POSTSCRIPT / September 19, 2000 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Expect Malaysia to give haven to fleeing terrorists

LET’S bear with the paucity of news coming out of Sulu, where virtually the entire armed forces have been unleashed to pluck out dead or alive a hardy gang of kidnappers thumbing their dirty noses at the government and the rest of us.

This won’t take long anyway. In a few days, we would know if government forces were able to capture Commander Robot and his gang and rescue the hostages — or if a grinning Robot was able to slip through the military cordon, again.

The news blackout was never expected to be absolute. Like water seeping through porous material, news continues to filter out of that embattled island. And that’s good.

A democratic system like ours finds sustenance in the free flow of information.

* * *

THE blackout merely means that the military and the government would not allow the usual coverage and would decide what information or disinformation would be fed the public.

On the other hand, expect the media to try piercing the curtain. Expect the professional press to continue doing its job despite the barriers thrown by government. Only the amateurs and laggards will use the blackout as an excuse for poor coverage.

These are times that will separate the men from the boys in media. By their coverage, you shall know them.

* * *

WITH troops and armaments choking the island, with aircraft and navy boats coming and going, with everybody agitated, it was impossible for the military to hide its warlike intentions. A sneak attack commando style was impossible.

So, what the heck, let the troops tramp through the island, scouring every square meter of ground and firing extra rounds into the bushes every so many paces. As in the Olympics, anybody who delivers Robot’s head gets a gold medal of a reward and a spot promotion.

With everybody watching, the stakes have risen. The Commander-in-Chief himself has joined the troops. If the mission fails, Erap Estrada would hang his head in shame. Or even bid the presidency goodbye.

But if he and the military succeed, their victory could wipe away all the minus points piling up lately.

Meantime, however, let’s tone down (I didn’t say “stop”!) those snide remarks for a while and let the generals do the talking.

* * *

GOING back to Robot’s possibly giving the military the slip, if this happens we would not be surprised if he ends up in a Malaysian haven.

Let’s face it. Despite our common Malay roots and our being founding members of Maphilindo and its successor the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Malaysia will continue to wish us hell as long as our claim on Sabah hangs.

Do not be taken by Kuala Lumpur’s press releases that they have sealed their border to prevent any escape into Malaysia. Such characters as Robot are useful to KL. In fact, they’ve had transactions.

As for France’s loudly protesting the military action, don’t mind it. Paris should scold instead its hardheaded nationals who actually walked into the arms of the Abu Sayyaf. This they did after being captured and ransomed earlier, obviously without their learning a lesson.

* * *

ON the oil front, if Petron is telling the truth, the biggest oil company in the country is importing tankers upon tankers of crude oil, refining it, storing and hauling the products, and pumping them out to consumers — without making one devalued centavo as profit!

And while Petron is throwing away hundreds of million pesos, the government is grabbing 25.8 percent of whatever money is collected from sales. In the case of unleaded gasoline priced at P16.86 per liter, the government takes a fourth of the pump price, or P4.35, as specific tax.

Is the government a bigger blood-sucker than the notorious Big 3?

Since Petron is now a publicly listed corporation, how will it explain this claimed hemorrhage to its major foreign stockholder Saudi Aramco (40 percent) and the hundreds of thousands of small stockholders who hold a total of 20 percent?

* * *

SINCE the other oil majors, Shell and Caltex, are similarly situated as Petron, are they engaged in the same crazy business of throwing away millions and reaping moldy peanuts for their investors and stockholders?

Shell and Caltex are importing and refining basically the same oil bought at more or less the same price, operating comparatively similar refineries, and selling products whose nominal differentiation is only in their branding.

Possibly the only variation is in their respective efficiencies as managed businesses. Even then, we’ll have to presume that Shell and Caltex are also incurring losses similar to those claimed by the market leader, if Petron is telling the truth.

