POSTSCRIPT / April 2, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Despite setbacks, Erap can finish term in 2004

WHEN we start calling one another gago, sinungaling, pangit, babaero and similar epithets in our public debate, that only means that we have run out of arguments and are now wrestling ourselves to the gutter.

And when it is the President of the Republic himself who resorts to such foul language, it may be that the sputtering Jeep ni Erap has reached the end of its line. Is it time to change the jeep? Or the driver?

* * *

WILL President Estrada, now still with four years to go, be able to finish his six-year term?

We have been asked this question by an increasing number of businessmen, foreigners, friends and media colleagues. And our answer is a qualified Yes. We’re afraid we’re stuck with Erap for four more years.

The only qualification is that we think this Erap nightmare could go away before 2004 only if the man dies. It’s an unkind thought, though, and we ask everybody not to even think of it.

* * *

DESPITE his fumbling all over the place, we think that Erap Estrada will stay on. He will just roll with the punches, lean on the ropes and wait for the 2004 bell.

With so many families and followers to think about, the man will not quit. Impeachment, which is actually a game of political numbers and not of guilt or innocence, is out of the question.

He won’t get ousted by force either, since the United States will not allow a coup at this point. If the media will not temper their tirades, there is even the possibility that the reading public will get tired with anti-Erap stories.

The approval rating of President Estrada is admittedly low, but we are not ready to believe that the negative 32 being bandied about is a faithful reflection of the President’s low rating. At this point, the simmering discontent in the capital has not seeped with full impact to the grassroots.

* * *

ENERGY Secretary Mario Tiaoqui has been proved wrong in advising President Estrada that the proposed National Oil Exchange (OilEx) for the direct purchase of cheaper gasoline and other oil products from refineries and traders abroad is not feasible.

Starting May 1, an Internet site will start operations as an international trading mechanism for crude oil and refined petroleum products – similar to the OilEx proposed by Bataan Rep. Enrique T. Garcia in a bill filed in Congress.

The electronic exchange, according to the Associated Press, will be called the Petroleum Electronic Pricing Exchange (Pepex). On the site will be available daily price quotations and bids for crude oil and finished petroleum products.

Boris Marchegiani, chairman and co-founder of the Miami-based Pepex along with Terry Hammer, said their prospects are national companies, airlines, utilities, governments, car rental agencies and other bulk users.

* * *

THE PEPEX isn’t working yet, but its preparation and coming launching only proves that such an idea is feasible, contrary to claims of Tiaoqui and his friends in the foreign oil companies that the OilEx of Garcia will not work.

In fact, the Philippine government, through an agency like the OilEx, can canvass prices through the Pepex and buy directly from refineries and traders listed in the Internet. But why buy through Pepex and add another middleman when we can accept bids directly through our own OilEx?

Tiaoqui’s misplaced loyalty (is it to the alien oil firms or to his countrymen?) has been underscored by the creation of Pepex.

* * *

MARCHEGIANI said that Pepex’s electronic documentation of the oil tender process would enable participants to avoid a “labor-intensive, error-prone and time-consuming series of faxes and phone calls” involving an estimated 50 million barrels of crude oil and refined products traded daily.

There are actually other petroleum exchanges operating via the Internet, but Pepex will go one step farther by handling actual purchases. For that service, it will tack on a per-barrel fee.

The government, through the OilEx, can dispense with this additional fee by launching its own OilEx to do exactly what the Pepex is set to do, but limited to servicing consumers in the Philippines.

With the OilEx, refineries of the Big 3 (Petron, Shell and Caltex) will no longer be able to dictate prices since they will have to join the open bidding with other refineries and traders abroad that may prove to be more efficient and therefore able to price their products lower.

* * *

REPORTS of wiretapping being done right from a secret office of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) are not a new revelation. The phone company may deny it, but informed insiders swear it is true.

During the Marcos martial rule, phone conversations of perceived enemies of Malacañang were routinely monitored also with the use of PLDT equipment by military and PLDT technicians right in PLDT premises.

There was no need for a technician to plant a bug or climb a post to install a spying device. All the government spies did was to go to this PLDT room and selectively monitor conversations.

* * *

THE key is the phone number of the subject. There is no such thing as a confidential phone number in this country. The PLDT has a complete record of all unlisted confidential numbers, and – despite avowed policies – these could be secured by talking to the right persons.

The divulging of supposedly confidential numbers could happen also in lower-level dealings, without necessarily the involvement of top PLDT officials. Government spies need not go to the PLDT chairman to continue their liaison with their PLDT contacts.

That the same eavesdropping is reportedly still going on means that the spying equipment is still there and that the government is still using its inside connections in the phone company to monitor calls in violation of law.

* * *

REMEMBER Emma Ruth Yulo, our tourism attaché in New York who was yanked out last year reportedly to give way to a relative of a friend of Tourism Secretary Gemma Cruz Araneta? (The supposed replacement has not taken over until now, apparently for fear a scandal would break out.)

As her ouster stirred some noise in media, Yulo was dropped from the rolls. She asked Secretary Araneta to reconsider but the secretary stood pat on her dismissal.

The latest on this case is that the Civil Service Commission, to which Yulo appealed, handed down a decision March 7, 2000, upholding the attaché’s tenure. The CSC ordered Araneta to reinstate Yulo to her former position and pay back all her back wages.

When some attaches refused to budge during last year’s shuffle, the DoT staff was directed to dig into their personnel records to look for anything to charge them with.

* * *

BECAUSE of their experience and exposure abroad, many of the attaches could be of much help to the department. Yet, they were brushed aside and not given any assignments, while new appointees grappled with their intricate missions.

It has been over seven months since the first wave of overseas personnel was recalled. Todate, no assignments have been given to them. Until a month ago, they had no room, no telephone, no computer. Now they have one very old computer and one telephone.

Then we complain about the DoT not being to promote the country as a destination.

* * *

BUNNY Arville of West Orange, New Jersey, has something to say about media feeding the seeming drift and decline:

“Even from a distance, I can sense that our country is going nowhere with Erap’s leadership. The problem though is the newspapers are just as much to blame. His ‘I do not care attitude’ towards criticisms, declining popularity, etc., stem from how the newspapers play him up.

“Just the other day, a front-page photo of him practicing his golf swing and today another photo of Erap in casual attire are shown on the front pages of newspapers. What is the relevance of these photos? Surely these are not earthshaking developments that merit front-page treatment.

“We have many more issues, concerns nationally and globally than figuring out Erap’s golf swing.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 2, 2000)

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