POSTSCRIPT / November 25, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Napocor deal: Who gets the $5-M commission?

NEW YORK — The stink from an incipient deal involving the insurance of $6-billion assets of the National Power Corp. is wafted all the way across the Pacific to the Filipino community in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tristate area.

We were talking last night with a Pinoy businessman who just flew in from Manila and he was telling us about the recent second failed bidding for the reinsurance of Napocor assets. He noted that we have been writing on this, so he mentioned it to us.

It was not clear to him why there was a failed bidding again. But we surmised that the bidders must have found it extremely difficult submitting bids that would be low enough but still make money for them and the well-connected individuals salivating for fat commissions.

A padded bid could be exposed as crooked, because it is easy for the Government Service Insurance System — which is mandated by law to handle the insurance of Napocor and all government entities — to come up with lower bids.

The commissions from a manipulated bid, estimated by industry sources at $3-5 million!, would jack up the bidders’ quotations if they tacked on that under-the-table expense.

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OPPORTUNISM?: But under the current dispensation where every challenge is also an opportunity, the second failed bidding appears to be no problem. In fact, it could well be part of a devious plan to award the juicy reinsurance contract to a favored party.

The failure of the second bidding conducted by a special Malacañang committee headed by Finance Secretary Jose Isidro Camacho has actually paved the way for the Palace to go around the bidding requirement in favor of a negotiated contract with a favored broker.

Right on cue, we heard that Camacho has sent his runner to Malacañang to submit a proposal precisely to award the contract via direct negotiations in view of the repeated failed bidding for the reinsurance of Napocor assets. There must be less scandalous ways of raising the billions needed for the 2004 presidential elections.

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FILIPINO VETERANS: Over at Capitol Hill, there is renewed lobbying by Filipino American groups for the passage of a law recognizing the military service in the last world war of thousands of Filipinos who fought under the American flag but who had not been given the benefits due them as veterans.

Focus of the lobbying are Senate bill S. 1042 (Benefits Improvement Act) which allocates $60 million for Filipino veterans of various categories, and House bill HR 491 (Equity Act) that sets aside a whopping $352 million for them.

The just-concluded working visit here of President Arroyo has drawn attention to the veterans whose dwindling number has been estimated last January at 13,849 residing in the US plus 46,050 in the Philippines.

President Arroyo mentioned their plight to President George W. Bush in their recent meeting Tuesday at the White House.

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ARROYO-BUSH TALKS: While the two presidents met in the Oval Office, two dozen FilAm community leaders and some veterans held a rally at Lafayette Park in front of the White House. They said that endorsement of the bills by Mr. Bush was crucial.

When asked by the press about the veterans’ bills, Mr. Bush said he expected some definitive congressional action by December.

“She did bring up the (veterans) issue,” he said referring to President Arroyo, “She strongly brought it up, and she was an advocate for the Philippine veterans bill which has been an issue around here for a long time.”

The categories that stand to reap benefits from the passage of veterans’ bill are members of the Philippine Commonwealth Army, recognized guerrillas, and new scouts who have been wounded in the war.

Official recognition would make them eligible to receive full benefits from the US Department of Veterans Affairs such as health care in specified hospitals, clinics and nursing homes and permanent disability pensions if they are poor and disabled.

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JUST, LEGAL, LOGICAL: The lobbyists explained that official recognition was just, legal and logical. They gave four reasons:

  1. Then President Franklin Roosevelt drafted Commonwealth Army soldiers who were US nationals into American military service on July 26, 1941.
  2. Before the Rescission Act was enacted on Feb. 18, 1946, Filipino veterans were considered by the Veterans Administration as US veterans with “active service.”
  3. Some 26,000 of these veterans were naturalized as US citizens under the 1990 Immigration and Naturalization Act on the strength of their service.
  4. Under Public Laws 106-377 and 106-419, a thousand Filipino veterans wounded in war and who resided in the US are entitled to full compensation, as well as medical and burial benefits. They ask why their comrades in arms similarly situated are denied the same benefits.

The $352 million earmarked for eligible veterans under HR 491 includes $12.1 million for 12,900 veterans based in the US, $35.5 million for 35,550 based in the Philippines, $2.2 million for 12,900 US-based veterans, $266 million for 35,550 Philippine-based veterans at around $775 per month each, and $35.8 million for 360 widows in the US.

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DRIVING IN THE STATES: To cover the high point of the President’s visit in Washington, DC, we drove solo from New York (her previous stop) to DC and, upon completion of that part of our assignment, we drove back again to here.

The previous time we did this, we mean driving between DC and New York, was when we covered the state visit of then President Marcos a year before the snap elections that drew the curtains on him.

Now we’ll use this motoring experience as an excuse to answer the questions that some colleagues have been asking us about driving in America.

Before we drove back here from DC last Wednesday, we were advised by well-meaning friends to start out early since all roads were expected to be clogged with Americans crisscrossing the continent to go home for Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Since air travel has been suddenly considered risky, there are now more Americans on the road.

We heeded their counsel but were comforted by the thought that anybody who can take with grace the torture of EDSA traffic will survive any traffic test anywhere, including the Thanksgiving road jams in the USofA.

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EDSA VETERAN SURVIVES: As expected, traffic was reduced to a crawl in some congested portions of Interstate 95 (part of which is called the New Jersey Turnpike) and there were long lines at the toll booths. But being a battle-scarred EDSA veteran, we took everything in stride.

While we negotiated the New York-DC leg in 4-1/2 hours last Sunday, the return trip on the eve of Thanksgiving Day took six hours, including two stops at crowded rest areas.

It is not difficult driving here because we have the same road rules and the same left-hand drive vehicles. All one has to do is study the road map before setting out, follow the signs and stick to the rules.

To drive in the US, a Filipino driver can use his valid Philippine license for 60 days (with his passport and US visa ready for possible reference). There is no need to get an international driving permit from our Philippine Motor Association since all signatories to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic — the US and the Philippines among them — honor one another’s licenses for certain limited periods after the temporary visitor’s arrival.

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SCREENING OFF ALIENS: The day after Thanksgiving, a Friday, we drove over to the nearest Motor Vehicle Services office to secure a local US driver’s license.

A first-time applicant normally has to pass vision, written and practical tests among other things (like a social security number and proof of identity and legal stay for foreigners), but we were banking on the possibility that they would recognize our valid Philippine license and use it as basis for issuing us a local license — as they sometimes do.

But we found the MVS office closed, presumably as a consequence of the Thanksgiving holiday hangover. To dash our thoughts of getting a US license during this visit, there was a note on the locked glass door saying among other things that foreigners who are staying in the US less than one year will not be issued licenses.

That’s a new rule, an unfair one, as far as we know. Having held once a California driver’s license issued despite our short stay then, we concluded that the one-year rule is another of those restrictions frantically put in place after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to make it more difficult for aliens with temporary visitor’s visas to lead normal lives while in the States.

But it’s their country.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 25, 2001)

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