POSTSCRIPT / July 16, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Will Erap please define his stand on OilEx bill?

THERE was businessman Raul Concepcion of Price Watch on radio again yesterday talking of — what else? — another upcoming round of fuel price increases. He said that this was occasioned by a new increase in the world price of crude oil.

Are Concepcion’s dire forecasts part of a program to bombard us with talk of price increases to deaden our senses to the point of surrender? Note that people seem to have grown resigned to the inevitability of increasingly expensive gasoline.

In the first place, what’s the point in telling people of an upcoming price increase when they cannot avert or avoid it anyway? Even President Estrada says again and again that there is nothing he can do.

Concepcion may claim that conditioning the public mind is not his intention, but the effect of his price predictions is to brainwash a helpless public into accepting the seeming inevitability of higher prices.

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada should come out with clean hands and tell us exactly on whose side he is on the oil price issue.

While he is obviously scared to antagonize the oil companies, he privately tells proponents of the projected National Oil Exchange to pass the bill and that – remember this – he would sign it into law.

Bataan Rep. Enrique T. Garcia, author of the OilEx bill, is clinging to this promise of the President despite Mr. Estrada’s urong-sulong handling of the oil issue.

Remember that when Garcia first broached the OilEx concept to the President in Malacañang last year, an excited Mr. Estrada told the congressman that it was a brilliant idea. “Bakit ngayon lang naisip iyan?” the President asked at that time.

* * *

AS he was then faced with restive consumers loudly denouncing rising prices of fuel and other goods, the President told Garcia that he would certify the OilEx bill for speedy congressional action.

Alas, after Energy Secretary Mario Tiaoqui brought him some messages from the oil cartel, Mr. Estrada apparently flipped. He then distanced himself from OilEx bill and left it to Congress to consider without benefit of Palace certification.

Now he is whispering to Garcia that he would sign the bill if passed by Congress. And it seems the hopeful congressman still believes him.

* * *

THAT was a dirty trick to play on Congress. Mr. Estrada did not want to antagonize the oil cartel by certifying the OilEx bill. So he passed the buck to the congressmen and senators, who now have to decide for themselves if they were to be listed as naughty or nice by an oily Santa Claus.

Question: Will the 150 or so congressmen who had signed the OilEx bill stand by their signatures without the President’s certification?

Mr. Estrada pulled a similar gimmick on the Road Users Tax. Although he badly wanted the millions accruing to the tax and indicated early on that he was for it, he later distanced himself from the unpopular imposition.

* * *

BUT since he could not escape his constitutional duty to either approve or veto (or allow to lapse into law) the road tax, he had no choice but to sign it. But when he did so, it had to be with cowardly secrecy.

Feeling betrayed, lawmakers are now threatening to repeal the law. But that’s only for now. You can be sure that when the uproar dies down, as expected, the road tax will stay in the books. Mark my word.

* * *

ALSO yesterday the ambassador of Iraq said that his war-weary country was ready to ship more than $5 billion worth of crude oil to countries with food and medicine to offer in exchange.

The Philippines, whose annual oil bill is around $6 billion, qualifies for this oil-for-food swap, but we don’t look like we’re interested. In contrast, our neighbors in the region are rushing to Baghdad get a piece of the action.

Tayo, ano’ng ginagawa? Our President is packing his bags to go the opposite direction — for his long-delayed meeting with his fellow lame duck in the White House.

* * *

CONGRESSMAN Garcia said that the OilEx, if it were around, would have been the right entity to handle this oil-for-food swap with Iraq.

But the OilEx has no refinery to convert the Iraqi oil to gasoline and other refined products, we reminded him. A takeover of the refineries of Petron, Shell and Caltex is never intended under the OilEx concept.

Garcia said that with our volume (assuming the OilEx will be entrusted with procuring the total national requirements), we can ask a number of refineries to refine our crude for us. The average refining cost, he said, is $1 per barrel.

