POSTSCRIPT / September 9, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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With that GMA flareup, NFA's Abad better quit

IF he has any delicadeza, administrator Tony Abad of the National Food Authority should have quit after the public outburst of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo over the 1.2 million sacks of NFA rice she found almost rotting in a bodega in Batangas.

It does not matter if he or she or both of them were merely misinformed or misquoted by media. The fact that the President had to lose her temper, and composure, in a televised press conference was enough for Abad to resign in shame.

It was indiscreet for Abad to have told a radio station that he was surprised that the President would be so concerned about the warehousing issue. No government official talks like that about the President and expects to stay in office.

Aside from flaring up when asked in a presscon about the rice, the President should have announced the immediate relief of Abad.

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MORE QUESTIONS: In the public mind, Abad has to answer a lot of questions about that imported stock valued at P1.5 billion.

The rice has been sold to dealers, so how come it is still in the care of the NFA? Why is the NFA keeping it in a private warehouse? Since it has been sold, why is the NFA paying for the warehousing and such incidentals as fumigation?

More questions: When the NFA imports rice, who gets the commission? When the NFA sells the rice to local dealers, who gets the commission? When the NFA hires private trucking and warehousing, who gets the commission?

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VILLAR INQUIRY: Some of these questions, it is hoped, would be answered when Sen. Manuel Villar, chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, opens an inquiry into the mess discovered by President Arroyo.

Villar may want to look also into reports that bidding is often rigged in favor of a select group that corners all cereal being sold by NFA. In round-robin fashion, the cartel members reportedly decide who among them would win in a particular bidding and then manipulate the bids.

The investigation may well review the government’s food policy and strategy. How come this rice-producing country never becomes self-sufficient in the cereal? With its minuscule share of the rice market, how can NFA expect to influence supply and prices?

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CITIBANK ROLE: The mention of Citibank issuing a certification that Sen. Panfilo Lacson has no money deposited in their foreign branches reminded us that it was also in Citibank where former President Erap Estrada and his wife once kept a huge dollar account.

It was also Citibank that helped Raúl Salinas (the convicted brother of former Mexico president Carlos Salinas de Gortari) maintain secret deposits in Swiss and British banks to hide suspected proceeds of drug deals running to more than $100 million. As in Lacson’s case, Citibank also certified that Salinas had no account with the bank.

After the suspension of the Senate impeachment trial, the Estradas were reported to have quietly notified Citibank that they wanted to withdraw their multimillion-dollar account in the Greenhills branch.

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B.I.R. SAYS NO: With tax issues having been raised in the impeachment trial, the Bureau of Internal Revenue ordered the bank not to allow the withdrawal. Angry taxpayers massed in front of Citibank in Greenhills to prevent money from being taken out.

But after the vigilant crowd got tired or were tricked into leaving, the Citibank branch reportedly went ahead and allowed the withdrawal. Where’s the money now? Nobody seems to know, although there is supposed to be a paper trail.

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HAVEN FOR DIRTY MONEY: After Clarissa Ocampo, a senior vice president of Equitable PCIBank, exposed Estrada’s using the fictitious name Jose Velarde to open a secret account with the bank, the entire banking system was subjected to searing public scrutiny.

It is an open secret that Manila has become a haven for the laundering of the proceeds of corruption, drug-trafficking and other illicit sources of dirty money.

This new-found notoriety of Manila banks could not have come about without the knowledge or the acquiescence of monetary officials. We wonder what the considerations were for allowing this dangerous drift of Philippine banking.

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MASSIVE WITHDRAWALS: When the Equitable PCIBank could no longer stand the public pressure, it delivered to the Senate its sealed records of the questioned transaction involving Estrada and/orVelarde.

That was the signal to big money-launderers that Manila banks could not guarantee absolute secrecy. Many of them reportedly pulled out their illicit hoards and moved them to more hospitable shores. The ensuing dollar flight contributed to the deterioration of the peso.

In the fallout of the Ocampo bombshell, her own Equitable PCIBank suffered huge withdrawals that nearly led to the bank’s collapse. These panic withdrawals reportedly included huge secret deposits similar to the Jose Velarde account.

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WE EASILY FORGET: But we Filipinos have a short span of attention. After the Velarde expose where Clarissa emerged as some sort of heroine, everybody soon forgot about the President of the Republic shamelessly signing a fictitious name to hide presumably illicit income.

If anybody bothers to check that Velarde account now, our bet is that all the millions stashed away had been withdrawn. Nobody’s asking questions anymore. Nobody’s patient enough to doggedly sniff around and trace the money.

And that’s only one account. What about the many other bulging bank deposits?

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WE NEVER LEARN: At that time, remember, everything was so clear in the public mind. Everything was almost cut and dried, ready for presentation in court for an inevitable conviction.

With time and other intervening factors, however, most of that have been forgotten. The trail has gone cold. The Chinoys and the cronies who helped mastermind the plunder are all gone. Witnesses and records have disappeared.

We’re now engrossed with another show, that of Sen. Panfilo Lacson — which, if we may venture a guess, would end up like the Estrada case.

And the Marcos cases before them.

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FOREIGN PRESSURE: Emissaries of the Philippine government, meanwhile, are busy explaining to the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force that the Congress is well on its way to passing an anti-money laundering bill.

If the law is not passed by the Sept. 30 deadline set by FATF, sanctions could be lowered on the Philippines along with other countries deemed to be not cooperating in the global fight against money laundering. This is foreign meddling, but what can we do?

The Philippines is one of 19 nations on the blacklist drawn up by the task force formed by several industrialized nations. Those blacklisted have to show positive moves, including legislation, against money-laundering.

Sanctions could mean obstacles being thrown across financial transactions involving the Philippines. Trade payments and foreign currency remittances could become suddenly difficult and more costly.

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INFOTECH: As we predicted, the prices of Intel’s Pentium processors have started to go down. We expect prices to go even lower, especially with the peso exchange rate having stabilized, although the Christmas buying surge might prevent any price slide.

Would you believe that Pentium 4s are now priced even lower than the older Pentium IIIs? Tila baligtad po, pero totoo! Pentium 4-1.5 ghz costs P7,859 — which is lower than Pentium III-1.0 ghz at P10,600, Pentium III-933 mhz at P8,900, and Pentium III-866 mhz at P7,900. (All items boxed)

We think Intel’s marketing scheme is to push the Pentium 4s and encourage assemblers to use them in their new packages.

If you ask us, however, we think that if you’re not into heavy animation and 3D games and such demanding processes, you will stay satisfied with your Pentium III. More so if you’re the average home and office user who is mostly into Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and a few other common software.

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OUR CHOICE: Personally, we are inclined to go for the Pentium III-1.0 ghz, although it is more expensive than Pentium 4-1.5 ghz. Or we might settle for an AMD Athlon 1.4 ghz (at 266 mhz clock speed) costing only some P7,000.

If you’re thinking of upgrading, one problem with a Pentium 4 is that you cannot just stick it into your Pentium III motherboard. You have to buy a new dedicated board altogether.

In any case, if you’re not in a hurry, delay buying a new computer or upgrading. Wait for the prices to settle, and look out for consumer reports and benchmark tests on the Pentium 4 and the AMD Athlon.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 9, 2001)

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