POSTSCRIPT / July 26, 2001 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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If GMA’s plan is bad, her foes should love it

ONE reason why many people are convinced of the workability of the national recovery program presented by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in her State of the Nation Address is that the opposition is frantically trying to shoot it down.

If the four-point agenda of the President is not any good, the opposition would even clap and egg on the President and thereby accelerate her political demise. But no, they are assailing her program’s feasibility and her motivation.

But if the plans she presented are any good for the nation, or hold the promise of economic recovery, we should at least give it a chance to prove itself, instead of obstructing it.

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THE only major objection thrown by the opposition at GMA’s rehabilitation program is that there is, according to them, no money for it.

But GMA, the economist who ascended to the presidency equipped for the job, has been detailing in media, including TV and radio, the specific sources of the money for agriculture, housing, employment, education and other areas of concern.

From her followup explanations in the media, it is obvious that the President did her homework before she delivered her SONA. She has attended to the nitty-gritty of matching resources and requirements.

Having done her part, she should at least be given a chance to deliver. After all, there is no viable alternative from the opposition or elsewhere.

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BUT suppose the money is really not there or won’t be there, contrary to the claim of the President? The opposition need not lose sleep over that detail. They should even rejoice that GMA is pushing an impossible dream.

The dangerous scenario here is that the opposition, to prove its contention that there is no money, might just block moves of the Executive to raise the money or for Congress to locate and appropriate the needed funds.

As the President herself said, she is no miracle worker. She cannot do it alone. Congress, being the body assigned to approve budgets and fund allocations, must cooperate.

And the people, the end-beneficiaries of the rehabilitation program, can help by monitoring and prodding the various sectors that must work together to make the program succeed.

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WE’RE appalled by the accusation that First Gentleman Mike Arroyo had extorted money or taken a fat bribe from a telecommunications firm seeking the recall of a presidential veto of its franchise.

We were thinking: If he was really bribed, how come his wife the President did not deliver by recalling the veto?

But right on cue, the honorable senators from the opposition put on their war paint and made noise about investigating Mr. Arroyo’s alleged crime.

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WE suggest that a taxpayer, maybe Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, file the information with the prosecutor’s office so that agency tasked by law to investigate such matters will be able to do its assigned task while the senators can attend to their own job of making laws.

If there is really a case, or if a crime was committed, the prosecutor should be able to ferret out the truth and file the appropriate charges in court. There’s no need for senators to froth in the mouth.

Actually, Mr. Arroyo can file a libel suit against the disgruntled Malacañang secretary who aired the charges about the alleged bribery. Even assuming there was bribery, we doubt if the receiver of the money would be so stupid as to sign a receipt or pose for the camera.

This is a non-case — but a juicy one since the public has been conditioned to believe the weirdest stories about hanky-panky in high places.

But it would be a mistake for Mr. Arroyo to sue. Even if innocent, he cannot win the case if he tangled publicly with his accuser and the Senate probers.

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OUR POSTSCRIPT on the cement cartel’s controlling supply and jacking up prices amidst a glut elicited varied reactions from consumers. Here’s one of those letters, from Napoleon G. Co using an edsamail address:

“I am a trader who has been importing cement since 1990 whenever the local market needs it. Before, this was only during summer when local manufacturers could not cope up with the demand. So it was just for a few months. After the l997 economic crisis, imports of cement stopped because it was no longer viable to import and sell at par with local cement which was then selling way below Pl00 per bag.

“Imports were started in l999 by Star Cement Corp. and later by TCC Cement Corp. They set up cement bulk silos at the Smokey Mountain Industrial Estate in Tondo.

“For Indonesian bagged cement, importation started only in May 2000. This I started with the cooperation of the Philippine Constructors Association that wants to show the local cement manufacturers that they should not raise their selling price since imports could be competitive.

“The first imports were not profitable and we did it just to support PCA get a message across. But since the local cement plants just went on with their price increases, more imports started to come in. Imports were competitive not because they were cheap but because the local cement plants raised their price above the import cost increases due to foreign exchange deterioration from P46 to the current P53 to the US dollar.

“When forex was P46=$1, import cost was around P94 and the local price was around Pl00 ex-plant. Now at P53 to the dollar, imported cement costs around Pll0 to Pll5 while local cement is now P134 per bag!

“So imports are now selling more than P20 cheaper on wholesale basis.

“As local cement plants continued raising their selling prices, the volume of imports did continue to increase. Last June, as per Philcemcor, imports were already more than 20 percent of the total market demand. If this is a strategy of the local cement manufacturers to create an import surge scenario, they have succeeded!

“Local cement plants are now selling at P134 per bag picked-up from the plant, but some are still selling much lower on a case-to-case basis. While cement imported from Indonesia in 40-kilo paper bags are being sold at various ports (Batangas, Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod, Davao and other Mindanao ports) at Pll5 to Pl25 per bag, the prices vary due to local port situations. It is true, as reported, that retail prices are near the local cement selling prices of around Pl45 per bag.

“Why? Because imported cement have been proven to be better than most local cement. Thus more customers now prefer imported cement. Thus, retailers could sell at par with local cement.

“So local cement plants through Philcemcor claimed that end-users are not benefited by cheap imports, but the importers and traders are!

“Without imports, local cement could have been selling at much higher prices! (The Big Four cartel has accepted that in some countries where they have controlling interest, prices are around US$l00 per ton or over P200 per 40-kilo bag! “Without safeguards, current imports could also be stopped. The big cement conglomerates have controlled supply in many countries all over the world.

“Soon, Star Cement and TCC Cement may stop importing cement and just trade with local cement as a compromise with the Big Four who have been exporting cheap cement to their countries.

“Taiwan, I heard, may have just recently entered into a compromise agreement for both to stop exporting to each other! Taiwan cement plants have been badly hurt by cheap imports from the Philippines and Korea that are sold cheap in Taiwan — causing the Taiwan local price to drop from around NT$130 to around NT$90 per bag unlike in our country where prices have been going up in spite of imports.

“Indonesian cement plants are now majority-owned by the Big Four. The two rebellious cement plants that are still actively exporting to the Philippines are being pressured to sell out to the Big Four at a very high premium.

“This was the same tactic they used in the Philippines. They buy at a premium and close down the very old inefficient plants. It is not true that many cement plants closed down due to the import surges. It was more for business reasons and in order to stabilize supply and control demand and prices.

“The remaining cement plants still not bought by the Big Four are Northern Cement owned by Danding Cojuangco and Pacific Cement in Surigao which is very small and no threat to them.

“Soon, Indonesian cement will no longer be available just like Thailand and Malaysian cement. The next source could be China but at present, their export prices are still higher than those of Indonesia.

“Thus no cement is coming from China. But when Indonesia will stop exporting to the Philippines due to the influence of the Big Four who have substantial control now of Indonesian cement, then if local prices go up Chinese cement could come in if there is no 50-percent punitive duty. Or only possible if the local price goes up to around P200 per bag!”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 26, 2001)

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