POSTSCRIPT / May 27, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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If we pay $6-B Napocor debt, we must get equity

WHAT’S happening to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo? She told the nation on her inaugural that she was not aiming to be a great president, but just a good president. And everything else was supposed to fall into place.

She ran and won in 1998 more than the 10 million votes that propelled Erap Estrada to the presidency.

Upon her installation last January as the 14th President, she had behind her organized labor, the Left, the Church, the Supreme Court, both houses of Congress, the military, the police, the so-called “civil society” and a broad spectrum of other supporters.

Suddenly, she turned around and started playing footsie with the fallen President. She said her special treatment of Erap was part of healing. No, Mrs. President, it’s dealing.

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EARLIER on, GMA also said that it did not make sense to privatize the National Power Corp. and that the government would lose more money than it could make by selling Napocor.

Out of the blue, GMA turned around days ago and called Congress to a special session to pass the highly controversial Omnibus Power Bill providing for the sale of Napocor.

It’s just a month till the new Congress convenes, but she cannot wait. Why?

The lobby for the sale of Napocor to the waiting favored buyer must be that compelling. After spending hundreds of millions for favorable action in the last Congress, the lobby is not willing to spend another fortune on the new Congress?

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ONE objection to the privatization scheme is the placing of power generation and distribution in the hands of a monopoly – unlike in the present setup where the Napocor (government) generates the power and the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) buys and sells it in its franchise area.

When the supplier and the seller of the electricity are one and the same, the door is open to collusion for price manipulation. This reminds us of transfer pricing among oil refineries that buy crude from their mother companies at pre-arranged prices.

Who is the giant interest moving to grab everything and thereby clinch control of the power industry from generation through distribution?

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ANOTHER objection is the passing on to taxpayers of the $6-billion debt of Napocor that normally should be absorbed by the buyer. Why saddle captive consumers who are already reeling from exorbitant power rates with a huge debt that they did not incur?

Maawa naman kayo sa tao, Madam President!

If we taxpayers pay for Napocor’s debt, our payment should at least be converted to equity and we become part owners sharing in the profits.

From Filipinos working abroad alone, we have received queries if they would be allowed to buy shares in the privatized Napocor.

This reminds us of the sale of 40 percent of Petron to the Arabs by the Ramos administration despite the readiness of Filipinos to buy all of it and preserve it as a strategic weapon against monopolistic price manipulation of the oil companies.

It’s clear that there are still many unresolved substantive issues in the plan to sell Napocor. The undue haste of the Arroyo administration is suspicious. Somebody is clearly out to make a killing.

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THE stopping of the construction of a residential facility at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City for Erap is just a tactical retreat of President Arroyo in the face of mounting objections of her Edsa II allies.

It does not mean that GMA has given up the idea of accommodating Erap in a special residence for his wished-for “house arrest.”

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NOTE that GMA has not made a public declaration that she is against house arrest for her predecessor soon to be tried for the heinous crime of plunder. On the contrary, she said she won’t object if ever.

There is no indication that GMA is taking back her reported promise to Iglesia ni Cristo head Eraño Manalo that the bishop’s bosom friend from way back would be granted house arrest.

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NO less than the Sandiganbayan is called upon to explain recent developments tending to show that there is a conspiracy to spare Erap — and his son Jinggoy — the enlightening experience of having to spend time in jail.

Considering the millions in taxpayers’ money being spent and the sensitive nature of the detention issue, it is inconceivable that President Arroyo went ahead with the construction at the Veterans hospital without at least a hint of approval from the Sandiganbayan.

The plunder case is under the jurisdiction and control of the Sandiganbayan and the President has no business meddling in it, but GMA did.

Was there at least acquiescence from the honorable court? If the court remains silent on the question, we take it that the answer is Yes. And if Yes, why the prejudgment on a pending petition?

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WE mentioned Jinggoy above because there is the shameless attempt, generally unnoticed by media and most observers, of Erap’s son to piggy-back on his father’s special status. Even in jail, Jinggoy wants to cash in on his presidential connections?

Erap is not Jinggoy. Jinggoy is not a former president. When (not if) GMA and the rest of them decide to grant house arrest for Erap, it should be just for him.

Jinggoy’s possible house arrest should be discussed separately, if ever.

If Jinggoy were to be lumped with his father in the same house arrest order, the rest of the caboodle (the et al. in the charge sheet) will then surface and demand the same special treatment.

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EVEN in the matter of medical attention at the Veterans hospital, Jinggoy is making singit. Ano ba yan, buy one take one?

His father complained of hika and rayuma, and Jinggoy promptly clutched his potbelly and cried about his alleged tummy ache. (That was smart of him. How does one prove or disprove bellyache nga naman?)

The medical wonder is that the specialists at Veterans, who happen to be all on the government payroll, played along and confirmed the alleged ailments of father and son. It’s amazing, but then this is the Philippines.

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IF GMA is conniving with the Sandiganbayan (as it seems to us) to grant Erap house arrest, they should just do it without treating us to the charade of the partners in (alleged) crime being suddenly sick of something.

Being sick is not an argument for or against house arrest.

It’s funny, but while Sen. Miriam Santiago is staunchly denying being sick, here are father and son insisting that they are sick.

What they and their doctors probably mean is that the patients are complaining of certain symptoms.

But you see, a healthy individual can pick up a thick pathology book detailing symptoms of various diseases and will discover that he has the symptoms for at least half of the diseases described therein.

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OOPS… Pardon my using the lawyerly “therein.” You see, with the Erap cases being discussed to the bone in media, we have been contaminated by the legal gobbledygook strewn all over the place.

We note, by the way, that in his summation for their plea for house arrest for Erap, pro bono lawyer Rene Saguisag quoted verbatim a big chunk of a recent Postscript (May 22, 2001) wherein we said generally that where no life was taken and the possibility of flight is remote, we could consider house arrest for the accused under six conditions that we proposed (and which Rene copied).

When poor Rene is able to collect from his billionaire client, we might ask him to treat us to a cup of coffee.

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INFOTECH: We erroneously referred last time to the upgraded Windows 98 as Windows 2000 (Millennium Edition). When we spotted the error, it was too late to make corrections.

Windows 2000 is the professional version, intended mainly for business and corporate users, while Windows ME (Millennium Edition) is just the upgraded Windows 98 meant for home users (although it can be used in small offices).

Windows ME sells for around P4,000, but unauthorized copies can be bought for P300. The professional Windows 2000 costs around P10,000. We have not seen pirated copies.

Our suggestion is to wait for more consumer reports or feedback before rushing to buy the new Windows operating systems. If you’re happy with your Win98, stick to it for a while longer.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 27, 2001)

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