* * *

THE startling information on the price components was sent to us by Antonio G. Pelayo, Petron corporate communication manager. He was reacting to our Postscript saying that while the oil company takes back 2.8 percent of the pump price, the government gets 10 times that or 28 percent.

Our line in that previous column was that with the government getting the biggest share in the selling price of oil products, it should consider at this time slashing that share (taxes) to help reduce the retail price — instead of passing the pricing burden to the oil companies.

Aside from the specific tax it slaps on oil-derived fuel, the government also collects a 3.3 percent levy on imported crude oil. The government, if it really cares, could cut costs either on duties on crude or taxes on fuel, or both.

* * *

WE’RE not advocating the outright abolition of fuel taxes or crude oil duties — a drastic move that President Estrada has rightly ruled out — but only the shaving of the duties and/or taxes.

Slashing the price a few centavos would cast a temporary safety net or at least give psychological relief for the consuming public. This could also delay, if not prevent, the jacking of prices of other goods whose production requires oil and/or oil-based fuel.

* * *

PETRON said through Pelayo that “if we look at the price components of unleaded gasoline which today is sold at P16.86 per liter at service stations in Metro Manila, 90.3 percent or P15.22 of the price consists of crude landed cost (64.5 percent or P10.87) and specific tax (25.8 percent or P4.35), two major components that are beyond our control.”

The other price components he gave are domestic freight (1.1 percent or 18.5 centavos), dealer’s margin (4 percent or 67 centavos), and refining/marketing costs (4.6 percent or 78 centavos).

Add those price components and you get 100 percent. That means that aside from refining and marketing expenses, Petron gets nothing else (from the selling price) that could be considered profit of the oil company.

* * *

FOR some reason we don’t understand, Pelayo pointed out that in Thailand with an economy similar to that of the Philippines, the price of unleaded gasoline is P18.11 per liter, which is P1.25 more than in Metro Manila.

He added that the landed cost of Dubai crude oil which was equivalent to P2.93 per liter in February 1999 has increased to P9.75 per liter in September 2000, or a 233-percent increase.

On the other hand, he said, the average retail price of petroleum products which in February 1999 was P8.14 per liter has gone up only to P13.56 per liter, or a 67-percent increase. He said this differential has resulted in huge losses to the oil companies.

In the case of Petron, he said losses amounted to P628 million as of June 30, 2000.

* * *

PERSONNEL officers of local governments, meanwhile, should take up the challenge of DILG Secretary Alfredo Lim for them to join, and then speak up at, the Career Development Program for LGU Employees set to start tomorrow in Cebu City.

With Lim no less urging them to speak up, they should bring out what they think are barriers to their professional growth in their city or town setup. The stuffing of the ranks with political appointees is one of them.

Organized by the Civil Service Commission as part of activities marking its centennial year, the seminar-workshop is held in coordination with the Department of Interior and Local Government, the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, and Gateway East Inc. as professional organizer.

Civil Service Chairman Corazon Alma de Leon said the devolution of functions from the national to the local governments under the 1991 Local Government Code has added to the responsibilities of LGUs. They should prepare for the added tasks, she said.

Data will be gathered during the first seminar-workshop entitled Career Development Program for LGU Employees set Sept. 20-22 at the Waterfront Hotel in Lahug, Cebu City.

* * *

IN Congress, lawmakers should end this charade of banning political ads during an election campaign under the pretext of making the field even.

On the contrary, the ban gives an undue advantage to those who have had exposure as media celebrities or high-profile political figures. Newcomers who are comparative unknowns do not stand a chance in a situation where they cannot adequately present themselves and their programs through the media.

What Congress should do is allow normal political advertising, but lay down guidelines to prevent richer candidates from hogging the media, incumbents from using public funds, and lobbyists and cronies from compromising candidates needing money.

A ceiling for campaign expenses in general is already set by law. Congress could insert a direct reference to political advertising in media to ensure truth in advertising and impose expense limits, safeguards, and stiff penalties.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 19, 2000)

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