POSTSCRIPT / August 2, 2001 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Ping might just end up being another columnist

IT says here that Sen. Ping Lacson is threatening to sue Inquirer columnist Mon Tulfo and his paper for his series of articles exposing the “real” Lacson.

As we keep telling young reporters, if it has not happened, it has not happened. The reader is therefore cautioned against thinking that a suit is really forthcoming, or that it is already in the hands of a prosecutor for preliminary investigation.

A friendly advice to Ping: Don’t threaten to sue. Just sue, period. Also, we want to alert him about two other things:

  1. The danger in carelessly filing libel suits is that the truth of the supposed libel might just be proved by the writer. It has happened many times, to the dismay of complainants.
  2. During the time that we had worked with Mon, we knew him to be careful about documentation. When he fired away, chances were that he had proof.

* * *

THAT’S one negative side of filing libel suits. On the positive side, if he is able to put together a scary and credible multimillion-peso libel suit, Ping might just end up being another newspaper columnist.

In this town, there are weak-kneed publishers who offer as settlement regular column space to complainants waving a winning case against the paper. To sweeten the pot, the column comes with the picture of the complainant-turned-columnist.

If you have the time to play a game, turn to the Editorial pages on Sunday (not in The Star) and scan the names and faces of the columnists. Guess who had sneaked in via a libel suit.

Send us the name of the columnist and the newspaper, and tell us briefly why you concluded he’s the one. For your note not to get lost in our clogged mailbox, kindly write “Columnist” on the Subject field (if via email) or on the envelope (if by snail mail).

* * *

SOME people have the mistaken notion that newsmen (as distinguished from publishers) tremble when a libel suit is filed against them. Or that libel charges would scare them to silence.

On the contrary, in most cases, a libel suit spurs a reporter to dig deeper on the subject of the complaint and turn up more information buttressing the first story.

Like Miriam Santiago nonchalantly munching death threats for breakfast, lunch and dinner, newspapermen take libel suits as just another hazard of the trade. We also see them as an opportunity for our Legal department to have live-fire practice.

Don’t tell anybody, but there’s one thing we hate about libel suits: We’re forced to wake up early to catch the 8 a.m. opening of the court (oftentimes only to have our case called at 11 a.m.!).

* * *

ONE of the two companies being mentioned in the same breath as First Gentleman Mike Arroyo in the runaway story about a Malacañang personality allegedly receiving millions in bribes is a certain “APC” firm.

APC has always meant Aber P. Canlas to us. He was the tireless public works minister in a previous regime who now looks more tired than retired whenever we see him at his favorite table at Annabels on QC’s Morato St.

We went to ask him one morning about this APC firm. We found him drinking — water. We surmised he was sipping table water not because he had fallen finally into bad times, but because it was still too early to quaff anything more spirited than H2O.

* * *

WE commented on his glass of water as opening for a serious discussion on APC and the Mike Arroyo issue, but ended up with a full-blown discussion on — water.

You see, Aber was former chairman of the National Water and Sewerage Authority and is now consultant of Maynilad Water, one of two giant firms that took over Nawasa. It seems to us he takes his job seriously.

Without waiting for us to settle in our seat, he mentioned the petition of Maynilad to be allowed to automatically adjust rates based on fluctuations in the foreign currency exchange rate.

* * *

ABER said that when Maynilad took over half of the Nawasa franchise area, the foreign exchange rate was just P26 to the dollar. Now it’s hovering at P53. As a result, Nawasa’s $800-million foreign loans absorbed by Maynilad now cost double.

To catch up on this soaring expenses and to assure foreign creditors that Maynila could repay the loans while improving service, the water firm wants to raise its rates by half-centavo per liter or P4.75 per cubic meter. (One cubic meter is 1,000 liters or five 200-liter drums.)

“Is half-centavo too much?” He asked, staring at his glass of Nawasa juice.

* * *

WE had no choice but to admit that we could live with a half-centavo increase in the per-liter cost of domestic water. Really.

Sensing our impending capitulation, Aber followed up: “Consumption of up to 10 cubic meters a month, or 10,000 liters, is socially priced. Consumers now pay about P40/month all-in for 10 cubic meters, or the cost of two packs of cigarettes.”

We said we don’t know about cigarettes because we don’t smoke. Aber changed his tack: “Bigger consumers meeting the concession average of 30 cubic meters a month, or 30,000 liters, now pay about P160/month all-in, or the cost of a hamburger merienda for a family of six.”

Now how did Aber know I sometimes go to burgerhouses? Don’t tell me he has been espying on me!

* * *

TO put him on the defensive, we charged back: But what we get from the tap is mostly hot air, and worst, we pay for that air!

Dios co” he said in bruised Famfamgo haccent, “What hair har you talking habout?”

“Precisely,” he continued, “Maynilad has to adjust water rates to reasonable levels so it could recoup its losses, pay its inherited debts on time and continue to rehabilitate the system and fill the pipes with water.”

* * *

ASSUMING we’ll finally have water in our taps, we pursued the point, how much will the rate increase be per household per month?

Aber the civil engineer did not have to compute the answer. He seemed to have figured it all out:

“The added cost to the urban poor using 10 cubic meters of water will be around P20 a month. Those using as much as 30 cubic meters will have to pay around P85 more per month. Of course it’s another matter if you have an Olympic-size swimming pool and you change the water everyday…”

* * *

BY that time, friends have started to arrive and join us. And the conversation shifted to other less watery topics.

We found no more need to press Aber about the APC firm. News editor Nonnie Pelayo of Today, an old hand on the defense/military beat, had volunteered the information that APC means Armored Personnel Carrier.

* * *

VIRUS ALERT: We continue to receive the same viruses with our email, sometimes as many as a dozen a day, so we presume that the epidemic is still raging.

When you receive email with an attachment from people you don’t know, delete the unsolicited message unopened. Chase it down to the trash bin and delete it again with finality.

Why risk your hardware costing around P40,000 by failing to install an anti-virus software costing only P200? It could even happen that you don’t have to buy an anti-virus software. There could be an uninstalled PC-cillin or a Norton AV software in those CDs that came with your equipment.

Never mind if the AV software you get is old. Just install it. As soon as it’s working, connect to the Internet and update it. Without updating, your AV software is virtually useless since it cannot catch new viruses being produced by cranks almost everyday.

The two most common viruses we’ve caught the last few days were W32.Sircam.worm@mm and W95.Hybris.worm.

* * *

POSTSCRIPT: Two embarrassing things happened to us lately.

First, we reformatted our hard disk and in backing up important files, we misplaced the FDP333@info.com.ph mailbox of our Eudora (but our Netscape box for ManilaMail was intact). If you mailed FDP333 anything important the past week, you may want to send it again.

Second, our FDPascual@journalist.com mailbox overflowed and it’s been turning back email. Since mail to that journalist.com box is automatically being forwarded to our main mailbox without us doing anything, we now cannot recall our hardly used password for journalist.com. Can anybody out there help us declog our mailbox and make it usable again?

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 2, 2001)

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