POSTSCRIPT / August 13, 2002 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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‘Terrorism’ must be taken in specific national context

JOKE SESSION: A murderer, sitting in the electric chair, is asked by the chaplain: “Have you any last request?”

Doomed convict says: “Opo, can I have a photo-op with Ate Glo with her holding my hand to the very end?”

That one from a top PR practitioner-political strategist.

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DEEP DILEMMA: Indeed, the Arroyo administration is in deep dilemma over the United States’ marking as terrorists the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed group New People’s Army.

Despite its recent tough talk on the NPA, the administration is in back channel talks with the CPP bigwigs ensconced in the safety and comfort of Utrecht in Holland. Now if the rebels are terrorists as the US wants us to believe, what do we do?

The problem is that President Arroyo has hewed closely to the hawkish line of US President Bush and echoed his strong statements against terrorism. She has been rewarded with “aid” for her promptly stepping forward to Uncle Sam’s call to arms after the Sept. 11 terrorist bombing attack into the very heart of America.

Mukhang napasubo yata tayo. We walked with eyes wide open into the American loop, and now we are impliedly being asked to act on the CPP/NPA threat with the same fervor as our warlike rhetoric.

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NATIONAL CONTEXT: One way out is, conveniently, the absence of our own legal definition of “terrorism.” With that, we have reason to hedge and say “teka muna” as we have to look at and act on each case of terrorism in its particular context.

Even the senior European allies of America are not unanimous in their armed approach to terrorism. Like us, they have their own national context against which to regard specific cases of supposed terrorism.

Regardless of how we will eventually classify the CPP and the NPA, there is nothing we can do to stop the US, if it wants, from blocking the rebels’ bank transfers made outside the Philippines.

But we all know that the US has been able to insert its left foot in the door of our banking system. With this, plus its known connection in local banks, the US can still make bank transactions of known CPP/NPA conduits difficult.

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DIWALWAL GOLD RUSH: Thank god, the government finally stepped into the chaos in the Diwalwal gold-rush area on Mt. Diwata in Monkayo, Compostela Valley, where bloody incidents arising from mining conflicts have claimed some 60 lives.

The logical steps would be to stop everything, disarm all civilians, establish a one-stop composite regulatory agency in the area, register and look after the idled workers, sort out conflicting claims, check the safety and technical integrity of each mine, and establish an integrated management scheme for all mining operations in the area.

The military/police units and government inspectors assigned to Mt. Diwata must be replaced by fresh personnel immediately.

Mining operations should be resumed only when all that is done. To resume operations half-way through the preparations would only result in the return of the pre-takeover situation.

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LEGAL MONKEY WRENCH: There’s no rush or urgency in resuming Diwalwal gold mining, but the government must set a time-frame for the return of normalcy and the resumption of (only) legitimate mining operations.

Maybe we’ve seen too much of judicial abuse, but we expect one of the big mining operators to come up with a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) from its favorite judge. If that happens (God forbid!), the crisis will drag on.

Local politicians with business interests in the mines and who maintain private armies to keep themselves on top can also be expected to block any move to suspend and rationalize mining operations.

If there is any legal way to impose a sort of mini-martial law (not quite) in the Compostela Valley, we would favor that step, provided the government sticks to the time-frame we suggested for government to define.

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INVOKE STATE POWER: The government steps in armed with clear powers guaranteed by the Constitution itself. Among other provisions, read Section 2, Article XII (National Economy and Patrimony):

“All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State. xxx The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. xxx ”

Of course, it’s still possible that a crazy judge would issue a TRO to stop the government cleanup initiative in the area.

Related to this, the Philippine National Police said in its report on the Diwalwal problem:

“Lives are being lost and the credibility of government to look after the welfare of the small people is being eroded. To hinge the solution of the Diwalwal conflict on legalities will be a long, tedious process which may just see the periodic repeat of the same violent scenarios as what had happened so far.”

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BUT WHERE’S THE GOLD?: Diwalwal is so rich in gold that it has attracted over the past two decades illegal small-scale miners who employ hordes of workers tunneling with primitive tools and generally unsafe methods. It is reminiscent of the Gold Rush in the mountains of California in the Old West.

Reports are rife that much of the gold extracted from the area is unaccounted for, presumably smuggled out. The Central Bank, which is supposed to keep track of gold movement, is out of the picture.

The explosive mixture in Diwalwal simmers. The other day, an Army armored vehicle rammed through the barricade set up by more than 2,000 mine workers at the bridge in Mawab, Compostela Valley.

The workers were demanding action on the fumigation of a tunnel controlled by a local politician resulting in the death of one of them. There has been no visible government regulation of mining activities.

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ODD OILMAN OUT: A fuel storage terminal on Beata St. in Pandacan was not included in the compromise formula signed June 28, 2002, between Manila City Hall and the three oil majors — Petron, Shell and Caltex — meant to create a buffer between their fuel tanks and the rest of the community.

The depot is the Nagtahan Terminals Inc. owned by Leonardo Q. Monteverde. It leases 25 tanks to various firms, with a total working capacity of 27 million liters.

Before its operation as a bulk terminal for fuel, Nagtahan Terminals’ tanks were used to store coconut oil. Thus, the depot does not have appropriate fire protection mechanisms or even compliant electrical system and containment walls similar to those installed at the terminals of Petron, Shell and Caltex.

In fact, two fire incidents have reportedly occurred in the Beata compound this year due to the lack of safeguards.

Unlike the 60 to 70 tanks of the Big 3 that are evenly spread across 35 hectares, Nagtahan Terminals has crammed 25 tanks within a two-hectare compound. Unlike the Pandacan depot, Beata does not have two hectares to spare for a buffer zone.

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BUFFER RENDERED USELESS: If Nagtahan Terminals continues to operate, the buffer zone of Petron, Shell and Caltex cannot serve its purpose because the former’s depot is perched on Beata St. right beside and across a densely-populated mixed residential/commercial community.

Even if Nagtahan Terminals puts up a buffer zone, it will obstruct the security that should be provided by the buffer zone of Petron, Shell and Caltex, and will continue to breach that safety requirement for as long as it continues to store fuel in the present location.

Manila Mayor Lito Atienza approved on Nov. 28, 2001, Ordinance 8027 passed by the city council on Nov. 20 reclassifying from industrial to commercial the land use of some areas used by the fuel depot.

In line with Ordinance 8027, Nagtahan Terminals was ordered closed on July 5, 2002, since it was not a party to the compromise agreement entered into last June by Atienza and Petron, Shell and Caltex.

Nagtahan Terminals has since asked City Hall to reconsider the closure order in view of its plan to put up a buffer zone similar to the proposal of Petron, Shell and Caltex. It is also seeking an endorsement from the Department of Energy.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 13, 2002)

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