POSTSCRIPT / December 9, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Envoy's overreaction to Stratfor intriguing

YOU think senators are more “honorable” than congressmen are? Watch their latest antic.

Several senators led by Sen. John Osmeña, chairman of the finance committee, have made a public threat to lop off P60 billion from the 2000 national budget because of dwindling tax collection and runaway corruption kuno.

We’ve watched this sarzuela before and we (yawn) half-expect to see the same ending as in years past.

The ending? Well, the P60 billion chopped off the budget will be restored, more or less, after our “honorable” senators are able to extract some concessions close to their hearts.

Nothing different from the vow of President Estrada to slice off the sticky pork in the national budget, but later putting in a bigger barrel with a different label. Oh well….

* * *

IN Mindanao and elsewhere, President Estrada should stop commenting on the country analysis of Texas-based Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor) that raised the likelihood of Mr. Estrada being ousted before his term ends.

There are restive elements all right, including the usual fifth column in the military, but it is bad form for the President to tangle with Stratfor. So as not to unduly build up interest in the American analysis, he should just ignore it or toss the debating chore to one of his minions.

We also think that US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard should not have strained himself distancing his government from the Stratfor paper. By overreacting, dismissing the Stratfor report as “hogwash,” and heaping assurances of US support for the Estrada regime, the envoy may have unwittingly confirmed the opposite.

* * *

THOSE 122 container vans bursting with stinking toxic wastes dumped here from Japan have been sitting at the piers for several weeks already. Why are they still around?

What is the government waiting for? An epidemic?

President Estrada should personally handcuff to the vans NATO (no action, talk only) officials sitting on the problem until they ship back the garbage and jail the culprits.

Discovered inside the vans were such yucky items as hospital wastes, used diapers and sanitary napkins, rags and plastics. A blindfolded visitor to the holding area can locate the vans by just following his nose.

This case demands immediate action, not endless press releases, fancy footwork and whispering hope for Christmas cheer.

* * *

THIS case alone should be enough reason for tearing to pieces the contract with Societe General Surveillance (SGS), a foreign firm claiming to be more reliable than Filipino checkers when inspecting cargo at source before shipment to the Philippines.

If the SGS is doing its job, how come we have these container vans reeking with toxic waste from Japan? They think we are the Smokey Mountain of the world?

This is not the first time that the SGS has been caught making false or incorrect certifications that arriving imported goods are exactly as declared. We don’t need an elaborate investigation to know what’s behind this palusot.

If you ask us, we think SGS has been in cahoots in a number of cases with smugglers and other fast operators.

But why should SGS people try making dirty millions on the side when we’re already paying them a king’s ransom? The fees of SGS alone are more than the budget of the customs bureau – yet they want more?

And they claim to be more honest than Filipino customs officers!

* * *

OVER at Clark Field in Pampanga, there is actually no more need for a shopping card for normal household purchases at the duty-free stores – unless you’re buying truckloads of goodies to stock a grocery store or collecting a lot of appliances and electronic gadgets in one swoop.

Some local scalpers at the doors of the duty-free shops will press you to buy their PX or shopping cards at a “discount.” Don’t mind them. Just walk in.

Having hit rock bottom, the anemic shops are practically pulling passersby to come in and buy something. This is a bit exaggerated, but that’s how desperate they are for customers.

Some of the duty-free shops have folded up, and the few remaining ones are experiencing a little surge in sales with the pre-Christmas shopping rush.

* * *

BY the way, the new bridge across Abacan river after you exit at Angeles from the North Luzon Expressway has been opened, making for easier access to the city and to Clark.

But if you want a shortcut to Clark, you can turn right before that bridge, enter a residential area, and come out at Balibago just 50 meters from the palm-lined avenue leading to the Balibago gate of the former US air base.

On the other hand, if you’re coming from the north, you can turn right at the Mabalacat public market and, after some 200 meters of a good concrete road, enter a seldom used gate that leads directly to the duty-free shopping area and the dormant Expo Filipino.

Using the Mabalacat gate will save you from the traffic buildup on MacArthur Highway and salve your nerves as you pass by a grassy picnic area sheltered by big acacias.

* * *

THERE’S another shortcut for tree-lovers from Manila. Exit at San Fernando, take the road to Olongapo, but turn right at MacArthur Highway before McDonalds in the direction of Angeles.

Keep driving north and soon you’ll be passing under a shady canopy of big acacias reaching for each other above you across the road. Before entering Angeles proper, slow down to catch a sign (on your right) advising you to turn left to Clark.

You’ll see this seldom visited backyard of Angeles that boasts of a pleasant neighborhood where US servicemen living offbase used to stay. Drive on and you’ll soon enter Clark by the side Friendship Gate on Fields Ave.

Without meaning to dampen your spirit, we want to tell you in advance, though, that the dollar prices in the duty-free shops are converted to pesos at something like P40.85 to the dollar.

* * *

BEFORE we forget, when the cashier asks for your shopping card as you check out your cartload of goodies, simply whisper to her with a smile that you have no card. She will understand as they have instructions.

If you can say it in borrowed Pampango words, that would even be better. But don’t make the mistake of saying you read it in Postscript — they would charge you double!

While handing over the money, try asking the cashier if it is true that a certain Erap is part-owner of Pure Gold (we assume that that’s the shop where you’d go). By her body language you would know the answer.

* * *

TALKING of duty-free shops and connections, how come Pure Gold has been able to branch out in Metro Manila, which is not a special economic zone? Like the cashier in Clark, you probably know the answer to that.

For that matter, duty-free goods looking like pure gold on the shelves of boutiques and supermarkets are all over the metropolis — unfairly competing with tax-paid goods. It’s common knowledge who among the cronies is behind the proliferation of smuggled goods where they should not be.

With this coddling of smugglers, isn’t the Palace being inconsistent in cracking down on customs and internal revenue officials for falling short of collection targets? (Some government workers are worried tuloy over reports that their December wages might be delayed! Huwag naman sana.)

That was one costly blunder of the Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (EIIB), which is on its way to the chopping block despite its valiant anti-smuggling efforts. It should have steered clear of the cronies.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 9, 1999)

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