POSTSCRIPT / July 13, 1999 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap getting confused on PNB 'screw' account

THE Estrada administration is getting entangled in its own confusion and inconsistencies over the $590-million account held in escrow with the Philippine National Bank.

Defending his plan to use the money as collateral for another foreign loan, President Estrada stoutly declared on radio that the $590 million was government money and that the Marcoses had nothing to do with the loan. In short, it’s the people’s money.

But if the money is owned by the government, or the people, why is it being used to pay a private obligation ($150 million) of the Marcoses to the victims of human rights abuses? Has Mr. Estrada been appointed the guarantor of the Marcoses?

* * *

EXAMINE the flipside of the ownership issue.

If on the other hand the escrow (pronounced “screw”) account is owned by the Marcoses, why is the Estrada administration freely using it as collateral for more foreign loans? Are the Marcoses now the guarantor of the Estrada administration?

However you look at it, everything’s crooked with that $590-million screw account. Don’t be surprised if the owners themselves turn out to be crooked.

* * *

NOW come the 9,539 human rights abuse victims of the Marcos dictatorship warning that nobody should touch the money because they own part of it. Ang gulo na talaga!

They are obviously referring to the $150 million from the screw account that Judge Manuel Real of the US District Court in Hawaii has ordered(!) the Philippine government to transfer to an American bank of his choice.

Considering the “mental colony” of the Estrada administration, it seems minded to obeying the order of that American court presiding over the Aloha pineapple plantations.

After delivering the Visiting Forces Agreement to Uncle Sam intact, subservience to an American court comes second nature to Mr. Estrada. He is huffing and puffing to slice off $150 million from what he says is government money and to dispatch it with lightning speed to Hawaii.

* * *

IT has not come out yet in showbiz tsismis columns, but that’s no excuse for Mr. Estrada’s missing the news item that the Sandiganbayan is still deciding who owns that $590 million.

In short, it is premature and preposterous at this point for anybody, even the President of the Republic, to declare who rightfully owns the screw account.

Until the graft court has determined the ownership of the disputed account, it is contemptuous of Mr. Estrada to give a portion of it to a US court across the Pacific for distribution to third parties.

Neither is it right for him to declare it as government-owned and use it as collateral for another foreign loan that would sink us deeper into debt.

* * *

SOME friends noted that we have spent considerable space on the impending plenary absolution of the Marcoses by their loyal friend Joseph Estrada.

We posed to them the question: Do you agree that for $150 million to be given to 9,539 martial law victims, all civil, criminal and tax cases against the Marcoses – past, present and future — be dropped and never again raised against them?

If you don’t agree with the impending total and irreversible clearance of the Marcoses, we said, join us in opposing the $150-million deal that would start the chain of events leading to their clearance.

But if you approve of Mr. Estrada’s clearing his friends, we said, stand aside as he proceeds to drop charges and rehabilitate the Marcoses. But don’t complain later if you realize it was a mistake.

* * *

THE continued refusal of Transportation Undersecretary Willie Evangelista to respond to a simple query of our editor in chief Ramon J. Farolan on the traffic situation typifies the insensitivity of many of the cocky officials hanging on to the bureaucracy like albatrosses.

My reading is that Evangelista is digging in and is just “waiting for the storm to blow over.” He probably thinks that General Farolan would get tired waiting and drop the case.

When an official, a public servant actually, refuses a simple and legitimate media request for information on a matter of public concern, it is either he is stupid or he is hiding something.

Either way, I think he needs psychiatric help. Retiring him would give his swollen head a much-needed rest.

* * *

MT. Mayon in Albay, whose rumblings have been cause for concern, illustrates how nature’s laws work to maintain balance. Nature’s law of balance is a form of justice that man-made laws can only approximate.

Despite its cycle of disruptive eruptions, Mayon has managed to maintain its symmetry and balance – and its majestic beauty.

When lava and other volcanic debris spill to one side during one eruption, much like liquid seeking its lowest level with the aid of gravity, that part of the slope soon fills up. Since that side has filled up, next time the volcano erupts, the debris spills on the other side that had become comparatively lower. It’s the turn of this other side to fill up.

This alternating flow goes on, thereby distributing lava and other volcanic debris more or less evenly around the slope.

With such physical balance, a potential killer like Mayon is able to register as a picture of serene symmetry and majestic beauty.

* * *

THIS makes disaster control in the Mayon area an easier chore compared to, say, predicting lahar flows and minimizing damage around Mt. Pinatubo in Pampanga.

The direction of lava flows in Mayon is more predictable, because the channels where the materials might flow have been identified together with the threatened areas downslope.

In fact, even with the restive volcano showing signs of belching, volcanologists still dare to trek to their monitoring station high on the slope since that part is considered not likely to experience lava flows this time. In Pinatubo, it would be reckless to creep up that close when the volcano is acting up.

The foothills and the surrounding plain east of Pinatubo are not marked by deep and wide channels that would catch and direct rampaging lahar. On the contrary, lahar fans out on the plain in a less predictable pattern. There are just too many wide low areas all around where lahar suddenly goes.

Fortunately for the communities historically on the path of Pinatubo’s lahar flows, the volume of the sandy debris being washed down by the rains has subsided – as predicted a long time ago by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

* * *

EARLY on, Phivolcs Director Ray Punongbayan remarked that maybe we should cash in on the tourism angle of Mayon’s possibly erupting after its long sleep.

There are always curious foreigners and local usiseros who would pay for a ringside view when nature throws a tantrum and shows off spectacular pyrotechnics complete with scary ground rumblings.

This is not to trivialize a literally earthshaking phenomenon, a potential killer, but we see sense in the tourism angle however lightly it might have been brought out by one of the country’s top scientists.

Without meaning to, Punongbayan’s remarks, however, brought to the fore the inability of our tourism managers to react fast to a business opportunity heaving into view. That part of Bicol is hardly ready for the sudden influx of tourists, scientists and the plain curious.

* * *

OF course there will always be hotels and inns, eateries and vehicles for hire, not to mention extracurricular activities, especially with our legendary gift for improvisation, but are our tourism facilities of that quality that would make visitors remember them with fondness as much as they remember the object of their visit?

How efficient are reservations and transfers from such jumpoff points as Manila and Cebu? How organized are local tours?

On a related point, we remember Jullie Daza asking what our tourism department has done to cash in on the grand entrance of a new millennium in a little more than five months.

Not everybody will experience in his lifetime this once-in-a-millennium event. All over the world, there are excited preparations a million times more elaborate than the countdown for a new year.

What are our tourism bosses doing to ensure that the industry cashes in on the dawning of a new millennium?

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 13, 1999)

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