POSTSCRIPT / August 29, 2002 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Solution to pollution is here, not in Africa

REVERSAL OF ROLES: Barbara Walters did a story on gender roles in Kuwait several years before the Gulf War. She noted then that women customarily walked about 10 feet behind their husbands.

She returned to Kuwait recently and observed that the men now walked several yards behind their wives.

Ms. Walters approached one of the women and said, “This is marvelous. Can you tell the free world just what enabled women here to achieve this reversal of roles?”

“Land mines,” said the Kuwaiti woman.

(Contributed by Marilyn Robles emailing from ph.nomura.com)

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CAREFUL ON SABAH: Since we have not formally dropped our claim on Sabah, we must always insert a reservation into every communication with Malaysia touching on the issue (such as the foreign office’s reaction to the deportation of Filipinos from that corner of North Borneo).

To be consistent in our position that Sabah is Philippine territory, we are not supposed to tolerate Filipinos being deported from what is part of their homeland. We are also not supposed to establish a consulate in Sabah as this amounts to recognizing it as foreign territory.

We have been trying to be nice to Malaysia, a fellow member of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). We do not want to unduly sour our dealings with our neighbor, much less push our two countries to a warlike confrontation.

But in our desire to improve relations with Kuala Lumpur, we should not lose sight of our still pending claim. We might wake up one morning to discover that we have been legally estopped from ever raising the Sabah issue again.

Unless, of course, President Arroyo has no objection to finally and irrevocably dropping the territorial claim initiated by her father, then President Diosdado Macapagal.

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IS GMA INTERESTED?: The lack of concern being shown by the Arroyo administration on the problem of air pollution is appalling. Just because nobody in the immediate circle of the President has collapsed from toxic elements in the air does not mean the problem is just a figment.

The problem has a human face. In nearby Batangas, in barangay Baclaran outside the Calaca power plant of the National Power Corp. there have been at least nine deaths from lung cancer in the past five years and more than 20 cases of pulmonary tuberculosis and dozens more cases of asthma and other respiratory diseases reported to the town health center each month. That’s just one barangay!

The toll in human lives is not surprising. Coal ash fallout from the two Calaca power plants in Batangas analyzed by Dr. Anthony Millan of the PIPAC chemical analysis laboratories of the Ateneo has been found positive for deadly mercury.

If President Arroyo still wants proof of the deleterious effects of foul air, all she has to do is ask to be driven on EDSA from Balintawak to Makati during rush hours. She and everybody in her convoy should roll down their windows to experience what commuters have to go through, how they suffer a slow death, each day they venture out.

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NAPOCOR’S CROOKED LINES: In justifying the continued operation of dirty coal-fired power plants, the Napocor has been using two discredited arguments:

  1. The coal plants may be spewing deadly pollution, but they generate cheap electricity.
  2. If the coal plants are shut down, electricity rates will have to be raised by 92 centavos per kilowatt-hour.

We wonder who in Napocor concocted the argument that coal-sourced power is cheap (it is not!) and implied that human lives and the damage to the environment are cheap.

And we are not yet talking about the additional cost of cleaning up and looking after the victims of pollution.

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THEY SAY IT’S CHEAP?: To give you an idea of the cleaning up costs, here’s a snip from a recent article in the New York Times:

“Jacksonville, Fla. — At one end of the St. Johns River Power Park generating station, operators in a control room watch the computerized dials and gauges of a $1.2-billion system that runs day and night, winter and summer. It grinds coal down to the consistency of talcum powder and blows it into twin furnaces that produce steam to power turbines that turn out 1,280 megawatts of electricity.

“At the other end of the plant is a second computerized control room, for anti-pollution equipment through which hot furnace gases pass on their way to a 670-foot smokestack. The equipment cost $400 million, uses 5 percent of the plant’s electrical output, and raises operating and maintenance costs 10 to 15 percent, plant managers say.

“As exhaust gases pass through the smokestack, they mix with limestone, which absorbs sulfur, a cause of acid rain, and they run through an electrostatic precipitator that attracts soot. Some day, the managers say, they will also use ‘selective catalytic reduction’ to reduce nitrogen oxides.”

That’s cheap? That’s only for one plant, and only for cleaning after its waste products, one of the many problems posed by coal-fired plants.

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GOODBYE, SENATE PROBE: Knowing how poverty has weakened the moral fiber of Filipinos, the mafia’s threat to raise electricity rates by almost one peso per kilowatt-hour if coal power plants were closed is blackmail of the heinous kind.

This trick is similar to an earlier threat that there would be a series of blackouts if power rates were not raised. Why is Malacanang allowing such bullying tactics by power producers?

Napocor need not close all coal plants indiscriminately and simultaneously. It can start a phase-out with the few ones that have been confirmed as seriously aggravating pollution. Since we have excess capacity anyway, their closure should not disturb supply and prices if done properly.

Half a dozen of these coal plants have been listed. In fact, Sen. Robert Jaworski has announced that the Senate environment committee that he heads would investigate them. It now appears, however, that that was only a press release… meant to scare the offending parties to come over with their, huh, “substantial compliance”?

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SHEER NUMBER: But unlike President Arroyo who has cancelled her projected trips to Europe to be able to attend to festering local problems, Jaworski is reportedly flying abroad with other officials for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Environment Secretary Heherson T. Alvarez heads our delegation to that gathering. His press release identified the others with him, aside from basketball star Jaworski, as Foreign Secretary Blas Ople, Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Dante Canlas, senators Loren Legarda Leviste, Edgardo Angara, Robert Barbers and Ralph Recto, and Rep. Augusto Baculio, chairman of the House committee on ecology.

The idea seems to be for this small poverty-stricken country to overwhelm other nations with the sheer number of its delegates. What will those nine officials, not counting their aides, contribute to the summit aside from hot (hopefully not polluted) air?

Has it not occurred to them that the solution to our pollution problem is right here, not in Africa?

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COAL MAFIA IN CONTROL: Somebody should tell jurassic Napocor that more enlightened societies, those that still care for their children, are phasing out coal as fuel for power generation.

But Napocor will never listen as long as it remains in the grip of a mafia that has cornered the lucrative business of importing coal for Napocor and for its captive independent power producers (IPPs).

The way the syndicate casts the “coal is cheaper” line, you would think there are no cheaper and cleaner alternative fuels. There are.

An example of cheap and clean fuel which is abundant and available is natural gas. Star columnist Boo Chanco tells us that about half the cost of local natural gas is royalty to government. He said this could be reduced to lower the cost of power generated by natural gas.

If the coal mafia’s tentacles have not stretched yet all the way to Malacanang, President Arroyo should have no problem stepping in to force Napocor to wake up.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 29, 2002)

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