POSTSCRIPT / July 13, 2000 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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If only Petron would regain its conscience!

ALERT! There’s a move afoot in Congress to gerrymander some populous provinces and create several new congressional districts to add to the more than 200 already existing.

The reason being given is that the population in fast-growing districts needs able representation in Congress.

To say that, our honorable politicians must think we’re stupid. Who ever believed that congressmen and senators actually represent the interests of their supposed constituents?

The horrible truth is that while they try mightily to identify with the people during the election campaign and vow to work for their interests, once elected most politicians discard those pro-people props and press releases and devote full attention to their personal agenda.

* * *

AS a rule, lawmakers vote on bills not according to the sentiment of the folk back in their districts but according to their own personal interests and political agenda. It is not the cries of their constituents that move politicians but the sweet talk of lobbyists and power brokers.

Actually we can peg the membership of the two chambers of Congress to a 200 maximum and cut the legislative calendar to just 200 days – and thereby drastically cut expenses – and still be able to come up with quality legislation.

The people should make known their firm opposition to the creation of more congressional crocodile farms. Magastos magpalaki ng buwaya!

* * *

SOME businessmen are crying over mega-losses in the wake of the destruction of their fishpens in Laguna de Bay. Their stock, including bangus and tilapia, escaped into the lake before they could harvest them or reinforce their cages against typhoon damage.

From a larger point of view, the escape of the fish from the fishpens was not a final economic loss. While it is true that the fishpen owners lost their stock, the same fish were never lost to the more numerous small fishermen living off the lake.

The fish were still there swimming around waiting to be caught. Many of them were eventually hauled in, some of them literally picked off the suddenly teeming waters.

What was considered a loss by the big operators was a gain, a windfall, to the small fishermen in the lake and the consumers who welcomed the drop in prices. The shifting of resources, forced on us by Mother Nature, evened out at the higher level of the larger community.

* * *

WE’RE amused by the sudden change in the editorial tone of a major newspaper that has been flogging the Estrada administration for pursuing the military campaign that had led to the capture of Camp Abubakar from the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

We were told that the owners of the paper had to step in to restrain their staff that obviously had gotten confused on whose side they should be in the war in Mindanao.

But the PR value of its pro-military editorial yesterday (PR for the newspaper owners with the Estrada administration) is virtually zero, because the kind words saw print only after the military scored a signal victory in Maguindanao.

If we know the politics in that newsroom, we dare predict that that uncharacteristic pro-military editorial would soon be forgotten as a mere wayward footnote as the paper resumes its vilification of the military campaign in Mindanao.

* * *

WE were relieved that this time in Camp Abubakar, no inquiring photographer asked the exultant soldiers to pose for a victory shot in front of a mosque or to strike a conqueror’s pose gloating at some wounded MILF fighters.

Neither did the papers publish pictures of President Estrada and the soldiers feasting on pork (lechon) and beer – both disdained by Muslims — during their celebratory blowout after the capture of the MILF seat of power.

In a previous incident, the unsuspecting soldiers, flushed with victory, were asked by the news photographer to gather around and whoop it up in front of a damaged mosque. The poor soldiers, simple fighting men, obliged without realizing the political implication of the picture that the photographer was “drawing” for his paper.

(“Drawing” is a local newsroom term referring to a photographer’s manipulating, reenacting or faking a news scene just to be able to produce the desired picture.)

* * *

AS we said then, the issue over the victory shot in front of the mosque was not of press freedom, or of a newspaper being free to publish a picture of an event (the picture-taking) that actually took place.

It was more of a question of taste and propriety, and possibly of love of country.

Despite the paper’s protestations of patriotism and devotion to press ethics, the “drawing” of that mosque scene and its publication reeked of malice. Will that overly pro-military editorial yesterday make up for it?

* * *

HAVING accomplished its difficult mission, the military can now scale down its involvement in Mindanao and give the Philippine National Police its rightful chance to do its job of going after the kidnappers in Sulu and Basilan.

PNP chief Panfilo Lacson may have prematurely let the cat out of the bag when he said that the PNP’s specially trained teams were ready to jump into action to end the impasse in the negotiations for the release of hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf terrorists.

Despite his failure to maintain radio silence, Lacson and his boys itching for action should be allowed to demonstrate what they could do. After all, kidnapping is a police problem.

The military, meanwhile, can use a little R&R (rest and recreation). They deserve it.

* * *

COMPARED to his smug counterparts in Shell and Caltex, chairman and chief executive Jose Syjuco Jr. of Petron appears very concerned about how the public regards him and the oil firm he runs.

While Shell and Caltex executives just sit tight waiting for the consuming public to get tired complaining of continually rising fuel prices, Syjuco goes around explaining to media and opinion leaders who would care to listen.

We wonder if it has ever occurred to this West Pointer at the helm of Petron that he is in a unique position to firm up his company’s market leadership (40 percent share) while at the same time demonstrating his love of country.

* * *

PETRON has been accused together with Shell and Caltex of having banded into an oil cartel. In fact, the Supreme Court calls the Big 3 an oil oligopoly.

The three oil firms resent accusations that they are a cartel. They deny that they are consulting one another to plot their market dominance and dictate prices and profits in the $6-billion (annual) local market.

Well, with the help of the Estrada administration, Syjuco can steer Petron back to its original assignment of being the countervailing force that would make sure that the other major players, Shell and Caltex, do not suck too much blood from the people.

If Petron the market leader refuses to play along, Shell and Caltex will not be able to raise their prices whimsically.

* * *

WITH its lion’s share of the fuel market, Petron could still force prices down despite the 40-percent presence of Saudi Aramco on its board. All it needs is a political decision on the part of the Estrada administration and the managerial skill of Syjuco.

Without dissipating assets and shaving profits, Petron’s conscience could function again and start underpricing Shell and Caltex to force them to lower their prices, or at least make them fair.

Syjuco and the other oil executives know that they are raking in oodles of money, that it is not true that they are losing millions. President Estrada knows this also, which is why he is still able to tell them to dampen their profiteering despite supposed deregulation.

Saudi Aramco would kick? Not if President Estrada and Syjuco set their minds to giving Petron back its conscience and making good the President’s word that he is in Malacañang “para sa mahihirap” and not “para magpahirap.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 13, 2000)

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