POSTSCRIPT / August 9, 2001 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Estradas must join Ping in signing waiver & SPA

THE money-laundering charges heaped on Sen. Ping Lacson need not drag on or be that complicated, because the terms of reference appear clear and simple enough.

Lacson was accused of hiding some $700 million in bank deposits abroad. The banks, account numbers and the last known balances were listed by Col. Victor Corpus, chief of the AFP intelligence service. The particulars are clear.

If this accusation is baseless, Lacson can execute immediately legal instruments waiving his rights to the alleged deposits, giving Corpus full access to the accounts and authorizing him to seize the money, if any, in favor of the Philippine government.

This should be easy for Lacson to do — if it is true, as he has claimed, that the listed accounts are non-existent. But if there is some truth to the accusation, we can expect him to hesitate and hedge.

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THE senator reportedly has signed a Special Power of Attorney (SPA) authorizing Corpus to withdraw the money and a waiver telling the banks that Corpus may inquire into the accounts listed.

As of yesterday, however, the text of the documents have not been published, making it difficult to evaluate their practical value. The substance and form would show if there was mental reservation or if they would serve the purpose, and if there is a sincere intent on the part of Lacson to help ferret out the full truth.

In view of their avowals of innocence, we expect former President Erap Estrada and his wife Sen. Loi Estrada to also sign waivers of their privacy rights and SPAs similar to those reportedly issued by Lacson.

The failure or refusal of the couple to issue such waivers and SPAs would bolster suspicion that reports of their having laundered and hoarded dollars abroad may have some basis.

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BUT it should not be one-sided. Corpus must also be nailed formally to some document affirming that he would immediately resign without prejudice if his bombshell of an expose turns out to be a dud.

By “without prejudice,” we mean that his resignation need not prevent or rule out the filing of appropriate charges (such as libel) by the victims of his false accusations.

There should be some way for us the public to pressure Lacson and Corpus, both gentlemen alumni of the Philippine Military Academy whose word is their bond, to simultaneously sign and issue the counter-documents described.

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UNLESS the protagonists are forced to draw the line, and until the issues are joined in such a clear formal fashion, all of us will be wasting valuable time listening to their endless arguments over the media.

Actually the best route for getting to the truth is through the filing of formal complaints with the Ombudsman against Lacson and the Estradas, and against Corpus if Lacson et al. can build up a counter-charge.

Without the case being tossed to the courts for formal and final resolution, we would find ourselves being treated to inconclusive blah-blah in media and the floor of the Senate.

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WE cannot always rely on the informal statements being made by the protagonists over media. When cornered, one party can always equivocate, if not lie outright.

In the case of Lacson, for instance, he once said he could not have opened those alleged bank accounts in the United States listed by Corpus because he did not have the required federal Social Security number.

Later on, however, he was caught conceding that he once had a US bank account but that he had closed it. How is that?

And then a number of businessmen with bank accounts in the US came out to say that they did not need an SS number when they opened their accounts.

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PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has lamented what the technocrats call the poor “absorptive capacity” of the government to accept and use developmental loans from such foreign sources as Japan.

A good example is the P5.5-billion second phase of the Batangas Port project funded by the Japan Bank for International Development. Work on the modern port and container terminal facilities should have started last year, but a land valuation dispute is getting in the way.

Batangas Gov. Herminigildo Mandanas expressed fear that the Japanese bank might just back out because of the continued failure of the government to acquire the 120 hectares around the old port needed by the ambitious project.

* * *

WHEN expropriation was started in 1999, the zonal value of the land was P300 to P400 per square meter. With the delay and the repeated failure of government lawyers to attend hearings, a court-created commission recommended a price of P4,800/sqm.

After the ex-parte hearings (where only the landowners were heard in the absence of government lawyers), the court even raised the price to P5,500/sqm. A motion for reconsideration filed later by government lawyers was denied.

The government has set aside only P600 million, or P500/sqm, for the land acquisition. But at the P5,500/sqm price set by the Batangas court, the land would cost around P6 billion — which is more than the P5.5-billion price of the project proper.

The Philippine Ports Authority has set a final price of P500/sqm and given the landowners 60 days to accept the offer, but the owners stuck to the court-dictated price.

* * *

THE Batangas governor has expressed fear that “the cancellation of this very important flagship project will have very serious repercussion on the capability of the government to handle and implement foreign-funded projects.”

As part of the preparation, the government has spent an enormous amount for feasibility studies and the detailed engineering design of the project.

“We’re doing our best to save the Batangas Port project and help the PPA solve its land acquisition problem,” Mandanas said. “But the problem has grown so complicated that higher authority may have to intervene.”

* * *

MANDANAS did not say it, but we think this is a high-profile project that no less than President Arroyo should look into.

We think that the public deserves an explanation for two things: the regional court’s raising the price from the recommended P4,800/sqm to P5,500/sqm, and the continued failure of lawyers of the PPA and the Office of the Solicitor General to attend hearings and press the government side.

The way the case has moved, one would think there is a conspiracy to bleed the government in favor of the landowners.

The Ombudsman may want to study the possible building of a case of negligence and economic sabotage against government lawyers who were conspicuously absent at most stages of the expropriation process.

* * *

INFOTECH NEWS: From New York come industry reports that shares of Intel Corp., maker of the Pentium series, fell more than four percent this week amid price war concerns with rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and analyst downgrades.

Intel is expected to slash prices on its top-selling Pentium 4 chips by as much as 54 percent later this month.

At Lehman Brothers, semiconductors and PC hardware analyst Dan Niles predicted that Intel would drop a “price bomb” on Aug. 26. He added that the company would lower prices for lower-end Pentium chips by about 30 percent.

Commenting on Intel’s Pentium 4 strategy, Niles noted, “With this pricing move, Intel will move three speed grades higher and be at the 45-55 percent range for their high-end processor price cuts. Demand is not going well, and AMD is making it hard for (Intel) to breathe.”

* * *

IN Manila, meanwhile, Pentium prices and those of most PC parts have not shown signs of going down. Dealers blame this on the deterioration of the peso exchange rate in relation to the US dollar.

But the prices of RAM (random access memory) chips and hard disks have gone down considerably. This may be a good time to upgrade your RAM or change to a bigger and faster hard disk.

If your Intel Celerons and Pentium 2s are still giving you satisfactory service, you can delay upgrading to Pentium III until marketing focus shifts heavily to the newer Pentium 4 and lowers the prices of the low-end Pentiums. Let’s hope, though, that the peso stabilizes soon.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 9, 2001)

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