POSTSCRIPT / February 11, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Honasan, a senator, still has to grow up

IT seems that Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan has not outgrown his combat complex and terroristic tendencies.

It was highly irresponsible for the neophyte senator to hurl veiled threats at the government just because a fellow member of the RAM (originally the Reform the Armed Forces Movement) has been picked up in connection with the 1987 brutal murder of labor leader Rolando Olalia and his driver

If his comrade, former Army captain Ricardo Dicon, is innocent, there should be no problem under our system of laws. As a senator, Honasan should know that.

Even assuming that Dicon’s recent arrest by the National Bureau of Investigation was a violation of the government’s amnesty agreement with RAM, Honasan as a senator should not show immaturity by threatening to unleash RAM all over again and destabilize the Republic.

People still remember the successive attempts of RAM under the leadership of Honasan to grab state power during the administration of then President Cory Aquino. The nation has not fully recovered from the damage inflicted by the treasonous antics of men in uniform sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution.

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THE main reason why RAM got away with those coup attempts was that most of us, especially the officials handling the situation, were afraid of RAM’s threats blowing hot from the barrel of a gun.

But the ultimate question posed by the RAM phenomenon is will we allow ourselves to be hostage forever to a bunch of military adventurers?

The RAM has to be credited for using its armed clout to rouse up the nation and call attention to some problems of governance, but such contribution to reform is negated by the debilitating damage that RAM had inflicted on the nation.

Honasan should wipe his nose, sober up and grow up. His elders, maybe Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, better tell Gringo that he is now a senator. If only for appearance’s sake, a senator of the land should act like one.

We know that one of the responsibilities of a leader is to look after his men, but Colonel Honasan can accomplish this mission without having to terrorize the nation into silence.

* * *

WE hesitate to take at its face value the grand announcement that the Presidential Commission on Good Government would unleash shortly all its legal firepower to pin down the Marcoses on illegal wealth charges.

No less than Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora has let the cat out. He said over the radio that the PCGG’s threatened all-out war was meant to drive the Marcoses “to come to a settlement.”

PCGG Commissioner Jorge Sarmiento himself said that the wealth-related cases were being pursued in the absence of an acceptable settlement with the Marcos family.

In other words, the PCGG is raising the specter of full-blown litigation to scare Imelda Marcos and her family into agreeing to settle. That is, if they could be frightened at all.

Unfortunately for the state, truckloads of evidence against the Marcoses have been systematically looted. It’s too late in the day for PCGG to piece together a winning case, so it has to resort to bluff and bluster.

The PCGG threat is reminiscent of the volley of press releases weeks ago trumpeting that the government was poised to file a big tax case against beer and tobacco magnate Lucio Tan. At that time, Malacañang was still convincing Tan to agree to accept the Palace’s solution to the Philippine Airlines problem.

After Tan finally agreed to step down as PAL chairman and let a Cathay Pacific team run the foundering airline, the threatened tax case against him promptly vanished.

* * *

ONE interesting debate in Manila these days is the plan of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. to meter phone usage. The idea behind the metering of telephone use is sound: Those who use the phone more should pay more.

As explained by new PLDT president Manuel Pangilinan, after a flat rate for a maximum usage, the subscriber will start paying for time in excess of that ceiling. We think that’s fair in principle.

The big question, however, is how high the ceiling should be. If the maximum usage for the flat rate is too low, even small subscribers are bound to receive excessive billings.

Senator Enrile, for one, says that based on Pangilinan’s explanation, a residential subscriber using the phone for 200 minutes a month and a business firm eating up 800 minutes will both pay P468 because of the flat rate.

In the multi-tier billing system of the Manila Electric Co., for comparison, homeowners get a relatively low rate for the first 10 kilowatt-hours, but are billed progressively higher as their consumption breaks through the next 40 kwh and several higher levels.

Small consumers would benefit from the supposedly socialized rates if the ceiling for the first level were raised. Same thing with the planned metering of telephone calls.

* * *

AN interesting question is how the metered phone rates will affect Internet users whose number is growing by the day.

Internet users pay a fixed rate to their ISPs (Internet Service Providers) depending on the fixed number of hours that they had signed for. If a subscriber signs for, say, 30 hours of use each month, he pays a fixed amount (around P1,100) for that. But beyond that agreed ceiling, there is a surcharge for every excess minute.

The phone lines of the ISPs bear the brunt of Internet use. Subscribers do not pay for connecting to and using the ISPs’ phone lines, except when dialing a faraway ISP, which makes it a long-distance toll call). After connection, they can hang on to the lines. They can browse and chat all they want within the agreed maximum number of hours.

Question: Will PLDT and the other phone companies charge the ISPs more if the use of their lines by subscribers is metered? (The answer is yes.)

Next question: If the ISPs’ phone bills go up with metering, will they pass on the added cost to their subscribers? (The answer, of course, is also yes.)

In the case of the Internet, metered use of phone lines will be a dampener on the free flow of global communication. This point is likely to be raised by the oppositors to the metered use of phones.

* * *

PHONE companies such as the PLDT have been reporting a decline in revenues from international calls.

One culprit is the Internet. Most people no longer make the usual overseas calls. They shoot email via the Internet, sometimes simultaneously to several parties, and get instant response.

Images such as photographs and film clips, as well as documents and other data, are sent to various points at incredible speed and unequalled efficiency. Advertising and other forms of businesses are carried on on the Internet, often piggy-backing on phone lines. Chatting via the Internet is also a growing preoccupation of many users.

The remarkable footnote to this communication revolution is that it is done at no extra cost to Internet subscribers.

Indeed, why should we pay for expensive phone calls to kith and kin as well as business associates abroad when we can communicate for free via the Internet?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 11, 1999)

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