POSTSCRIPT / January 25, 2000 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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OilEx proposal holding  back oil price increases?

SUDDENLY, the Oil Ogre sucking the blood of captive users of gasoline, diesel, kerosene, LPG and other refined oil products is no longer as cocky as before.

The world price of crude oil has reportedly gone up from $22 to $24 per barrel over the weekend, a development that in the past would automatically trigger another increase in pump prices, but the Big 3 (Shell, Petron and Caltex) appear to be hesitant to go for it.

Sensing a rising public temper over runaway increases in pump prices, the oil monopoly let out word the other week that they would hold back price increases until April.

* * *

IT was a tactical retreat in the face of mounting support for a bill of Bataan Rep. Enrique Garcia for the establishment of a national oil exchange (OilEx) to bypass the Big 3 and buy finished oil products directly from refineries and traders submitting the lowest bids.

The Big 3 guessed correctly that public indignation over their profiteering might be pushed to uncontrollable heights if they continued to merrily raise prices at this time.

But with this latest increase in the price of crude, will the Big 3 unfreeze retail prices and order an increase in the outlets under their control?

They have to do some fine tuning to determine to what level prices can still be raised without triggering a wave of indignation that could carry Garcia’s OilEx through Congress.

* * *

STILL on prices, Trade Secretary-designate Mar Roxas has trotted out official statistics showing, he said, that prices have been stable the past several weeks. His subliminal message was that the Estrada administration has suppressed upward tendencies of prices.

Painting a rosy price picture, Roxas said that the only item whose price went up was canned sardines. He then pointed to the prices of chicken, rice, sugar and a few other items as having remained stable.

Excuse me, but those items whose prices have not risen are goods that are being smuggled in substantial quantity – some say by persons claiming Malacañang connections.

* * *

SMUGGLED dressed chicken naturally sells cheaper than the local variety. In fact, with smugglers strangling the poultry business, many contract growers whose poultry houses are a common sight in barrios just outside Metro Manila have disappeared.

As for rice and sugar, these food items are under pressure from a flood of smuggled supply. There have been recorded major interceptions, but we do not hear of charges being pursued in earnest.

With the administration’s frantically looking for ways to bring down prices, we’re tempted to ask if it is disposed to look kindly at smuggling – especially by cronies — as a mechanism for forcing prices down.

* * *

WE chanced yesterday on Korina Sanchez’s commenting in her and Ted Failon’s morning program on dzMM about the lady president of a major daily marrying last Saturday a son of Kokoy Romualdez (remember him from martial rule days?) in quiet rites in New York.

Korina, a vocal critic of that paper, asked aloud if this newly forged affinity would not color that paper’s handling of high-profile Marcos-Romualdez issues.

From our corner, we can only speculate. But we found it significant that while that paper is known for its splurging on weddings of the high and the mighty, it gave the New York rites just a picture and a tiny caption on its front page.

The caption studiously omitted mentioning that the mustachioed bridegroom is the son of Kokoy. Why? Is the name a liability in the newspaper business?

Whatever, we have to remind ourselves that every newlywed is entitled to some privacy, and our wishes for good luck and happiness. They should not be an exception.

* * *

SO Macau operator Stanley Ho is having second thoughts about investing in Manila in view of critical questions being raised on his business motives and alleged links with the underworld.

His thoughts were splurged in yesterday’s newspapers in stories written by Manila-based reporters who by coincidence happened to be in Hong Kong to interview him.

This grizzled newsman’s advice is not to prematurely swallow that line about his possibly pulling out. We’ll believe it only when we see it.

* * *

LIKE last week we boarded and saw for ourselves the Jumbo floating restaurant that Ho towed from Hong Kong to a berth behind the Folk Arts Theater near the Philippine Navy yard.

We here report a few observations:

  1. You close your eyes and you’d swear that the four-deck structure gaily decorated with things Chinese is “amoy Hong Kong.”
  2. It has treatment facilities for its kitchen, sewage and other wastes that are so high-tech that they would make most big restaurants along Roxas blvd. releasing untreated sewage to the bay look primitive and criminal.
  3. The floating restaurant may just click with Manila’s eating-out crowd, as well as wedding parties (especially for Chinese families) in search of a reception venue with character. This venue is Chinese through and through.

* * *

SORRY, but we can’t report on the cuisine on board. They were still cleaning and refurbishing the kitchen and everything else when we visited it. An army of laborers was also busy applying metal polish and burnishing the ornate Chinese brass decorative items here and there.

We had lunch instead at the Gloria Maris restaurant near the landing. Its seafood menu will certainly be different from that of Ho’s Jumbo, but it was the closest (physically) to the floating structure.

But we mention the Gloria Maris as an excuse to recall that during the Imeldific days, the Bureau of Fisheries was, upon instructions from upstairs, regularly supplying it with fresh and first class fish and other items from the sea FREE OF CHARGE. Imagine doing business without spending a centavo for raw materials!

* * *

A READER using a hotmail address has chided us for saying that with President Estrada fumbling all over the place, he may have unwittingly dashed the political dreams of showbiz types and children from the various branches of the presidential family tree.

Sorry if we were a bit unkind to aspiring politicians from flickerville and the First Tree, but we believe that we have to draw some useful lesson from our sad experience with Erap Estrada’s ascension to the presidency.

However, several other readers appreciated the point we were putting across. One Danny Maclan using a yahoo address, for instance, echoed the others’ sentiment that “One Erap is enough.” He went on:

“I beg the President not to unleash his sons and relatives on the hapless Filipino people. Let Jinggoy confine his ‘administrative ability’ within the boundary of San Juan. Dolphy has the good sense to realize that the make-believe world is different from reality.

“I am beginning to wonder if the Congress and Senate are becoming dumping grounds of misfits and make-believes — i.e Tito Sotto, Freddie Webb, Ramon Revilla, Robert Jaworski, Joey de Leon, Ray Malonzo, Lito Lapid, Baby Asistio, to name a few.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 25, 2000)

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