POSTSCRIPT / October 21, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Deadly 'conthrax' virus eating up fat gov't deals

VIRULENT STRAIN: There’s another kind of terrorism quietly raging in the bureaucracy. It is called “conthrax” and it’s deadly.

The most virulent strain of the conthrax virus has been spreading in selected target agencies, where it is cornering and voraciously gobbling up fat government contracts. Four well-placed officials have been the suspected carriers.

Will Malacañang be able to stamp out conthrax? There’s actually a cure for the plague, but applying it requires purity of heart and political will — which are rare elements in government.

The cure also requires detachment, since some members of the Gang of Four linked to conthrax are reportedly close to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. (Just to be clear about it, her husband Mike is not one of them.)

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TEMPTING FAT CONTRACTS: The alarm was first raised when the gang suddenly showed unusual interest in big contracts set for bidding. To take over the business, they changed the usual bid procedures ostensibly for better control.

In the Government Service Insurance System, for instance, the job of the GSIS to reinsure assets of government entities — a function mandated by law — was suddenly taken over by a committee that President Arroyo was misled into creating.

Billions are involved in this forcible takeover of a routine task of the GSIS. In one account alone, that of the National Power Corp. whose insurable assets are worth more than $6 billion, the commission up for grabs could go as high as $5 million.

Into whose pockets will this fortune go? We refuse to believe that it will go to the 2004 campaign chest.

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CONTHRAX VICTIMS: The Napocor, the biggest GSIS client, is just one of the targets of conthrax. Recent events have shown, however, that the Napocor is a willing victim.

If the virus succeeds in overrunning Napocor and the GSIS, the plague can be expected to spread to other agencies bulging with insurable assets.

We were told that another giant account, the Energy Development Corp. under the Philippine National Oil Commission, is also being targeted by the Gang of Four.

A Cabinet official has talked to a top executive of PNOC-EDC to allow a deal similar to the takeover of the reinsurance of Napocor assets. With the EDC’s assets running into billions, the Gang of Four’s expected insurance commissions are staggering.

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BENDING THE RULES: The spread of conthrax is made easier by simply bending the bidding rules. All that’s needed as cover is a legal opinion from the justice department. Until overturned by a competent court, the legal opinion is supposedly binding on all parties.

Even if such a legal opinion is manifestly unjust, somebody still has to go to court first and suffer through a long litigation to have the vexing opinion overturned. (Can’t a law be passed to obviate the abuse of so-called legal opinions?)

In the $12-million contract for the supply of wood poles for a countrywide rural project of the National Electrification Administration, the government corporate counsel already advised that the rules be followed and the award given to the lowest bidder.

To thwart that, the gang had the justice department stepping in and rendering the desired legal opinion reversing the corporate counsel’s position. That paved the way for the dropping of the lowest bidder, Nerwin Industries Corp., in favor of a competitor submitting a bid that was P151,487,736 higher!

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ECONOMIC SABOTAGE: The gluttonous appetite of the Gang of Four has serious implications. Considering the dire straits the country is in, conthrax smacks of economic sabotage.

In the Napocor case, the takeover by a presidential committee of the reinsurance business normally handled by the GSIS has resulted in a failed bid. No broker or insurance firm took the risk of submitting a bid under the questioned setup.

As a result, Napocor’s multibillion-peso assets are now left uninsured. In this world threatened by terrorism and such hazards, Napocor executives are taking a big risk letting valuable state property go insured. The neglect is criminal.

In the case of the NEA rural electrification project, the funding expected from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation is in danger of being withdrawn because of the bid awards having been infected by conthrax.

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CLARK DOWNGRADED: In Pampanga, meanwhile, the cabalen are not relenting in their insistence that GMA, their provincemate, attend to the full development of Clark Field (recently renamed Diosdado Macapagal International Airport after her father).

President Pro Tempore Alexander S. Cauguiran of the Sangguniang Panglunsod of Angeles City, said: “Beyond the rhetoric and the sound bytes she issues every time she is in Pampanga, President Arroyo has failed her cabalen on the development of the airport now bearing Apung Dadong’s name.”

He lamented that GMA endorses the contract for Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport that binds the government to stunt the development of other international airports in Luzon until NAIA-3 logs 10 million passengers annually for three successive years.

This has dampened investor interest in Clark despite then President Ramos’ promise that the government would develop Clark as the premier international airport of the country.

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NAIA’S CRAMPED SPACE: Cauguiran noted that NAIA has been shrinking. It has only 700 hectares for terminals, aviation and all other related facilities. It is hemmed in by the South Luzon Expressway and the Parañaque perimeter road on the northeast and the Multinational Village of El Shaddai head Mike Velarde on the southwest.

“The government can support a future Terminal 4, 5 or 6,” the councilor said, “But this will not solve the space problem at the NAIA.”

He said NAIA has no room for expansion for its short runways or for the speedy movement of people into and out of it. Aviation experts testifying in Congress in 1998 described NAIA as “dangerous and unsafe” for all flights because of its narrow runways.

Future large aircraft that will roll out by 2003 may not be safely, efficiently and economically handled because of the marginal wingspan clearance at NAIA’s runways, Cauguiran said.

The Air Transportation Office itself has reported that there have been six major aircraft accidents at the NAIA’s main runway 06/24.

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CLARK DWARFS NAIA: The Clark airport complex, in comparison, has 2,500 hectares for a world-class passenger terminal, parking aprons, taxiways, cargo handling, aircraft repair and commercial spaces. NAIA and all its facilities can fit inside a corner of Clark.

Formerly home of the 13th US Air Force, Clark has six maintenance hangars, 12 aircraft shelters, five air cargo terminals and two control towers. At the height of the Vietnam war, it took in stride the punishing traffic, including the giant B-52 bombers.

It has twin parallel runways, each 3.2 kilometers long, and another runway for small planes. Its wide reinforced concrete runways, made to strict specifications of the US Air Force, have grooves to prevent “aquaplaning” — in contrast with the asphalted and corrugated NAIA runway.

Clark’s runways were built to take the US Space Shuttle, should it fail to land in the US mainland, and the C5 Galaxy, largest military cargo plane in the world that can carry more than 150 percent of the workload of a B747.

Its runway configuration allows the airport to cater to 30 operations per hour and is capable of up to 100 peak-hour operations with the use of the two independent runways. They have been classified as Category 1, based on ICAO standards.

No wonder, when the NAIA runway is again repaired this November, arriving international night flights will be temporarily diverted to Clark.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 21, 2001)

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