POSTSCRIPT / April 27, 2000 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Gas prices in US have dropped, but not in RP

OUR brother Muslims, including the so-called Moro liberation fronts in the South, may not be aware of it, but the violent antics of the Abu Sayyaf are giving Islam and its fervent followers a bad name.

Muslims concerned about the purity of their faith and the righteousness of their political aspirations may want to act on the activities of that violent minority in their midst.

The Abu Sayyaf is creating a hideous stereotype or image of Muslims. This is not fair to the greater number, because while Abu Sayyaf members are Muslims, not all Muslims are Abu Sayyaf types.

Muslim and Islamic leaders should take the initiative to bring that mob back to sanity before the violence swallows everybody. Gov. Nur Misuari, for one, need not wait for orders and logistics from higher authority before doing his sworn duties.

* * *

AMERICAN families on Clark Field when it was still the home of the US 13th Air Force, had a simple honesty test for new househelp. Honesty was their No. 1 criterion for anybody to whom they would entrust care of their residence.

When the whole family went outing, the couple left a small paper bill, P10 for instance, or a few coins on the unmade bed or the floor of the master bedroom. Upon their return, they checked what the maid did with the money.

If the money was no longer in the room and the “house girl” (that was their term) did not tell them about finding it, that was an indication of dishonesty. Either she is fired or given a similar followup test on a later date.

Why use loose change and not a big tempting sum? First, it’s all right to lose a little money. Second, the fish may get scared by the big bait and may not bite that time — and the test fails.

* * *

AN honest maid would have gathered the money and, even without telling the couple, placed it on the dresser, the side table or some place where Ma’am would find it.

But a budding thief would pocket the loose change presumably thinking that whoever lost it was not even aware of dropping the money. That’s the small acorn threatening to grow into a big ugly tree.

Next time, when it’s too late, Ma’am might suddenly note that a seldom used fine pair of earrings or a slim solid gold bracelet or an heirloom diamond ring is missing. Asking the maid gets a negative reply.

If the early signs are ignored, something more valuable may be found missing the day after the maid makes “paalam” to visit her allegedly sick mother.

* * *

YOU can use this simple test, or a variation of it, on your house help. It can also be used to screen out potential problem employees in offices.

I use that test when I leave my car for regular service in a prestigious car dealer’s “casa” on Rodriguez Ave. in Pasig. I leave in the coin holder on the dashboard five-peso coins marked with a small red Pentel dot.

The first time, I lost the coin baits. I wrote the manager and suggested how they could possibly catch the thief or thieves in their team. No response. I did the same test next time I went in for regular service. Same results, same written note to the manager – and no response.

It happened a third time and still not a word from the manager. The fellow must have been busy counting the day’s heavy collection from car owners who are hostage to a 50,000-kilometer warranty that is voided if you do not submit to their expensive service.

If you go to this “casa” in Pasig for service, try giving the same test. As an American couple on Clark would tell you, losing a few P5 coins won’t hurt.

* * *

BUT, really, it’s amazing how a manager can be insensitive to customers’ complaints and how he can be resistant to suggestions on how to catch a thief among his boys.

Since the manager was not interested, I’ve talked to their customer care staff who impressed me as being genuinely concerned. I was told they had brought the case up to management. But presumably, that was the end of it.

The staff also reminded me about the warning to take out all valuables from the car when sending it for service. The reminder was unnecessary since this grizzled son of Adam is fully aware that in this country teeming with thieves one can never trust anybody.

I am not asking for a refund of my lost coins. I was just telling them that a thief or thieves is/are ruining their prestige and that there is an easy way to catch the petty criminals. But it seems that some people are too busy making money to have time to cleaning up.

* * *

READER Joel T. Reyes relays information from CNN that gasoline prices in the United States have dropped an average of four cents in the last two weeks.

Computed from the dollar price per gallon, the US prices are translated into peso/liter thus: From P18.89 per liter, the price in the US has gone down to P15.20 per liter and sometimes as low as P12.39 per liter in self-serve stations.

