POSTSCRIPT / July 6, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why Erap feels helpless against fuel price increase

SOME motorists tried some time ago to deliver a message, if not a blow, to the giant oil firms by urging consumers to refrain from gassing up on a specified No Gas Day. They chose a date and asked everybody not to go to the service stations that day.

It did not work. The reasons are obvious.

We do not just announce a suggested course of action, say a rally, and then find everybody there on the appointed day waving fists and angry placards.

Even expert organizers experienced in the mustering of warm bodies will tell you it’s not easy, unless there are sympathetic cause-oriented groups ready to spill into the streets at the drop of a slogan.

* * *

THE No Gas Day campaign has an inherent weak point. Even if a motorist avoids buying gasoline on the day specified, he will still have to buy on other days to be able to drive on the designated No Gas Day.

While there is focus on the day, there is no focus on a particular target that day.

In the case of drivers of jeepneys and taxicabs, they live from day to day and must earn some money to be able to buy a little fuel each day and operate their vehicles. They cannot afford not to gas up each day.

In sum, the designated no-gas protest days and the other days evened out within the month, and the books of the service stations did not show any unusual drop in sales.

* * *

BUT wait. Comes now Postscript reader Rolando V. Lledo of Rosario, Pasig, with an improved version of the failed No Gas Day. His idea is simple, yet we find it exciting and promising of results.

He says: “Perhaps car owners and public transportation groups should join hands in boycotting ONE particular gasoline company EVERY MONTH. We can start with Shell, for instance, then shift to Petron, to Caltex, then back to Shell to repeat the month-long boycott. New oil players will be spared.”

“I can imagine the great impact on the cash flow of these three oil companies,” Lledo says. “In l2 months’ operation, these oil companies will suffer four months of great financial stress. Of course, the success of this boycott will depend greatly on the support of broadcast and print media.

“It’s about time the Filipino people took a solid stand and retaliatory actions against these vicious Big 3 oil companies.”

* * *

WE endorse this idea of Lledo. We hope some groups will pick it up and start organizing. We would appreciate being informed if anything is done in this direction.

We have consulted technical experts and they assured us that it does not matter much whether you use Shell, Petron or Caltex. The premium unleaded gasoline of all three will work fine on any engine running on unleaded fuel

So if this month we are boycotting Shell, all that Shell patrons have to do is use equivalent products of Petron or Caltex. When it’s the turn of Petron and Caltex to be boycotted, their patrons will just shift to the other fuel brands.

This might even be the occasion for motorists to try the products of the new players, and maybe discover some real bargains.

* * *

THE total consumption for all three oil firms will still be more or less the same – because being captive consumers, we have no choice but to buy gasoline, from anywhere.

But their having a serious month-long cash flow problem recurring every three months might just awaken their social conscience. (“Don’t count on it,” some reader is bound to write us about the oil cartel’s suddenly developing conscience.)

Once this boycott is launched, it could inspire other ideas for getting even with the rapacious oil companies.

* * *

ISN’T it infuriating to see that the people themselves, and not their supposed leaders, are thinking of ways to shake off the stranglehold of the oil companies?

President Estrada has declared a number of times that he was helpless in the face of rising fuel prices. To dramatize this alleged helplessness, he makes high drama of pleading with the oil executives to please temper their appetite.

Huwag po kayong maniwala na walang magagawa si Erap! It cannot be that the President of this Republic is helpless. Ayaw lang po niyang mag-isip. O kaya hawak siya sa may ano….”

My barber explains why the President sometimes does not want to think. He said thinking gives Erap a headache. A friend, a psychiatrist like first lady Loi, has another explanation: She said thinking interferes with Erap’s normal mental processes.

* * *

ANOTHER example of lazy thinking is the lame excuse being given by some public works officials when nagged about the floods that follow thunderstorms.

To explain their failure to do something significant to minimize the floods, they point out that Metro Manila is below sea level and that there is no way flooding could be prevented.

If it was a government engineer who said that, he should be stripped of his license for being a disgrace to the profession, and fired from public office.

Flood control may be a difficult task, but no government engineer should ape the helpless attitude of the President and say the drainage situation is hopeless since Manila is below sea level.

* * *

THE Dutch are a good example of a people who have refused to be swamped by the sea and recurring floods and invoked engineering and political will to attack the problem.

“Netherlands” (Nederlanden in Dutch) means low-lying lands. Much of the north and western part of the country, known as Low Netherlands, is below sea level. Not only that. It is covered with clay and peat soils, and intersected by canals, rivers, and sea inlets.

So impressive has been the Dutch’s relentless push against the sea, creating dry land in the process, that it is said that “God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland.” The dikes, dams, canals, sluices and windmills that mark the landscape are part of a drainage system that dates from medieval times.

The endless confrontation with the harsh sea has enabled the Dutch to increase their country’s land area by almost one fifth. Without their marvelous drainage system and the protective coastal dunes, almost half of the Netherlands would be inundated.

You think there would still be the Netherlands if their lazy engineers and officials pleaded helplessness and whimpered, “But what can we do? We’re below sea level.”?

* * *

SOME local engineers may just have to turn in their licenses for the “capsizing” of the multi-million-peso floating restaurant of Macao gambling lord Stanley Ho off the Folk Art Center in the reclaimed area along Roxas blvd..

Vicious typhoon winds slapped around the multi-tier structure, ripping off and sinking its kitchen and power barge while causing the rest of the restaurant to list to one side. Salvaging the entire project will be a major operation.

When the glittering structure was towed here from Hong Kong last year, several engineers were hired to see to its firm anchoring. Now it seems that it would take more than their combined expertise to keep it afloat.

Where environmentalists, moralists and salivating officials waiting for fat red envelopes failed, a tempestuous Mother Nature may have succeeded in sinking Ho’s dragon boat at Manila’s entertainment harbor.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 6, 2000)

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