POSTSCRIPT / October 14, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Under the dust of history lies a city awaiting rebirth

QUICK WALKING TOUR: Manila Mayor Lito Atienza took some writers on a walking tour before the weekend to show why he has been excited about the facelift that he has been pursuing in Liwasang Bonifacio and vicinity.

After lunch at a seaside restaurant reeking with Kim Wong ambiance behind the old Army & Navy Club, he invited us to walk over to the unfinished boardwalk project behind the Quirino grandstand.

There sticking out of the murky bay is the concrete platform on which would rise sana a cluster of shops and restos highlighting Filipino craft and cuisine in the tradition of popular boardwalks and fishermen’s wharves in tourism-oriented cities abroad.

Although looking literally dead in the water, the unfinished structure plays in the mind of Atienza as another touristic display of things Filipino, including the famous sunset and, we presume, our tambayan culture.

The project is on hold because cash-strapped Tourism Secretary Dick Gordon plans to use the boardwalk funds for his tourism marketing program. We imagine that the project will have to wait for some moneyed investors to come to its rescue.

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PARKING AT THE MEHAN: From the Luneta, Atienza took us to, you guessed it, to the Mehan garden between the old Metropolitan theater and City Hall. He showed us the parking building that he was rushing behind the Met over the angry objections of Environment Secretary Sonny Alvarez.

(The Met has gone to seed, a victim of the protracted dispute between City Hall that owns the property and the Government Service Insurance System from whom former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos borrowed money for the theater.)

The mayor took pains to point to some trees that were spared and for which the parking building design was slightly modified. He highlighted its proximity to the LRT (light rail transit) station and the convenience it offers to employees and students in Intramuros.

The ground floor would accommodate some 22 provincial buses, he said, and the second floor and roof deck could take some 200 cars. There would be shops and other amenities for commuters and bus passengers in the parking facility to be operated by a private contractor.

(We’re not totally sold to the idea of inserting a parking building in the Mehan gardens, but we’ll discuss that later).

When this is finished, the mayor said, he would ban all parking in Liwasang Bonifacio, which is now littered with buses parked pell-mell like they owned the place. The plaza fronting the old Post Office (being eyed as a hotel by some imaginative businessmen) would be spruced up.

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UNDERPASS USABLE AGAIN: Atienza then led us to the hitherto forgotten underground passage from Mehan to Intramuros which to our surprise was clean, lighted and cleared of squatters, debris and stink.

The commodious underpass was built way back in the late 60s by then Mayor Tony Villegas, but succeeding mayors (Ramon Bagatsing and Fred Lim) apparently did not even know it existed.

Out of the underpass, we ambled through sun, dust and carbon monoxide to the National Press Club area and on to the immigration bureau, then passed the historic docking area by the Pasig of the galleons plying the Manila-Acapulco route during the Spanish times.

Crossing the street, with the mayor as tour guide, we walked into a pleasant discovery — the riverbank has been cleared of the garbage, oily deposits and the old barges that had huddled for decades and given that section a forbidding air.

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HINTS OF REVIVAL: We suggest you see for yourself that cleared section behind the immigration bureau. From the Del Pan Bridge near the mouth of the river all the way to Jones Bridge near the NPC building, both banks have been cleared of junk. One now feels safe standing by the river wall to enjoy the relaxing panorama.

It was low tide when we dropped by and the river was flowing out to sea. Clumps of water lilies were floating toward the bay where merciless salt and sun would eventually claim them. Maybe it was psychological, but even the air smelled cleaner.

By that time it was almost three in the afternoon. We would have wanted to linger and soak in the river scene, but we heard the mayor had to attend a meeting with the bishops in the nearby CBCP office in the Walled City.

The few things we saw in that quick tour of a section of the old city and the new things Lito Atienza wants to overlay on long-neglected sites gave us hints of what could be a revival of the ever-loyal ciudad de Manila.

But it will take time and a lot of money — as well as the doggedness of Lito Atienza in the face of objections by stalwarts of history clinging to the past.

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SSS SEEKS RECONSIDERATION: Over at the Ombudsman, former directors of the Social Security System are asking for a reconsideration of a decision to file graft charges against them for the controversial purchase by the SSS of shares in PCI Bank (that later merged with Equitable Bank).

The Ombudsman seems to think that the directors committed graft when they bought at P290 per share when its market price at the time, according to the complainants, was only P245 and its book value P161.54.

Among the officials charged were former chairman/president Carlos Arellano, former Labor Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma, executive vice president Horacio Templo, former EVP Leopoldo Veroy and AVP for investments Rizaldy Capulong.

Laguesma, who is only an ex-officio board member, said in his motion for reconsideration that the SSS, together with the GSIS and Equitable Bank, were buying at a premium majority control (72 percent) of PCIB. Buying at a premium is a common practice for parties intent on grabbing control of a major business.

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FAIR MARKET VALUE: Laguesma said they were guided by the “fair market value” of the shares offered by the shareholders at the time (Benpress and Robina Capital), and not by the prices in the stock market.

At the time of the purchase, he added, the price in the stock exchange was P272.50, not P245 per share as alleged by the complainants. He said the same stock reached a high of P295 per share on the day before the approval of the purchase.

The price of P290.075 on May 10, 1999, was recommended by the SSS investment committee as reasonable and way below the industry rates. Laguesma said that the correct selling price at the time was from P324 to P405 per share, which meant that there was actually an effective discount of P73.75 per share and not an overprice.

He said the complained gross disadvantage to the government (SSS) is just in hindsight, because in the first year after the buy-in, the SSS derived substantial income from the acquired shares. It was only later that the value of the shares went down because of politics.

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TRICK THEM VIRUSES: A Sigma Deltan emailing from shares a neat trick to frustrate computer viruses that imbed themselves in the user’s address book then replicate and send themselves to those listed in the address book.

It’s simple and effective. We know because we’ve tried it ourselves and found it effective. Try it yourself.

Create in your address book an addressee simply named !0000, but do not give it any address. It will place itself on top of your list of addressees. In mass mailing to all entries in your address book, you’ll always find !000 as the lead name.

When a virus sneaks in and attempts to send itself surreptitiously to everybody in your address book, an error message will pop up on your screen saying that it cannot send the message because the first or lead entry (!000) has no address.

With that, you’re alerted that an unauthorized transmission is being attempted and you can then handle it from there. The transmission of infected email is thus frustrated and the presence of the virus exposed.

Remember: Do not give !000 an address, not even a wrong address, otherwise the trick will not work. We thank Maning ’61 of Titusville, Florida, who forwarded to his UP Pinoy ’55 brods this !0000 anti-virus stratagem.

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PROMPT UPDATE IS A MUST: Of course the best precaution against viruses is the installation of a good anti-virus software that is regularly updated to make sure it catches the newest strains being churned out by cyber terrorists. The most convenient source of updates is the Internet.

We’re using an AV software with a “LiveUpdate” feature that banishes bothersome manual updating. Whenever we’re connected to the Internet (for instance, for surfing or downloading materials), LiveUpdate quietly springs into action in the background, connects itself to its home base and proceeds to download the update.

We just learn of its behind-the-scenes tasks when a notice appears on-screen saying that LiveUpdate had just downloaded the latest virus patterns, etc. We click OK and the notice vanishes, leaving us feeling secure against viruses as we resume our work.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 14, 2001)

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