabian Ver were brought home?

Our unsolicited advice: Forget it.

But if the Aquinos are earnestly looking for witnesses, they should do it quietly and make an announcement only when they have a new case all wrapped up.

The sad fact is that the trail has grown cold. Even if new witnesses to the shooting would stand up to tell their stories, it is doubtful if their account would unmask the mastermind.

The mastermind, remember, was not at the tarmac directing the shooting gallery. It is unlikely, nay impossible, for witnesses of the shooting to have also seen the mastermind.

Even the soldiers who had been convicted for the murder may not know the brains behind the heinous execution.

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