POSTSCRIPT / November 11, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Graft pads MRT fare; Xmas deadline too close

BEFORE they auction off the smuggled luxury vehicles lent to officials close to President Estrada, pardon our asking some lingering questions.

Is the President telling his boys to give up the smuggled vehicles because he realized it was wrong to keep them — or is he just acting out a PR script to salvage his poll rating? If it is the second reason, and it seems to be, then the basic problem is still there ready to crop up again.

Can the proceeds of the auction be given directly as benefits to government workers as Malacañang has announced? Is not the money supposed to go back to the treasury, lose its identity and later be part of the national fund that will be spent only according to the national budget?

Is President Estrada just grandstanding in promising the proceeds of the auction to restive government workers?

The handlers of President Estrada are obviously trying hard to transform the negative hot cars issue into positive points by trying to show that the President heeds public opinion and that he cares for government personnel.

Alas, some of us are swallowing this propaganda.

* * *

THERE is always a slick operator in or close to government trying to cash in on some problem.

When a deadly earthquake recently hit Taiwan and sent scare waves to neighboring Philippines, some officials with one eye on money-making opportunities whipped up fears of a similar tremor devastating Metro Manila.

Suddenly some groups were organizing hazard-preparedness seminars. Harassed building owners/managers and other milking cows of local officials in the business community were herded to the lectures and made to pay fat fees for something they could get for free

Government is supposed to give out free information and serve taxpayers with problems, especially on such a urgent matter as disaster preparedness. So why are these seminar organizers in government collecting money from captive participants?

* * *

A SIMILAR scenario was reported in the big scare over the Y2K or Millenium Bug. Institutions were told to make their computer networks Y2K-compliant. The catch is that if they need help (and they do), they could pay for the services of technical teams that are, by some coincidence, related to the government officials tasked to guide this country out of theY2K darkness.

The street-level application of this racket is firemen asking to be paid first before they train their hoses on your burning building.

That’s why, as in the case of the hot cars issue, we needle the President with basic questions having to do with motivations. We want reassurance that we are in the caring hands of a moral leadership.

Come to think of it, what ever happened to the announcement that buildings, including schoolhouses, would be checked if they could withstand earthquakes? Postscript needed no crystal ball when it predicted months ago that no such inspection would take place and corrective action taken.

* * *

WE’RE told that local governments in Metro Manila are forming their own movie censors body to review, rate and rule on whether a film can be shown or not in their jurisdiction.

They are obviously riding on the widespread public displeasure over the proliferation of pornographic films and the apparent failure of the movie classification board to stop the showing of sexually explicit films.

If this keeps up, every sector will have to put up its own censoring process because one review body, such as the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board headed by Armida Siguion Reyna, will never be able to satisfy everybody.

Unfortunately for us, in the case of government, for every layer of regulation, there always emerges another level of corruption. We can imagine some members of the proposed local government censors body smacking their lips in anticipation.

* * *

IT turned out that 29 years after the adoption of the Patent Cooperation Treaty in a world convention in Washington , DC, in June 1970, our Senate has not ratified it.

This means simply that while the Senate takes its sweet time, our inventors and their inventions are deprived of the PCT’s protection as an international legal instrument to honor patents worldwide.

Discovering this serious lapse, Rep. Leovigildo R. Banaag of Agusan del Norte has filed House Resolution No. 1200 to prod the Senate to rush action on the treaty.

“It is sad to note that after 29 years, and despite the world-acclaimed ingenuity of several Filipino inventors,” Banaag said, “the Philippines has not become a member-signatory to the PCT.”

Maybe Senate Majority Leader Franklin Drilon can move a little faster on this, in additional to his filing a resolution asking government agencies to help Filipino inventor Daniel D. Dingel.

* * *

IN filing his own resolution, Banaag cited the ingenuity of Filipinos who invented such items as the fluorescent lamp, the lunar or moon buggy, the yoyo, and more recently the high-tech Colet firetruck featured in the CTV Discovery Channel.

He batted for the full implementation of the Intellectual Property Rights System in the country as mandated by RA 8293 (Intellectual Property Code) and the protection in other countries of Filipino inventions and intellectual creations patented and copyrighted in the Philippines.

There have been cases of Filipino inventions being submitted to the local patent agency which later turn up as having been pirated and patented by other individuals with patent offices abroad.

Full membership by the Philippines in the PCT would help assure protection of local patents in all the other countries subscribing to the global patent treaty. A patent in Manila would be honored elsewhere.

The Patent Cooperation Treaty was adopted in Washington, DC, in 1970, came into force on Jan. 24, 1978, became operational on June 1, 1978, amended on Sept. 28, 1979, modified on Feb. 3, 1984, and implemented by the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva.

It was sent again by Malacañang to the Senate on Sept. 21, 1998, for ratification after the chamber’s failure to ratify it in an earlier session.

* * *

IT is quite clear now that the brave announcement months ago of the spokesman of the Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT) that the rail project will be fully operational by December was nothing but runaway optimism and bravado.

Now they are telling us that only that part from Cubao in Quezon City to Gil Puyat (Buendia) Ave. in Makati will be operational by yearend. What happened to the rest of the ambitious and overpriced project that has dragged and made a mess of EDSA for three years?

They are also telling us that the fare would initially be P44 and could go up to about P90 after a while. Compare this to the P10 fare of the other Light Rail Transit line on Rizal-Taft Aves. from Monumento in Caloocan to EDSA central station in Pasay.

The MRT is newer than the LRT, but its passenger rates that are almost 10 times that of the LRT are shocking. (We can imagine that the older LRT will now be pressured to raise its fare so MRT will not look like a contrabida.)

* * *

WHY the exorbitant MRT fare? The reason is quite simple: The operator has to get back his expenses and, on top of that, make money.

Remember, the MRT project was conceived during the last years of the Aquino administration, was awarded during the Ramos administration, and now is being pursued under the Estrada administration.

Can you imagine following up a major government contract through the treacherous crocodile farms of three administrations. The cost of corruption alone could pad expenses by 40 percent.

How will an operator recover the additional 40 percent if not from the people? In short, the billions pocketed by corrupt officials who pass upon government contracts is always passed on to us consumers and taxpayers. Mahirap magpalaki ng mga buwaya!

So if you want to know the correct fare for, say, the MRT, deduct 40 or, to be charitable, 30 percent of the announced rate.

* * *

THE Deutsche Securities Asia Ltd., a unit of the Deutsche Bank group, has given San Miguel Corp. a “buy” rating. The securities firm says that SMC shares are now trading at 19-29 percent lower than their fair value.

With returning confidence, it said, the market will recognize SMC’s improving fundamentals and attractive valuations. They attribute the “meaner and healthier” state of SMC to Chairman/COO Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. and his new management team.

The moves that contributed to the firm’s strong performance included the sale of its holdings in Coca-Cola Beverages in Europe and in Nestle Philippines Inc., centralization of functions that eliminated duplications and shared resources, outsourcing of services to lower fixed overheads and increase flexiblity, and relocation of international operations’ regional headquarters to Manila.

* * *

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

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