Compare this, Reyes said, with current Philippine prices averaging P15.40 per liter for unleaded, and P15.70 for the special unleaded.

Instead of lowering their prices after the dramatic drop in crude prices, the Big 3 are holding on as long as they can, shamelessly airing promises that maybe in a week’s time they would deign to lower their prices. Meantime, they are raking it in.

* * *

AS Bataan Rep. Enrique T. Garcia points out while tilting with the Big 3 windmills, the local oil monopoly immediately raises prices at the first whiff of an uptrend in crude oil prices, but delays lowering its prices till long after the crude prices had dropped.

The price increases of the oil ogre are a case of too much too soon, Garcia said, while the price reductions are the opposite – too little too late.

This monopolistic malpractice will be wiped out, he said, with the establishment of the National Oil Exchange he has proposed in a House bill co-signed by more than a hundred congressmen. The Senate counterpart bill was filed by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.

* * *

IN casting its lot with the Big 3 oil cartel, the Estrada administration is caught in flagrant contradictions.

It embraces import liberalization yet protects the foreign-controlled oil companies by blocking the Garcia bill that would allow the importation of cheaper gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products.

The Estrada administration sheds copious crocodile tears for local farmers facing extinction in the hands of importers and smugglers of cheaper agricultural produce, but is scared to displease Shell, Caltex and Saudi Aramco (of Petron) opposing importation of competing oil products.

President Estrada proclaims every chance he gets his being allegedly “para sa mahihirap,”  but refuses to adopt a simple workable bidding-importation scheme that would ensure lower prices of oil products and other goods downstream.

We know on whose side Energy Secretary Mario Tiaoqui is, but is it possible his groggy President does not know? Maybe Erap needs another armband of sorts to remind him where his heart is.

* * *

A GOOD reminder for the President is the latest survey of Pulse Asia that showed 67 percent of the people believing that the government can (or should) take steps to bring down the prices of gasoline and other refined petroleum products.

Proof that the respondents knew what they were talking about is that the same survey showed that 58 percent of them pointed to the oil exchange proposed by Garcia as the answer to the unreasonable padding of prices of petroleum products.

Obviously, enough people understood that with the OilEx buying from the lowest bidders from some 40 refineries and traders all over the world, the local oil monopoly would be dismantled, OPEC cartel pricing on crude oil undermined, transfer pricing on crude stopped, local Big 3 overpricing prevented, and fair prices ensured.

* * *

ON gambling, a subject close to the heart of Erap Estrada, reader Lito Diwa of Sydney, Australia, has a suggestion regarding unclaimed Lotto winnings being funneled to the President’s social fund. He says:

“Maybe the government should copy the system in NSW, Australia, where the player is given the choice of being ‘registered’ or ‘unregistered.’ A registered player gets a plastic card like an ATM card or a commercial credit card. When you place your bet, the agent swipes the card to the betting machine, and a ticket is printed. Since your ticket or Lotto numbers are registered under your name, you don’t need to keep the ticket after checking that the details are correct.

“Winners of major prizes receive a phone call (if the player gave his/her numbers when registering) an hour after the draw. Otherwise the winner will be notified by mail or visited by the Lotto representative. Winners of minor prizes can claim their payout from any agent. After one month, all unclaimed minor prizes will be paid by check sent by post.”

* * *

AS we said in the previous POSTSCRIPT, another thing the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office can do is get rid of the substandard thermal paper it uses for Lotto tickets. It fades after only a few weeks or months.

This is highway robbery since prizes are supposed to be claimed within one year of the draw. But how can winners do that if the numbers on their winning tickets had faded beyond recognition?

Some bettors surmise that this fade-away trick is intentional (we suspect a criminal Malaysian mind behind it), so as to funnel more unclaimed prizes to the social fund of the president. These unclaimed prizes run into millions, making President Estrada the biggest Lotto winner without his having to bet or buy a ticket.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 27, 2000)

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