POSTSCRIPT / December 21, 1999 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Court of last resort on oilprice issue -- the streets

OUR initial reaction to the Supreme Court decision upholding the law deregulating the oil industry was one of resignation.

We still have to read the text of the unanimous SC decision, so we’re holding back extended comment. But to those who asked us what we thought, we’ve said “Buti nga siguro.”

Flushed by victory, the oil giants may just go on a price increase rampage. That may be good – because, such greed might just trigger massive protests.

Unconscionable increases in the retail prices oil products will then elevate the matter from the Supreme Court to the people’s court of last resort in the streets.

When we can no longer find relief in the courts, people will find it elsewhere.

* * *

IT took the high court a long time to issue its decision not because the justices found it hard to muster solid legal arguments. Writing the decision was easy since they merely had to copy the brief of the lawyer of the oil companies.

We are tempted to attribute the delay to the desire of the pro-Big 3 justices to have the entire court stand behind this socially indefensible decision. It’s not easy rounding up justices who bring their conscience with them to work.

* * *

IF we could help it, some of us newsmen would refrain from following up stories outside our beat in the week before Christmas. Some people who do not know us may mistake even legitimate coverage and followup for something else.

Yesterday, for instance, we called the office of Mayor Nene Aguilar of Las Piñas to follow up a questionnaire we sent him before the weekend. It was about the use of public funds for private roads in private subdivisions.

The staffer on the line asked us matter-of-factly if we were following up a solicitation! We didn’t realize until then that that’s the way the people around the mayor regard the press.

We wonder why they presume that a newsman who tries contacting their wealthy mayor is asking for money. That’s a sad commentary not only on the mayor, but also on the newsmen covering him.

* * *

THERE is another interesting reason why some reporters sometimes intentionally avoid getting the side of the “other party” adversely cited in their stories.

The sequence goes this way: The reporter calls the other party to get his side. The other party gives his side or begs off, but upon putting down the phone, the other party promptly calls a big shot in the reporter’s newspaper and complains about the upcoming story. The big shot looks for a way to water down or even kill the story. The reporter wakes up the next morning to find his story either played down or trashed altogether.

The (immoral) moral of the story: Next time, don’t get the other side. Run it the next day as followup.

We’ve seen this happen again and again, making some reporters cynical even about their bosses. I’m glad to say, however, that during all the time I’ve been writing POSTSCRIPT for this paper, no Star editor or official has tried to apply pressure on me or kill the column outright.

There was only one time when Postscript failed to come out and it was because a technical glitch prevented my sending the text on time.

* * *

BACK to the press questions to the Las Piñas mayor. Our query was related to the moves of the Metro Manila Development Authority to open some roads in Makati exclusive villages to motorists shunted by the slow construction of the Metro Rail Transit on Epifanio delos Santos Ave. (EDSA).

We have a theory, backed by an opinion of lawyer Mel Mauricio of dzBB’s “Bantay ng Bayan,” that (1) public funds may not be legally spent for private roads in private subdivisions, and (2) when public funds are spent for them, the roads become public roads that must be made accessible to the motoring public.

We wanted to know from some Metro Manila mayors, including Aguilar, what they thought of this opinion and if their local government has spent public money for some private roads in private subdivisions in their jurisdiction.

* * *

A TOP aide of the Las Piñas mayor told us earlier that the city government does not subscribe to that theory, and that if they spent money on private subdivision roads, it was just to help local residents who are also taxpayers.

(Some quarters may disagree and find the selective use of taxpayers’ money for favored private subdivisions cause for a complaint.)

Some of these private roads that had benefited from public funds are linked to the so-called Friendship Routes in Las Piñas. The idea involved opening up adjoining subdivisions and linking their main roads to create alternate routes to ease pressure on the heavily traveled main roads.

Aguilar and his in-law Speaker Manny Villar reportedly consulted subdivision developers and homeowners associations and succeeded in getting their cooperation in opening the alternative Friendship Routes for the good of the community.

* * *

THE ingenious Las Piñas solution is more or less the same idea that the MMDA and the Makati city government have been trying to execute without much success. Perhaps MMDA Chairman Jojo Binay can ask the Villar-Aguilar team for some expert advice.

Some streets in Dasmariñas and Forbes Park were finally opened yesterday to light traffic at peak hours in the morning and in the afternoon, but more on the strength of an order of Malacañang and not so much the convincing power of Binay or his wife the Makati mayor.

Another key element in Las Piñas is that some of the private roads linked to the Friendship Routes have been repaired, lighted and generally improved using public funds.

Subdivision developers and their residents who have allowed the use of public funds for the repair or maintenance of their roads may have been estopped from now objecting to non-resident taxpayers’ using the same roads.

* * *

WE have repeatedly asked Binay’s office for information on what funds, if any, have been used for some roads in the exclusive villages of Makati. Despite persistent followup, we have not been honored by a reply from the MMDA boss or his assistants.

We have stopped in the meantime following up our query lest we encounter some MMDA functionary in the mold of that Aguilar staffer who had asked if we were out caroling.

Whatever, it would be interesting to pursue the line that private roads become public the moment public funds are used on them. Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas can issue a legal opinion to buttress any government move in that direction.

In problems involving people, we should assume always that a solution is just waiting to be uncovered by earnest dialogue.

Note that the total objection of the Makati villages was reconsidered when the compromise was put forward that the proposed rerouting be confined to light vehicles that are not smoke-belchers and only for a restricted period during peak hours, not to mention other measures to ensure respect for the privacy, security and health of residents.

* * *

WE have to have this computer VIRUS ALERT out before Christmas since the destructive intruder would spring into action on December 25.

Symantec has announced the discovery of a new virus, W97.Prisliss.A. The self-propagating virus infects Microsoft Word 97 documents. It spreads itself by sending the infected document as an email attachment by using Microsoft Outlook to the first 50 addresses in each address book.

Once the infected document is opened, the virus disables protection security settings, conversion confirmation and recently opened file list. The virus automatically checks the system clock.

On December 25, this text is displayed in a message box when users boot their computers: “Vine! Vide! Vice! Moslem Power Never End! You Dare Rise Against Me! The Human Era is Over, The CyberNET Era Has Come!!!”

The program then overwrites the AUTOEXEC.BAT file to format the C: drive and displays the following message when the system is rebooted: “Vine! Vide! Vice! Moslem Power Never End! Your Computer Has Just Been Terminated by -=CyberNET=-Virus!!”

How to protect your computer? Update your anti-virus software so its program will include W97.Prisliss.A.

Otherwise, refrain from using your computer during the Dec. 24-26 interval. This may not wipe out the virus, in case you have it, but it might buy you time to confront it after the holidays.

Btw, haven’t you noticed that many of the new virus strains target Microsoft software? Think about it.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 21, 1999)

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