POSTSCRIPT / August 25, 2002 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Finally, cheap & clean gas for motor vehicles

DEAD OR ALIVE?: It’s not surprising that until now there’s confusion over the question of whether or not Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya was killed in a sea encounter last June 21 off Zamboanga del Norte.

That’s what happens when there is no corpus delicti, no corpse to show for it. Since the man was alive the last times he was publicly seen and heard, he is presumed still alive until proved otherwise.

Absence evidence, even the courts wait seven years before they declare a missing man dead. At this point, the reasonable course is to tentatively list Sabaya, whose real name is Aldam Tilao, as MIA (missing in action) instead of KIA (killed).

Fr. Cirilo Nacorda of Lamitan, Basilan, is being challenged by Malacanang, the military, and even a topnotch senator-lawyer, to prove that Sabaya is alive. It should be the other way around, gentlemen.

The burden is on the military to prove their claim that Sabaya is dead. They have to produce the body or some convincing secondary evidence. They have not done that two full months after the encounter.

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HEARSAY ON BOTH SIDES: The military says Nacorda’s story of Sabaya being alive is hearsay. They are right.

But the statements of such personalities as National Security Adviser Roilo Golez that Sabaya had been killed is also pure hearsay since Golez and the other kibitzers were not there when Sabaya was allegedly shot dead. Golez et al., like Father Nacorda, are just passing on secondhand opinion.

The authorities keep mentioning a supposed American satellite film of how an all-Filipino naval commando chased and terminated Sabaya on a boat with his gang. But they have failed to show the alleged film to the public. Maybe somebody is still editing it to perfection?

You know how it is. It’s now kid stuff to produce Hollywood-quality films showing pigs and donkeys talking, of decaying corpses rising from their slimy grave, of sleuths going back in time to revisit a crime scene, of satellites floating in space pinpointing a lost pendant in the Amazon jungles… the possibilities are endless. And very entertaining.

Come to think of it, if the White House and its high-tech filmmakers have convinced themselves that Sabaya was killed by our naval team, how come the Pentagon has not turned over to the boys the promised $1 million for the Abu’s head?

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WHERE’S THE LOOT?: Sabaya’s fate is not the only remaining loose end. Until now, we have not heard a plausible explanation of why the pursuing government forces that supposedly got Sabaya were not able to recover any money.

Sabaya and his cohorts must have been carrying part of the proceeds of their kidnapping-for-ransom spree. We won’t be surprised if greenbacks fall out of their pockets when they pull out their hankies or celfons.

As military informants themselves testify, when the gang arrives at a place far from base, they buy provisions. They rent space, vehicles and boats, and sometimes even buy protection.

Money is the least of their problems. They are so loaded that they are virtually a mobile unit of Wells Fargo.

So how come, by military account, when Sabaya’s backpack was recovered at the scene of encounter, it contained only his driver’s license (he drives a car in the jungles of Sulu-Basilan?), signature dark glasses, a pistol and a vanity skin lotion? What, not even a wallet stuffed with wet 100-dollar bills?

Before we are grossly misunderstood, we must clarify: We’re not saying that Sabaya is alive. We don’t know. We’re just saying that the report of his death may be a bit exaggerated. Actually, we commiserate with our soldiers out there and wish that their report of Sabaya’s death were true.

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CHEAP, CLEAN GAS: We test-drove last Friday an Enviro 2000 vehicle of the Philippine National Oil Co. running on compressed natural gas, and we were quite impressed with the possibilities. This is one project that deserves all-out government and private-sector support.

The basic engine of the Enviro is practically the same as the one under the hood of gasoline-fed cars. The only difference is its fuel system delivering to the combustion chamber natural gas (97 percent methane) instead of vaporized gasoline.

Methane (CH4) burns more completely and emits less carbon oxides compared to heavier fossil-based fuels that have more carbon. To environmentalists, methane appears to be a good alternative to gasoline and diesel.

As methane does not mix with engine oil the way grimy gasoline does, the motor requires less frequent oil and spark plug changes. Wear and tear on the engine is reduced and maintenance costs drop.

Methane can be used for cooking, but the LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) in this country is usually propane. Methane is lighter compared to propane and butane (another minority component of natural gas used as propellant for aerosol products).

We were assisted in the test drive and the table evaluation of natural gas fuel by Joy O. Gonzales, a division chief in the Energy Research Department, and Robert F. Villa Jr., a public relations officer in the office of PNOC President Thelmo Y. Cunanan.

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PETRONAS HELPS OUT: The Enviro cars, costing P1.3 million each, came from Malaysia’s Petronas (Petroliam Nasional Berhad), with which PNOC has an agreement for joint research and development. Some local government vehicles are being modified to spearhead the shift to natural gas.

The Enviro has a 2-liter engine with a power of 94 hp at 5,300 rpm. The gas tank carries the equivalent of 40 liters of gasoline that can cover 320 kms in city driving and 480 kms on the highway (at 90 kph). That divides to 8 kms (city) and 12 kms (highway) to the liter.

Natural gas as car fuel is not yet commercially available locally as the laying of distribution pipes and the operation of service stations are still in the planning stage.

In Malaysia, earlier figures showed that the price of natural gas is half that of gasoline and three-fourths of diesel. If similar pricing is achieved here, the future of natural gas as a cheap, efficient and environment-friendly alternative fuel should look bright.

At the moment, the natural gas used in Enviro vehicles comes from the refueling station in Echague, Isabela. It is trucked to Manila in tanks, from which the vehicles gas up directly.

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MALAMPAYA POTENTIAL: Another good source of cheap natural gas is the Camago-Malampaya Deep Water Gas to Power Project. A submarine pipeline has been laid from Malampaya in Palawan to Batangas and delivery has started.

The Constitution declares all natural resources, including fossil fuel, to be owned by the state. But the reality is that this poor country does not have the resources and the technology to go into serious exploration and development on its own. Hence the door has been opened for foreign investors to come in as partners.

But PNOC Exploration Corp. holds only 10 percent of the Malampaya project. The major owners are Shell Philippines Exploration, 45 percent, and Chevron-Texaco, another 45 percent.

The big question is if the two foreign entities controlling the project would allow Malampaya gas to be developed and priced in a way that could undercut the sale by their local affiliates of their gasoline, diesel and other oil-based products.

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ALTERNATIVE PROGRAM LAGS: Since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, the diversification and the development of alternative sources of power have lagged. Other countries, particularly in the temperate zones, have developed gas as a major fuel for cooking, heating and even power generation.

As fuel for motor vehicles, natural gas has long been recognized, especially in light of the rising consciousness for environment-protection and the unpredictable fluctuations in the price of cartelized crude oil.

Some of the countries with a sizeable number of motor vehicles running on natural gas are: Argentina, 725,000 vehicles; Italy, 380,000; Pakistan, 265,000; Brazil, 233,000; US, 112,000; Japan, 12,540. Among our neighbors: Bangladesh, 5,000 vehicles; Malaysia, 3,800; Indonesia, 3,000; and Thailand, 470.

In China, 75 percent of total passenger cars and commercial fleets are fueled by natural gas. In the US, they comprise 25 percent; in Canada, 22 percent; and in Japan, 36 percent.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 25, 2002)

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