POSTSCRIPT / February 20, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Tinga at DoE: Like giving rapist the key to girls’ dorm

ALERT!: There’s a sinister move to appoint former congressman Dante Tinga secretary of energy, the Cabinet post held by Mario Tiaoqui who is best remembered for his kid-glove treatment of the giant oil companies.

Tinga can be expected to be another Tiaoqui, or even worse, because he was the principal sponsor of the same oil deregulation law that threw out government control over the pricing of oil products.

As the monopoly market was not prepared for deregulation, the hands-off policy under the new law sponsored by Tinga resulted in the runaway overpricing of gasoline and other oil products during the watch of deposed President Estrada and Tiaoqui.

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AS energy committee chairman in the outgoing Congress, Tinga was one of the notorious Magnificent Seven committee chairmen who wielded power of life and death over the industries that must pay obeisance to them.

We hesitated to say that Tinga authored (we just said “sponsored”) the oil deregulation law, because the talk in the old Congress was that the substantive provisions of the controversial legislation were actually written by lawyers of the oil companies.

Unmindful of the cries of harassed households and motorists, the Ramos clique in the Palace is reportedly pushing Tinga to take over as energy secretary. But that’s like giving a serial rapist the key to the girls’ dormitory, di po ba?

* * *

IT was not Estrada’s alleged “Erap para sa mahirap” policy or Tinga’s deregulation law that reined in the profiteering oil cartel. It was mainly public opinion, consumer activism and media monitoring that dampened the price increases.

Before President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signs his appointment papers, the public must make known its objection to Tinga’s waltzing again with his patrons in the oil industry.

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APPARENTLY testing the mettle of President Arroyo, the oil majors quietly raised the price of their liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) last weekend by some P16.50 for a high of P275 per 11-kg cylinder.

There used to be prior consultations with the Palace when the oil firms felt the need for raising prices, but this time they just did it. They glossed over the fact that cooking gas is a politically sensitive item as it is used by majority of households.

The new and smaller merchants are dragging their feet on the price move spearheaded by Petron (Gasul) which hogs 25 percent of the LPG market, but Shell (Shellane) and Caltex (Star Flame) are expected to go for it.

* * *

WHILE the new players price their LPG some P10 (per 11-kg tank) lower than that of the Big Three, consumers cannot readily shift to the cheaper gas because the cylinder valves of the various brands have not been standardized.

A housewife using one brand is usually stuck with it because the valve she is using will not fit the gas tank of other brands. This means that the lower prices of the small players will not necessarily result in a shifting of f brands by consumers.

The passage of a law standardizing the valves of LPG containers may be a good idea.

* * *

COME to think of it, imagine if Bataan Rep. Enrique Garcia, the proponent of the Oil Exchange (OilEx) as foil to the oil cartel, were named energy secretary!

Garcia might just be what the oil industry needs to jolt it from its profiteering ways. The OilEx proposed by him would take bids for the total national requirements for refined oil products and take charge of selling them virtually at cost.

Under his OilEx idea, the oil companies will continue operating their refineries and compete in the global bidding to draw out the lowest possible price for petroleum products.

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OMBUDSMAN Aniano Desierto is protesting too much. Overreacting to charges that he is being too easy on his friend Erap Estrada, he is going to town with avowals of fairness.

To match his words, Desierto appears bent on filing plunder and other charges against Erap and hurriedly clapping the movie actor in a real-life jailhouse. He should watch out he does not go overboard in his efforts to demonstrate his alleged fairness.

Better still, he should clam up and just do his job. His job description does not require him to seek interviews with all radio stations every morning to proclaim his willingness to throw the book at Erap.

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ACTUALLY, it’s just a matter of time before Erap is charged before the Sandiganbayan and locked up without bail. Everything, including Desierto’s premature disclosures of his prosecutory intentions, points to that.

That, we think, is the real problem of Erap Estrada. Many factors, including the media, have conspired to condition the public mind that the deposed President is guilty and must face imprisonment, or even death, for his crimes.

If the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan do not move and rule according to this public perception, there could be trouble. It is the impeachment syndrome all over again.

In fact, the Supreme Court, where prejudicial questions on the legitimacy of the Arroyo presidency are pending, is under similar duress. For the sake of “salus populi,” the tribunal may be forced make a political decision and uphold GMA.

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ANOTHER official harassed by public opinion is Local Government Secretary Joey Lina.

As one of those who loudly denounced jueteng and all its variations when the gambling lords were in the Palace drinking and carousing with the Lord of Lords, Lina is under pressure to wipe the illegal numbers game from the map.

In Lina’s own turf in Laguna where he was governor, jueteng is raging like an epidemic. And in Pampanga, GMA’s home ground, it’s the same infuriating story.

If jueteng was a key factor in the fall of Erap halfway in his term, will it be the same in the case of GMA who some seers have said was good only for three years?

* * *

ERAP has served notice that while he was willing to let the “acting” President try her hand at running the country, he would cut short his vacation and take the presidency back if she bungled the job.

We’re sure that Erap and his boys, including one running for senator, are doing their darned best to make sure GMA bungles it.

* * *

PRESIDENT Arroyo should make Pampanga a proving ground of her firm resolve to curb jueteng and big-time gambling.

That should be easy, if she sets her mind to it. All she has to do is call a jueteng summit with her kumpare Bong Pineda, the other big operators, the governor, the provincial police director, all the mayors and their police chiefs.

If she cannot tame the local bosses, if she cannot enforce the law in her own province, how can she presume to run the entire country?

After the jueteng cleanup in Pampanga and in Laguna, Lina can then move to replicate these local successes in other provinces. Kaya ito — kung gusto!

* * *

WE were momentarily impressed with the brave words of Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, who vowed to keep thoroughfares free of election posters of candidates. Not only was this in conformity with the law, it was also a big step toward cleanliness and sanity.

Alas, the illegal posters ban was to go the way of most promises of politicians.

There was another time when we saw pictures of Atienza burning what looked like a huge pile of video karera machines, which are addictive game gadgets.

We wanted to scream and tell hizzoner that while he wanted to clean gaming arcades, he was actually polluting the atmosphere and contributing to the further thinning out of the protective ozone layer above the earth.

* * *

THOSE who went up to Baguio over the weekend came down with reports that even the trees and boulders along the mountain roads had been defaced by senatorial candidates. Prominent on Kennon were the scrawled names of Boy Herrera and Gringo Honasan.

It should have been pleasant reading a series of billboards reciting Joyce Kilmer’s poem on trees. The first board starts with “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” A second billboard appears a few meters up the road continuing with “A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed against the earth’s sweet flowing breast.” As the message starts to sink, the third message greets you from a boulder yonder with “Go Gringo!”

We should ask you not to vote for all those who blatantly insult us with such uncivilized pitches, such vandalism. But then, with or without those offensive signs, with his dismal record, you may not be inclined to vote for Gringo anyway.

* * *

BACK to the impending imprisonment, if not execution, of Erap Estrada, reader Tony Reyes of Everett, Washington, suggests another survey question for our readers:

Can you forgive Erap if he returns all the money he stole, admits his crime, and makes a televised public apology to the Filipino people?

Yes, how about it? Answer with either Yes or No, and give a 50-word explanation. As usual we ask you to give your Age, Sex and Location for our statistical analysis. We also need your name.

For easier sorting of the mail, please write “Erap Apology” as the subject if you’re emailing your response, or on the envelope if you’re sending it by regular post or by messenger.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 20, 2001)

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