But that’s going ahead with the OilEx story.

* * *

THE OilEx bill, which seeks to take over the marketing phase of the local oil industry, is still languishing in the congressional committee. Garcia told us that they were just rewriting some sections and that it would soon be reported out.

Expect the oil lobby to be throwing obstacles every step of the way, from the lawmakers’ hideouts to the committee rooms, on to the plenary hall, to the Senate mill, back to the bicameral conference committee, and all the way to San Juan.

We want the OilEx bill to be approved and signed into law if only to check the overreaching oil oligopoly. But the truth is that after having seen enough of this world, we’ve grown somewhat pessimistic.

To salvage the good features of the OilEx, we have come up with a compromise formula to explore a middle ground between the Big 3 oil companies and the OilEx of Garcia.

The congressman did not like it, although Petron was willing to consider it. Shell and Caltex, their usual smug selves, are still noncommittal.

* * *

ANOTHER hope for deliverance from the clutches of the oil cartel is this fantastic invention of Daniel D. Dingel that he claims is able to run a motor vehicle on nothing but water.

Critics have raised doubts on Dingel’s claim, so we asked him to agree to a supervised demonstration of his water-powered car by driving it back and forth between Magallanes and Calamba for 1,000 kilometers on the South Luzon Expressway. (There will be pit stops every 100 kms to check the vital signs and to add water if necessary.)

We were thinking that if there is a hidden gasoline tank in the car as some critics suspect, that gasoline or whatever fuel there is, would run out in 1,000 km and the car would have to make it on nothing but water.

But Dingel has rejected the 1,000-km demo run, suddenly expressing fears for his and his car’s safety.

* * *

AT this point, we want to comment on a charge of Dingel that he was “set up” when he was invited by environmentalist Bong Faustino to his “Bantay Kalikasan” program over DZMM. The inventor apparently did not like my having been on the same set.

But Faustino properly informed Dingel early on that I was also invited, but that I was not sure to make it because I had to drive all the way from Mabalacat in stormy weather.

Dingel showed up presumably raring to make a convincing solo presentation of his revolutionary gadget. I must have spoiled his agenda when I showed up (as he was alerted I might do) and renewed the invitation to a 1,000-km road run.

If Dingel’s invention is what he claims it is, the road test would just be the perfect public demonstration for it. It would be his vindication.

* * *

IS Dingel afraid that the whiffs of hydrogen coming out of his gadget might run out over 1,000 kms?

We have noticed in earlier tests at the Department of Science and Technology in Bicutan that after he demonstrated his gadget for about 30 minutes, he switched it off. Why is he hesitant to run it over a longer time?

The point brings us back to the reminder of scientists who had looked at his engine that according to the laws of thermodynamics, we cannot create energy and that the energy we input into an engine cannot be less than its energy output.

In the case of Dingel, he uses a regular 12-volt car battery to produce hydrogen that, he claims, exclusively runs his car’s engine. Even assuming 100-percent efficiency (an impossible ideal), 12 volts are obviously insufficient to generate sufficiently large amounts of hydrogen to run an old 1.6-liter car engine, its gears and wheels and carry normal load.

* * *

WE would not mind really if Dingel uses a little gasoline to start the engine and generate the initial supply of hydrogen to eventually run the vehicle. We would not mind his occasionally shifting to gasoline when his hydrogen gas thins out as it might sometimes do.

The shifting to hydrogen in between spaced-out gasoline feeds should result still in some fuel savings since the engine of his GLi Toyota Corolla (UGA 222) will then be not wholly dependent on expensive gasoline.

We would not mind if Dingel admits to an occasional shifting to gasoline. All he has to do is level with us. The problem might be that he had said it too often that his car runs on nothing but pure water — and he is stuck with that claim.

If this is his predicament, then he really cannot go along with our invitation to drive his car on a 1,000-km supervised run.

* * *

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

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