POSTSCRIPT / April 16, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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58% in survey want OilEx for cheaper gas

WHEN in doubt, when wavering at the crossroads, the best recourse of a leader is to ask the people themselves. A president can never go wrong if he allows the people to guide him in guiding them.

For populist President Estrada, this should not be too difficult to do – if he were alone with his conscience and his political instincts.

Despite the leeches living off his administration and the vultures circling above in anticipation, Erap Estrada can still make up and redeem his frail presidency by listening to the people.

* * *

IN the last Pulse Asia poll survey, a hefty 67 percent of respondents nationwide refused to believe that the government is that helpless in bringing down the price of oil products to reasonable levels.

That’s almost seven out of every 10 Filipinos, if we were to interpret the reported results, telling the government that there is a way out of the P300-million stranglehold that the oil cartel has on captive consumers.

The people are asking the President to stop demeaning the presidency begging the oil gods to please lower their prices. He must muster enough political will and just do what is right.

* * *

BUT what could the government do to temper the capricious rising of prices of gasoline, diesel, cooking gas and other oil products?

You might be surprised to know that the people have been attentive, and they have an answer to that.

The same Pulse Asia survey revealed that 58 percent of respondents in the nationwide survey believe that the National Oil Exchange as proposed by Bataan Rep. Enrique T. Garcia appears to be the long-sought answer to the runaway prices of oil products.

Almost six out of every 10 respondents believe that the Estrada administration must give the OilEx a chance to prove itself.

* * *

EVEN officials of the Big 3 concede in their unguarded moments that the OilEx could result in comparatively lower pump prices of oil products.

Jose Syjuco, head of Petron (alternating as either chairman or president with his Arab counterpart on the board), told a recent hearing of the House committee on government enterprises and privatization that the OilEx could mean lower prices.

So much so, Syjuco told the committee chaired by Rep. Ricardo Silverio, that if the OilEx were to be set up, Petron (and presumably the other oil firms) may find it more practical to close their oil refineries here and join the OilEx bidding for refined oil products.

* * *

ONE implication is that the ex-refinery prices of the Big 3 plus handling are higher than those of other refineries and traders abroad that are likely to bid for orders coursed through the OilEx.

To illustrate, the ex-refinery prices of gasoline and other fuel from Singapore are lower by an average of $3 per barrel compared to the same products turned out by the Big 3 here.

Why should we keep buying from the Big 3 when cheaper oil products (not crude oil) could be imported through the OilEx? We hope Energy Secretary Mario Tiaoqui has an answer to this very simple question.

* * *

CONSIDERING its commitment to trade liberalization and to uplifting the quality of life of the masses, how come the Estrada administration continues to protect foreign-controlled oil firms to the disadvantage of Filipinos?

It is high time that President Estrada listened to the people – 67 percent of whom do not believe that the government is that helpless against the Big 3, and 58 percent of whom believe that the OilEx being pushed by Garcia is the answer.

* * *

ONE sign that the oil cartel is worried is the recent visit of the venerable chairman Mark Moody-Stuart of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies, who had to fly to Manila to remind President Estrada of the benefits of their symbiotic relations.

The oil cartel must have read the signs.

The message of the Big Boss of Shell must be that if Erap Estrada is nice to them they will be nice to him.

The official picture of the meeting showed them both smiling. Will President Estrada please tell the people what that means?

* * *

THE higher refinery prices of the Big 3 can be explained either by inefficiencies or their tacking on a hefty markup.

If it is the first reason – inefficiency – the question is why are poor Filipino consumers being made to pay for the inefficiencies of the oil companies? (We think they are not really that inefficient.)

If it is the second reason – profiteering – the government has the obligation to step in and do something, with or without deregulation. As the Pulse Asia survey shows, 67 percent of the people do not believe that the Estrada administration is that helpless.

* * *

A FORMER professor of statistics, Col. Simeon R. Ventura (ret.) agrees with our observation (POSTSCRIPT (4/13/00) that “some pollsters may not be aware of it, but they may be slowly killing their own business.”

