POSTSCRIPT / November 9, 1999 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Despite flak, NPC deal is likely to push through

DESPITE the spirited attack by Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay on the impending sale without public bidding of the government’s Tiwi-Makiling-Banahaw geothermal facilities to a crony-led consortium, we have this sickening feeling that the deal would still push through.

Pichay again fired away yesterday at the questioned negotiated sale, pointing out that the law does not allow selling a strategic government power facility through direct negotiation between seller and buyer. The law requires public bidding, he said.

The board of the National Power Corp. was reported poised days ago to give the P24-billion facilities to a joint venture of businessman Eusebio Tanco and American firm Philippine Geothermal Inc. at a “giveaway price” of P6.4 billion. Tanco, reportedly a close friend of President Estrada, owns 60 percent of the buying firm.

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SPEAKING at the kapihan at the Manila Hotel, Pichay said that based alone on the valuation of the NPC asset and the negotiated price, the projected sale was grossly disadvantageous to the government. It could be the basis for filing graft charges, he said.

He said the legal procedure for selling the property was for the asset to be assessed first if it qualifies for privatization, then transferred to the Asset Privatization Trust (APT), which will handle its sale at public auction. The law does not allow NPC to negotiate a sale directly with PGI or any buyer.

He questioned the rush to dispose of the property, saying that there appears to be an effort to beat the passage of the Omnibus Power Act (pending in Congress) which would set, among other things, strict rules on the disposal of idle NPC assets.

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PICHAY earlier disclosed that a brother-in-law of Tanco, Douglas Luym, was a member of the NPC board endorsing the deal, while a business partner of Tanco, Arturo Tiaoqui, was a brother of Energy Secretary and NPC chairman Mario Tiaoqui.

Asked the direct question if he contributed to the election campaign of President Estrada in the last elections, Tanco declined to give a categorical answer. He merely said that those interested could look at financial documents filed with the Commission on Elections.

Tanco explained that the questioned sale contract was drawn up as early as 1971 and that he merely took over. He said the offer to buy the asset was a result of a settlement of a suit filed by PGI against the NPC.

He said that the book value of the geothermal facilities was $285million or P11.4 billion. Their consortium, he said, is offering to buy the property for only P9 billion as it still has to put in more money, some P6 billion, to raise its present low efficiency to 100 percent.

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DESPITE the issues raised against the negotiated NPC-PGI deal, there is a widespread impression that if President Estrada wants the deal done, it would be done.

Even the objections raised by Pichay, a minority congressman, could just vanish in the cavernous halls of the Congress after Tanco is able to explain his consortium’s position “to the satisfaction” of congressmen.

Or Tanco could even succeed in convincing Pichay of the merits of the negotiated sale. The businessman lost no time in starting out in that direction. He went into a huddle with Pichay right after the kapihan.

But the key factor that will decide if the deal will be pushed through is President Estrada.

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WE’RE getting somewhat tired talking about it, be we’re still being besieged by queries about the water-powered car and unusual ideas of inventor Daniel D. Dingel. But we’re not dropping the subject yet.

The last Dingelism we published was his claim that a car will run better, will last longer and will entail less expense to maintain if its air filter or cleaner were removed.

The filter just gets in the way and reduces the air-fuel ratio from an ideal 15 to 1 to some 8 to 1, according to him. As for its keeping away damaging dirt, Dingel said that even without an air filter, whatever dirt is sucked by the engine is immediately burned and blasted out with the exhaust anyway.

We’ve asked readers, especially experts on motor vehicles, to react.

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A POSTSCRIPT reader who asked not to be identified picked up the subject. We continue here his comments from last issue:

“Mr. Dingel’s claim on the effect of dust and dirt to the proper long term operation of an internal combustion engine seems to be somewhat at odds with industry thinking. In the very short term, one could get a little more power out of an engine by removing the air filter.

“However, in not so many miles of operation, the wear from unfiltered air entering the engine would reduce the overall efficiency of the engine to the point that it is more expensive to operate and will require major overhaul work much sooner.

“In engine applications that use oil analysis for engine operation and wear observations, an increase in silicon levels is usually an indication of defective air filters or leaks in the intake system. Most analysis laboratories will immediately report this change in silicon levels back to the engine operator for inspection and correction.

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QUOTING from a Ford manual, our correspondent continues: “As for Mr. Dingel’s assessment that an air filter restricts the flow of air into an engine, changing the air-to-fuel ratio to as low as 8 to 1 makes the assumption the engine would even run at that bad a air-fuel ratio. Extremely dirty air filters may possibly change the air-fuel ratio somewhat, but only because the air filter is so contaminated that remainder of the fuel control system cannot cope with the air flow restriction.

“Most modern fuel-injected gasoline engines use some type of mass air flow metering system to measure the air flowing into the intake system, after the air filter, and along with other engine sensor information, drives the powertrain control module (PCM) computer ‘to compute the amount of fuel flow rate necessary to maintain a prescribed air-fuel ratio throughout the engine operational range.

“The PCM then sends a command to the fuel injectors to meter the appropriate quantity of fuel. The PCM also determines and compensates for the age of the vehicle and its uniqueness. The system will automatically sense and compensate for changes in altitude (from sea level to mountains).”

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REGARDING Dingel’s claim that he can operate an internal combustion engine using hydrogen gas extracted directly from a water tank in the car, the writer says:

“If he really does have a practical and cost-effective method of operating an engine on water, the big three automobile manufacturers would be knocking down his door to buy the rights to his invention process.

“At least in the United States, the automobile manufacturers are under a legal mandate to continually increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) figures for all of their vehicle production. Each manufacturer has to determine the fuel economy numbers for each type vehicle produced.

“The US government has determined what the overall CAFE numbers must be for each production year, and for each vehicle produced and sold that gets fewer miles per gallon, the manufacturer must make and sell enough vehicles which get higher miles per gallon, to bring the corporate average at least up to the federal requirements.”

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“MANUFACTURERS who do not make the requirement may face considerable fines for the product line. Further, consider the engineering efforts that go into raising the fuel economy average numbers when some of the most popular vehicles, such as the large sport utility vehicles, are also some of the least fuel efficient vehicles.

“If someone could mass produce a cost-effective automobile that would use only water as fuel, that manufacturer would probably corner the entire automobile market. Considering that possibility, why would an automobile manufacturer not want to use Mr. Dingel’s invention, if it works?

“Perhaps Mr. Dingel really is on to something here, but only time will tell. But it if works, why not patent it and market it?”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 9, 1999)

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