POSTSCRIPT / July 15, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Just let Nene stay on as Senate president

THE public should be roused to the crucial need for the televised coverage of the coming trial of former President Erap Estrada on a plunder charge before the Sandiganbayan.

Without TV cameras objectively and relentlessly focused on the witnesses while they testify, the public outside the court room will never know fully what happened and what is likely to happen next.

Take it from us. The print media will not be able to fully report the substance of the trial. The picture that readers will get is likely to be distorted, through no fault of the press but mainly as a result of inherent shortcomings of media.

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THE people must demand that the handicapped print media be supplemented by television coverage done under strict rules of the court.

We repeat our compromise suggestion for a fixed three-camera operation: One TV camera on the witness, another one on the judges, and a third giving a wide-angle view of the audience.

All cameras will be pre-focused and left alone on their tripods. Nobody will be allowed to touch them during the trial.

The worst scenario is an irreducible minimum of one pre-focused TV camera trained on the witness. The public must demand to have a close look at every witness and thereby get a closer study of his demeanor.

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DON’T look now, but the water agency is raising the price of air. Yes, the price of air.

And the reason being given by Maynilad Water for this airy proposition is the continued drop in the exchange rate of the peso against the US dollar.

Some of us may not mind paying a little more for that precious liquid occasionally dripping from our faucets. The problem, however, is that what’s swooshing out of our taps is 95 percent air and we pay for all that gas misrepresented as water.

Air being pushed through the near-empty pipes activates water meters, making it appear that water is being delivered when in fact it’s actually air that we’re getting and paying for.

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IF we remember right, when Maynilad Water bought half of the old Nawasa, including its liabilities, the dollar was worth some P26. Yesterday, the exchange rate at the neighborhood money changer has doubled to around P53 to the dollar.

Since Nawasa’s foreign loans amounting to some $800 million are mostly in dollars, suddenly Maynilad now has to sweat out more pesos to raise the same amount of dollars it needs to pay international loan sharks.

To absorb this loss, Maynilad wants to be allowed to automatically adjust water rates — okay, air rates — whenever the peso tumbles versus the dollar.

Members of the bathless society would not mind paying a little more — if only the promised water were there. That’s just the problem. We’re being asked to pay more for tap water, but it’s just hot air that we’re getting.

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IT’S not just water whose price is going up. Gasoline prices have just been padded after the peso jumped over the $1:P50 psychological barrier.

We see the same double-barrel shotgun being aimed at us by the oil cartel: The price of their crude oil has gone up and the peso equivalent of the dollars used to buy that raw material keeps surging.

With this, Rep. Enrique T. Garcia is back on the scene with his bill seeking the establishment of an Oil Exchange (OilEx) that will handle exclusively the buying of gasoline and other refined petroleum products directly from refineries and traders worldwide to force down the pump price of fuel.

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THE old OilEx bill has passed away with the adjournment of the old Congress. But substantially the same measure, with several refinements, has just been filed as HB 300 by the persistent congressman from Bataan.

Put simply, the OilEx will determine the total national requirement for fuel. It will then negotiate or accept bids from among the world’s refiners and traders, including the three local oil giants operating their own refineries.

Since the electronic bidding via the Internet will be transparent and with everybody knowing how much is being bid by the others, Garcia figured that this would draw lower prices — at least lower than the bloated prices being foisted on us captive consumers by the oil ogres.

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THE OilEx would keep away from the business of refining, marketing and distribution, according to Garcia. The same service stations, most of them operated by the oil giants, would continue to retail fuel but their supply would be secured only through the OilEx.

He said that with all fuel being coursed through the exchange, the actual acquisition price would be of public knowledge and that while there is no price controls, overpricing would be easily curbed.

With the OilEx being inserted into the importing-marketing chain, the administrative cost of operating it, estimated at P100 million yearly, would be tacked on to the retail price. But Garcia estimates this to amount to a negligible half-centavo per liter.

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MAY the oil giants refine their own fuel and sell it at their own price independently of the OilEx? Garcia said that under the proposed OilEx all the refined oil products being sold in the local market must come only from the OilEx pool filled through bidding or negotiation.

If the majors — Petron, Shell and Caltex — want to sell their products, according to the bill, they must participate in the bidding and win.

Since they and other marketing firms would be the ones ordering the fuel through the OilEx, they would have to receive the supply, store it, and pay for it to the supplier. The operating expense of OilEx is thus minimized.

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THE OilEx is unabashedly meant to defeat the Big 3’s monopoly. The Oil Deregulation Law apparently has failed to achieve its objective of breaking up the monopoly and dampening prices to fair and reasonable levels.

Petron, Shell and Caltex still lord it over the industry, having cornered about 95 percent of the refining/importing aspect of the industry. The remaining 5 percent goes to three new players operating their own ocean-receiving storage facilities.

The same imbalance is seen on the marketing side. The three giants control 90 percent of the service stations retailing oil products nationwide. Some 60 new players share the remaining 10 percent, and many of them just buy their supply from the Big 3.

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IF party numbers will decide the Senate presidency, and it will, the logical incoming chief would be former Senate president Ed Angara of the opposition. There are eight or nine senators in the opposition camp and none of the other blocs come close to that number.

The expectation is for the administration to glue together a coalition of the smaller blocs and come up with 13 of the 24 senators voting for the anointed of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The choice of GMA is reportedly Sen. Franklin Drilon, but Sen. Rene Cayetano scoffs at this claim. Both gentlemen are supposed to be on GMA’s side.

If the scattered forces cannot overcome their petty ambitions, the wise thing to do is retain Senate President Nene Pimentel, who after all has ably led the chamber through one of its most turbulent chapters.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 15, 2001)

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