Ventura, founder of KRYSTAL Research Association, says: “The apparent inconsistencies of survey results from different survey agencies do create confusion and likely to mislead the reading public. These can be corrected if the polling agencies, through the media, give a brief summary of their methodology.”

He said that the public must be told first what sector or class in the population and how many persons in that sample are being polled.

Also, how was the sample chosen? Were respondents polled at random or were the target respondents sought out?

“The random sample is the only kind that can be examined with full confidence by means of statistical theory,” Ventura said. “A generalization or statistical inference based on sample data is valid only if the sample is a random sample.”

* * *

VENTURA was the same military officer used in 1960 by the late Ninoy Aquino (see “Aquinos of Tarlac” by Nick Joaquin) to conduct a secret poll survey on then President Garcia’s chances if he ran for president after serving the unexpired portion of the term of the late President Magsaysay.

When repeated polls showed that Garcia was lagging in public acceptance, Ninoy told the president. But precisely because big politicians were challenging Garcia, he insisted on running to prove a point.

Ninoy recalled: “This pollster, this army officer, Major Simeon Ventura (he would later become colonel), had given me a very accurate picture of what would happen. Garcia lost as predicted: 55-45.”

Ninoy used the same Ventura to conduct polls and analyze the upcoming Macapagal-Marcos fight. Ventura saw then President Macapagal losing, but the president refused to believe it, saying “No, these polls have been done wrong.”

But Ninoy recalled that they were the same kind of polls that had predicted a Macapagal victory in 1961. And true enough, Macapagal lost to Marcos as predicted by Ventura.

* * *

DOWN in the South, it has become clear that the fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf, by making preposterous demands, is not interested in negotiating peace.

What it wants is for the Republic of the Philippines to surrender to it, a scenario more ridiculous than Taipei demanding its annexation of Beijing.

While there is time, the well-meaning peace party in Basilan, including actor Robin Padilla in flowing Lawrence of Arabia costume, must be gathered and evacuated fast before the Abu Sayyaf goes berserk.

We think that everything is clear in the mind of President Estrada what course of action is best under the circumstances. This is one issue where we are more inclined to trust the judgment of Mr. Estrada.

* * *

TEN days ago we remarked that Press Secretary Rodolfo Reyes “is lucky he is soon moving out of the (Malacañang) snakepit” with his assignment as director of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office.”

This elicited comments from a reader using the hotmail name Hilda Flores:

“(Rod Reyes) is walking into another snakepit, the MECO snakepit in Taiwan. If it is Lenny de Jesus the Dragon Lady she could probably make them into Chinese snake soup.

“MECO rank and file employees have been praying for a director to save them from the (expletives mercifully deleted) officer-in-charge Raul Concepcion, who is the nephew of real OIC Ramon Cardenas. Not even MECO Chairman Eva Kalaw could do anything or touch him. He is not worried at all that the one appointed is Rod Reyes kasi ‘kayang-kaya’ raw.

“Please warn the new director to be very careful and to watch his back, the same advice he gave to his successor Dong Puno. Many are praying that Rod Reyes succeeds in cleaning MECO.”

So, there, Rod cannot say he was not warned.

* * *

READER Santi Pateña of Pasay City asks why Pasay Mayor Tomas Claudio and Rep. Rolando Briones were unusually quiet when the Metro Rail Transit ground-level track was built right before their eyes and blocked the critical EDSA intersection on Tramo St.

Pateña said millions of pesos must have been saved by the MRT builders by having the line run on ground level (but blocking the Tramo intersection) instead of elevating it. He asks who among Pasay officials shared in that huge savings.

The effect of the EDSA-Tamo closure is now being felt not only by residents in the neighborhood but also by motorists who are unable to make the usual left turn on Tramo from the southbound lane of EDSA.

Travelers rushing to the airport from the Makati side can no longer turn left to Tramo but have to drive all the way past Taft Ave. and look for alternate routes to the airport. Many passengers have missed their flights because of the closing of Tramo.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 16, 2000)

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