POSTSCRIPT / December 5, 1999 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Good roads not spared in yearend repair frenzy

STREET diggings and traffic snarls in Metro Manila may be too minor an issue to merit the attention of the President of the land, pero sobra na talaga!

Since we called attention last week to the senseless tearing up of still serviceable thoroughfares just to use up the remaining millions in public works funds before the yearend, more diggings have been started on other well-traveled routes.

The digging of perfectly good roads in busy areas has compounded the traffic problem associated with the buildup of pre-Christmas shopping. Commuters tied up in millenium traffic knots are cursing officials all the way up to the President.

We plead with President Estrada to rouse Public Works Secretary Vigilar from his slumber and stop these street diggings until the end of the year. Vigilar should concentrate on rushing the completion of roads already dug up.

* * *

THE uncalled-for tearing up of good streets is made more infuriating by the reason behind it. Favored contractors in cahoots with their patrons in government are reportedly busy mopping up the loose millions still left in the heavily raided public works coffers.

Whatever money is left by yearend reverts to the national treasury, hence the scramble to spend it all – even where it’s not needed. There are many rutted streets still unrepaired, but contractors prefer to dig up the good roads because they are easier to work on.

Since Vigilar is either sleeping or coddling the fastbreak artists, President Estrada should step in and stop the unmitigated madness.

* * *

WHAT a sharp contrast we saw when we drove up to the Ilocos days ago.

From the time we hit La Union and cruised on the coastal road leading to the North, we sensed immediately that this was a different place.

In summary, the Ilocos is very clean, the people generally unspoiled and friendly. Even the side roads are uncluttered and well maintained. Driving is actually relaxing because there is no pressure to speed and be aggressive.

Whenever we stopped to ask for directions, we found the local folk courteous, ready to go out of their way to help. We felt so secure that the city-induced thoughts of somebody pulling a fast one on us never crossed our minds.

* * *

THE Ilocos is the place for city folk and foreign tourists looking for rustic settings and a people still uncorrupted by city values. We kept thinking after that visit why the tourism department is not promoting it.

If you have the time, give it at least two days, making Laoag, the Ilocos Norte capital, your base from which to visit nearby spots in Paoay, Sarrat, Batac and Pagudpud.

If you leave Manila early enough, maybe stopping in Tarlac for an early lunch at the Hacienda Luisita rest area, you can hit Vigan and still see the heritage row of vintage houses in the afternoon sun.

Having soaked in Vigan’s architectural charm and having been fairly introduced to Ilocandia’s unique appeal, you can then leisurely drive on to Laoag to check in at Fort Ilocandia or stay with friends and plan the rest of your discovery tour.

* * *

PAGUDPUD farther north is for nature freaks, for those forever in love with the mountains and the sea. Those who have visited Carmel by the Sea in the US West Coast will catch glimpses, albeit on a smaller scale, of that California coastal setting in Pagudpud.

Yes, while you are in this rustic setting among hospitable folk, you can still savor the amenities you have gotten used to in Manila. Don’t bring baon or bottled drinking water. Just bring your wallet and your readiness to relax.

Trust the roads of the Ilocos to give you a safe and comfortable ride. Get a road map of the region from your hotel front desk and manage your own do-it-yourself tour.

To do justice to yourself and the place, do not rush. Be open to a change of itinerary as new vistas open before you. In the open countryside, you can even turn off your aircon and roll down your windows – something you will not dare to do in Manila.

* * *

MEDIA NOTES: There is a lesson somewhere for us newspapermen and the rest of us students of Filipino culture in the call some days ago of the chairman, the president and the chief editor of a major paper on President Estrada.

Some observers called the meeting with the President — who reportedly made them wait — an abject surrender, considering how reckless the paper has been in playing its favorite game of president-bashing.

But we (who think we know the thinking of that paper) are not ready to call it surrender. It cannot be, considering the arrogance that has been its trademark. It looks to us more like a one step backward before two steps forward in the classical rules of warfare.

* * *

AGAINST the overall business interests of the paper’s owners, it was a forced move – if you believe insider reports that since advertisers started drifting away, the paper has been losing P30 million (gross) monthly in unearned advertising revenue translated to a net advertising loss of P10 million monthly.

The paper’s seeming capitulation can also mean that the hemorrhage was not confined to the fading advertising but has started to be felt in other businesses of the owners. This means that they know they are, after all, also vulnerable.

The old line must have come back to remind them that it does not make much business sense to fight City Hall.

* * *

THERE are many lessons to learn from this episode. One is the wisdom of the Chino Roces injunction that ideally newspaper owners should have no other major business except newspapering.

This is not only meant to protect the paper and its owners, but also to assure the reading public of the independence of the paper. Journalistic independence rests on the bedrock of economic independence.

Of course, the irony at times is that one has to compromise his journalistic independence to ensure some economic gain.

With the owners and the editors of a paper pledging good behavior to the President, the erosion of the independence of that paper is a foregone conclusion. It can no longer claim to be fearless.

* * *

CONSIDERING the paper’s recent screaming headlines about another paper’s alleged transfer of ownership to somebody close to President Estrada, the call of surrender comes on as poetic justice.

The handling of news about competitors has always been a contentious issue among us newspapermen. The basic question is: Do we publish bad news about other newspapers? Views vary.

A few newspapers do run the stories, especially if the bad news is about their main rival in the market. But most newspapers do not, not only out of courtesy to brothers in the trade but also because of the fear that one day they may just be in a similar embarrassing situation.

Some of the big ones ask why they should give free publicity, good or bad, to their competitors.

* * *

THAT was the reason why we were amazed at the recklessness with which that paper went to town with screaming stories on the purchase of control of another newspaper in the throes of an ownership crisis.

If the stories about the sale of shares were to be used, they could have been run as minor stories in the inside pages, just for the record. But to run the stories, slanted at that, as the mainer was something else.

Why are we discussing this in POSTSCRIPT? Normally, we won’t. We should not. But just too many people have asked us what we thought of the paper’s raising the white flag. This column sort of summarizes our replies to those queries.

Please take this as just an academic discussion of an interesting media development. This is actually a subdued version of how we would discuss the matter in the journalism classes that we used to handle in our more active days in the academe.

* * *

IF we were the owner or the editor of that paper, would we have sought a meeting with the President? If we were carrying the same baggage, maybe we would be under extreme pressure to also consider looking for a modus vivendi.

That’s it! Doesn’t that term modus vivendi sound better than “abject surrender”? It does – and, come to think of it, maybe that was what that meeting with President Estrada was all about.

The complexion of coming issues of the paper will give us the answers, or at least some clues to the answers.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 5, 1999)

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