POSTSCRIPT / December 12, 1999 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Cut the bull, ship back toxic wastes to Japan!

FOREIGN Secretary Domingo Siazon was quoted as saying Friday that if the contents of 122 hot containers broiling in the pier area are found to be toxic, Japan would be willing to take them back. If!

Why do our officials behave like this in the face of a clear threat to the community? Just because the country involved is Japan does not give Siazon, a confirmed lover of things Japanese, an excuse to resort to the slow-drag.

The cargo in question has been found to be garbage, including hospital waste, soiled sanitary napkins, diapers, plastic and other hazardous materials. What are we waiting for?

* * *

THE stinking cargo arrived weeks ago and here we are still sitting on our asses. Siazon is still talking of the cargo’s being inspected to death at some unspecified future date and of Japan possibly agreeing to take it back. Nobody’s talking of a definite action schedule!

That line saying that there’s gold or money in garbage is cute, but actually importing toxic garbage is taking it a bit too far.

Why don’t our officials leave their air-conditioned hideouts, drive to the piers with sirens blaring, open the containers and make a spot declaration in the presence of the Japanese ambassador already holding shipping documents ready for his signature?

And where is President Estrada? Missing inaction?

* * *

POSTSCRIPT reader Roger Molina rages from his address:

“People concerned with our environment should organize and mount a hell of a demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy, Malacañang and at the port where the toxic waste vans are squatting to get rid of the mess right away.

“The fact that the waste has not been shipped back to Japan yet reinforces one’s belief that most of government officials don’t make much practical or common sense – an even more potent toxic waste indeed!

“How can one incite the youths to demonstrate? You can count on me to be in the front. Please stay focussed and raise hell on the issue until the waste is returned to Japan, and I mean really returned and not just dumped in the sea.”

* * *

IN Makati, they are still quarreling over an insistent demand of the Metro Manila Development Authority that the exclusive villages such as Dasmariñas open their roads to vehicles shunted by the ongoing construction of the Metro rail transit on Epifanio delos Santos Ave.

If those roads are still private roads in a private land area, it won’t be that easily to force public access. Of course, the government can always resort to its power of eminent domain and expropriate such property under due process, but permanent takeover is not the idea.

One question has been nagging us: Has any of those roads in question been paved, improved or maintained — even partly — using public funds? If the answer is yes, we think this is an opening for government to force them open.

* * *

PURSUING this point, we consulted lawyer Mel Mauricio, the sumbungan ng bayan on dzBB’s “Batas ng Bayan” (594 on the dial) and learned from him that:

“PD 1216 mandates that whenever private subdivisions complete their road networks, these are to be donated to the city or municipality where they are located, with the city or municipality becoming the owners — and necessarily – the maintainer thereof.”

Mauricio said that it is illegal for private subdivisions to prohibit the public from using their roads when the government has already spent public funds for the repair and maintenance of those roads.

There is an implied turnover of ownership of these roads to the local government, Mauricio added, when public money is allowed by the subdivision to be used for their repair and maintenance.

Public money can never be spent for any private property, he said. The use of public funds for roads in private subdivisions constitutes some kind of implied agreement that these roads have become public property open to use by the motoring public.

* * *

WE don’t know at this point if public funds have been used for some roads in the exclusive villages of Makati. This can be checked easily by MMDA chairman Jojo Binay, who we’re sure would know what to do if he finds that public funds – any amount – has been spent for those supposedly private roads.

But in Quezon City as well as the Parañaque-Las Piñas-Muntinlupa area where many private subdivisions haughtily require drivers passing through to leave their licenses, the application of PD 1216 can change the picture altogether.

Many subdivisions in the south sector in the care of their mayors and Speaker Manny Villar and congressman Roy Golez may have lost their option to ban non-residents from driving through since many of their busy roads have been repaired or improved by the local governments or with the use of congressional pork barrel.

There are even huge billboards of local officials and congressmen boasting that they had helped repair, improve or light up those subdivision roads. Under PD 1216, these roads may have become public roads accessible to taxpayers on wheels.

* * *

TECHNICIANS and users are talking of a new breed of viruses poised to inflict on computer systems damage similar to that caused by the Y2K or Millennium Bug as Jan. 1, 2000, rolls in.

One significance is that when a computer starts showing symptoms of Y2K infection, the Millennium Bug is likely to be suspected while the virus simulating Y2K effects will remain undetected and free to do more damage.

But here’s another variation brought to our attention by Evaristo F. Nievera, chief of color photography of the pre-martial law Manila Times who is now based in New York. He says that there is a new virus that disguises itself not as a Y2K Bug but as a Y2K fix!

(We’re reminded of that amiable official who is supposed to be a Y2K Fixer but who ended up in a fix — but this will have to wait for another column.)

Nievera says that this new virus sneaks in through the Internet, updates itself with potentially malicious instructions from a website in Japan . (Which is worse: that Japanese toxic waste or this malicious virus?)

The virus reportedly affects home computers and spreads through Microsoft software used for chat rooms. Called W95.Babylonia, it comes disguised as a Y2K fix, making it the sixth known virus preying on the Year 2000 glitch.

* * *

THERE is also the scary element of the creator of the virus being able to access and control remotely the infected computer! The hacker could destroy files and steal sensitive information through using the virus.

Nievera adds: When an infected user logs on to a chat room using MIRC chat software, the virus gets sent as a Y2K Bug fix to anyone else in that chat room. If the user accepts the software, the virus will install itself and later obtain several files from Japan. Those files, in turn, carry instructions affecting the user’s computer.

Vincent Weafer, anti-virus research director at Symantec Corp., said the virus can spread by email as well, though home email use is not as heavy as that of businesses. Thus, he said, this virus is not likely to spread as quickly as other viruses.

Incidentally, Nievera, who was/is “Estong” to us former Timesmen, is now known as “Stone” (it rhymes, doesn’t it?) in the Big Apple.

* * *

WHILE we still worry about passports being stolen by the box, of entries on these travel documents still painstakingly done by hand in our Department of Foreign Affairs, some travelers in civilized countries simply press their hand on a glass screen to gain entry without their passports being physically scrutinized.

Under an experimental program of the US immigration service, more than 45,000 frequent travelers now use an Immigration and Naturalization Service Passenger Accelerated Service System card (or INSPASS) to get in about 15 to 20 seconds compared with a 20-minute average wait at regular immigration point in the States.

At the airport, the traveler runs a card through a machine and places a hand in a “hand geometry reader.” The computer compares the live scan of the hand’s bone structure to an image taken when the traveler applied for the pass. Sometimes the computer asks for the flight number.

* * *

AN average of more than 20,000 such automated admissions are made monthly into selected US ports of entry.

But the pass is not for everybody. Only some citizens of the US, Canada, Bermuda and the 29 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Pilot Program are eligible to apply for the pass. Applicants must travel to the US on business at least three times a year.

Terrorism expert William Daly said biometric image of the hand’s bone structure and configuration is a very reliable way of determining the identity of a person — much more so than the picture in a passport. It is also harder to forge.

The US immigration service has checked back on more than 10,000 travelers admitted with the pass since the program began in 1993 and found no cases of fraud.

Since this high-tech system must cost billions to buy, operate and maintain, some presidential crony must take a look at it and prepare a BOT contract on it for approval of Malacañang.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 12, 1999)

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