POSTSCRIPT / December 16, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Even leeches drop off after having their fill

WILL somebody please help us find the answer to this important question: Until when should a new president be beholden to his financiers and consider his political debts paid?

We’re asking because at the rate some cronies have been getting away with big-time smuggling and other acts bordering on economic sabotage, it seems they are far from satiated. We’re amazed at their greed and ferocity, because even linta (leeches) drop off when they’ve had their fill.

A related question is: In the context of the Filipinos’ extended family system, to what extent should we tolerate family members to peddle influence, corner contracts and make like they own the country?

Seeing cronies and relatives scrambling for fat deals, we suspect that they themselves are convinced that President Estrada cannot finish his term – which might explain why they are in a hurry to grab as much as they can while they can.

* * *

YES, we understand that everybody, even the President, has to look after his family, but what are the rules? Since there seems to be a blurring of the ethical line, will somebody with moral ascendancy over us please impose the rules all over again?

Somebody has to whip this nation back into line. But who?

The Church is the logical institution for throwing at us the tablets from Mt. Sinai. But, alas, every time some prelate opens his mouth to deliver a pastoral message, it comes couched in political context and thus loses its import and impact.

What about the media? But we have disqualified ourselves. Sad to say, we generally carry the very germs of the social diseases that we presume to cure.

The President, being the father of the nation, is in a unique position to lead this country from the darkness. But it seems he himself is fumbling in the dark, and thus misses his rendezvous with history.

Sayang si Erap, considering that he started off with a 10-million solid mass base.

* * *

HAVING nobody else to turn to, the people reeling from the decades-old mismanagement and exploitation are (or were) actually looking up to Erap Estrada for deliverance.

Working the expectant crowd, Erap fuels further the rising expectation as he repeats, even without being asked, his solemn inaugural pledges of transforming this country and delivering the masa from their economic bondage.

But it appears now that the promised boom was meant mainly for people close to him.

In this country where utang na loob is a central element in relationships, we can understand his wanting to repay political debts. But after 18 months of frenzied money-making among cronies and relatives, we get dizzy.

Hindi pa ba sila bayad? It’s beginning to hurt, Mr. President. Sometimes we think what we urgently need is a president who is “walang utang na loob” !

* * *

THE preparatory commission helping President Estrada draft constitutional amendments is not likely to go against the widespread sentiment affirmed in repeated surveys that aliens should not be allowed to buy and own land in this small developing country.

But there’s a catch. The commission plans to retain the charter provisions reserving land ownership for Filipinos, but at the same time it wants to create a legal loophole that foreigners could use.

While declaring that agricultural land and residential lots are still off limits to foreigners, the commission wants to insert a proviso leaving it to Congress to allow, if it wishes, foreign ownership of industrial and commercial land.

Congress and the rest of the bureaucracy being what they are, what would stop the conversion of agricultural land into commercial and industrial zones and their eventual sale to foreigners?

We urge those who oppose foreign ownership of land to keep their eyes open for this loophole set to be drilled into the Constitution.

* * *

THERE was a stir days ago at the Malacañang Press Office when the auditor started tracing several information officers who had operated under the Marcos regime. The auditing office reportedly wants to serve them a notice to liquidate their old cash advances.

Some of the amounts involved ran into millions (like the P3.5 million reported in the case of Manny Montero), but we heard there were a few ridiculous amounts as small as P12,000 being chased by the auditor.

Adding to the absurdity of the exercise was that at least three of those being sought have gone ahead in the afterlife apparently without the knowledge, much less consent, of the auditor. They are Esperanto Curameng, David Baquiren and Sebastian Catarroja, who wrote “30” before they could write down their liquidation report.

The other information officers reportedly being sought include Cip Roxas, Prude Europa, Larry Zabala, and Gani Yambot.

It is right that huge sums entrusted to information officers are audited, but there have been instances when these officers merely got advances against their allowances whose remittance from Manila were often delayed.

It’s no joke being sent to work in a foreign land with your family, adjusting and existing on a string, trying to put up a brave front for your government, while your allowances, small as they are, are snagged somewhere in the bureaucracy in the home office.

* * *

BACK to Black Friday: Assuming that jellyfish actually clogged the intake of the cooling system of the Sual power plants in Pangasinan, the National Power Corp. still has more than 50 truckloads of questions to answer.

Clogging of that nature and magnitude could not have happened in a flash. There must have been a gradual buildup, with the temperature slowly climbing as the cooling system kept losing efficiency and eventually faltering.

Don’t those expensive Sual plants have a control panel or some monitoring device to tell the crew that the coolant seawater was running low, or is not circulating, and the temperature is going up?

It seems even to us laymen that such a monitoring device should be a basic component of that supposedly modern system. Unless the suppliers cut corners to recoup the usual kickbacks and delivered substandard equipment at padded prices.

* * *

EVEN assuming they left out the monitoring devices to cut on expenses, do not the crew ever look at the equipment and the premises under their care?

How come 50 truckloads of jellyfish gathered at that intake over a period of time without being detected until the overheated generators conked out? After somebody switches the plants on, everybody takes off for Dagupan and leaves the equipment to run on their own?

We were made to believe all along that the American contractor friends of then President Ramos would give us a reliable system. But when Mr. Ramos asked for emergency powers to lick the power problem by farming out juicy contracts without public bidding, he never told us that jellyfish would be part of the deal.

* * *

UNTIL yesterday, some newspapers and radio stations were still talking of an “Intensity 6.8” earthquake having jolted Luzon last Sunday. Please, 6.8 is not “intensity” but “magnitude.” The two terms are not interchangeable, as we explained in the last Postscript.

For those who find it difficult to grasp the difference, it might help for them to remember that when our seismologists give a measurement that is not a whole number but has a decimal point (as in 6.8), they are most likely referring to magnitude.

That’s because intensity is designated by whole numbers – no decimal points or fractions – usually written as Roman numerals (I to X in our case). In contrast, magnitude measurement is not confined to 1 to 10, but can be any number in an open-ended scale.

That big tremor, then, was of Intensity VII in places near the epicenter, Intensity VI in Manila, and of lower intensities as the observer moved farther away from the epicenter. But wherever you were that night, the magnitude of that quake was a constant 6.8 as computed from data from sensing devices.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 16, 1999)

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