POSTSCRIPT / January 24, 1999 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who gets commission for fixing Marcos cases?

OUR pulse quickened when we saw Gen. Fidel V. Ramos carrying some folders at the last National Security Council meeting focusing on Chinese incursions into Philippines-claimed islets in the Spratlys.

We thought the former president was going to report, finally, on where he misplaced the P9 billion he was supposed to use to start the upgrading of the capability of the largely neglected armed forces.

That trust fund was the 35-percent share of the military in the payments made so far (P26 billion) for the sale of Fort Bonifacio. Only the armed forces among the beneficiaries of the transaction did not get their share as mandated by RA 7917, the law governing the sale of military camps.

But it seems Mr. Ramos did not submit an accounting to the NSC. There was not even a footnote on the missing funds in the press releases on the top-level security meeting also attended by former President Aquino in Malacañang.

What Mr. Ramos said he did was to advise President Estrada to work out instead a diplomatic solution to the Mischief Reef row with China. With no funds for military upgrading, what else can we do?

* * *

SO the question lingers: Where have all those billions for the armed forces gone?

Government spokesmen did not answer the question after the NSC meeting, although they admitted that we did not have the money needed by the armed forces to afford—in the words of Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado—“even false teeth.”

National Security Adviser Alexander Aguirre said that despite the resolve to give the armed forces at least a fighting chance in case of a shooting war, such a move may have to start from scratch since there is no money.

Maybe President Estrada can schedule another security meeting—this time only with his predecessor Mr. Ramos—to try and make the later cough up the money.

While they are at it, Mr. Estrada might also be able to convince Mr. Ramos to give him an idea of how he spent an estimated P11 billion for the last Centennial celebration.

* * *

WITH the announcement of presidential son Joseph Victor Ejercito that he was giving up a possible sectoral seat in the House of Representatives, we can almost see the handing down shortly of a Supreme Court decision saying that JV and 37 other pretenders were not entitled to sectoral seats in Congress.

Why would this inductee into the world of politics suddenly give up his congressional aspirations if the high court is set to affirm the decision of the Commission on Elections upholding his “election”?

Word must have reached the Palace that the tribunal cannot find any legal justification for tampering with the simple mathematical fact that anything less than 2 percent is not 2 percent.

Under RA 7941, the law on sectoral or party-list elections, only those parties or groups garnering 2 percent of the votes cast in the party-list elections are entitled to a sectoral seat in the House.

* * *

KAMPIL, the youth party of JV, and each of the 37 other laggards got less than 2 percent and were initially declared losers. But in an incredible acrobatic flip, the Comelec later said without blushing that the losers were actually winners!

Even our good friend, former Comelec Chairman Leonardo Perez, who sometimes had a hard time counting votes, would not commit the monumental mistake of saying that less than 2 percent is a winning total.

(By the way, nasaan na si Leonie? Some friends are looking for him. Another person that some people wrote to us about is Commodore Ramon Alcaraz whom we mentioned in a previous column and whose last known address was Orange County, near Los Angeles, California. Anybody who knows their addresses is requested to leave us a note.)

Back to JV: That congressional seat would have been a convenient launching pad for a senatorial bid in 2001. Now he may have to slide to the San Juan mayorship, to replace his half-brother Jinggoy Estrada.

* * *

WHAT’S P1.50 to a resident of Ayala-Alabang?

It’s actually not even peanuts to the rich, but some of them are asking why after P30 is gouged from them for using the 4.5-kilometer Skyway from Villamor to Bicutan, the toll keepers at Alabang still demand an extra P1.50 from them.

It’s not the amount (P1.50), one of them told us, but the principle. He said the operators of the Skyway and the South Luzon Expressway had made the public believe that the P30 toll was a flat rate.

Skyway users from Villamor exiting at Sucat have to fork over one peso more at the toll booth, otherwise the toll keeper would scream at them. For exits farther south than Alabang, the additional toll goes up as one drives farther south.

We have news for them. Even the toll at ground level at the SLE will soon go up, the excuse being that cost of operations has risen. Besides, the expressway has been newly paved.

* * *

THERE must be a way for the riding public to intervene effectively in the setting of toll rates. Experience has shown that such business is too tempting to entrust to government functionaries.

The general rule is that the toll, especially in a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) project such as the toll expressway, should enable the operator to recoup his investments with reasonable profits during that period before he turns over the project to the government.

The profit proviso is reasonable. After all, the builder-operator used his own money to produce something that the cash-strapped government could not initiate.

The problem is in determining the actual and legitimate expenses of the builder. The cost includes the “necessary” expenses for kickbacks and commissions of officials and agents.

* * *

IN giant projects where the markup for corruption is 40 percent, that expense is passed on to the consumers. Naturally.

In other words, the toll that is collected on a BOT road can include a 40-percent markup to recoup money that may have gone to the pockets of corrupt officials and their runners.

No wonder, toll rates in this country are that high, except in the case of the ground-level SLE where the court has temporarily restrained the collection of the new jacked-up rates while it is hearing a petition to invalidate the new rates.

To see the ripoff, just compare the P30 Skyway toll with the rate in toll highways abroad. In many places in the States, for instance, the toll for short distances is sometimes just a quarter (25 cents or about P10).

If Americans can make those splendid freeways and charge only so little, why can’t we? The explanation, of course, is that the rate here is bloated by the added cost of corruption.

* * *

THE Little President, Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, was quoted as saying that a 20-percent share for the Marcoses in case of a settlement of their illegal wealth cases was a more realistic figure.

Why is Zamora starting at 20 percent (earlier he was saying 25 percent)? Claiming to be on the government side, he should be starting any bargaining at zero percent, or nothing for the Marcoses.

The trouble with him and his boss, President Estrada, is that they talk and act like they were lawyering for the Marcoses. Maybe they are.

Zamora said that the 2-percent Marcos share mentioned by Rep. Heherson Alvarez of Isabela was not realistic, that it was “even lower than what an agent gets for selling land.”

See how their minds work? They think in terms of commissions.

If we may ask a direct question: How much in commission will some Palace people get for fixing the mind-boggling Marcos cases?

* * *

AS we’ve said in a previous column, the government has the evidence and the legal arguments to pin down the Marcoses, or at least tie them up till the end of the Estrada administration.

That Imelda Marcos and her children are bargaining means simply that all that stinking wealth—which she estimated to be at least P500 billion—is not clean. If it were legitimate wealth, at hindi nakaw, the Marcoses would fight for every cent of it.

The Marcoses evince such vulgar self-confidence, because they have true friends and allies in the Palace, the President and his Executive Secretary among them.

Settle with the Marcoses and grant them the global immunity from suits that they are demanding—and let’s just surrender our dear country to the carpetbaggers and join Miriam Santiago in self-exile.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 24, 1999)

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