POSTSCRIPT / February 24, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Finally, a solution to the Abu problem?

A SCREAMING BARGAIN!: One of those crazy ideas that fell from the sky with the Chinook helicopter crashing into the sea off Dumaguete City last Friday was on how to solve the Abu Sayyaf problem that has been costing the Philippine and American governments millions everyday.

The idea goes this way: The military says there are about 80 Abu Sayyaf fighters on Basilan (round that to 100 for easier computation). The US will ask them to handle anti-terrorism, guerrilla warfare and jungle survival courses for American soldiers, at a salary of $5,000 dollars a month per Abu trainer/adviser.

That adds up to $500,000 a month for 100 trainers — which is chicken feed compared to the millions of Balikatan dollars being spent each day, in addition to the loss of lives and property (including the $30-million Chinook that had crashed into the brine) and continued aggravation.

The war-spending in the South is open-ended, while the proposal to make the Abus train US Special Forces will have a fixed cost of more or less $500,000 only a month. It’s a screaming bargain!

Now really, “if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em!”

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FULL BENEFITS ASSURED: To sweeten the offer, the US can promise free clothing, meals, quarters and transportation, to make each trainer’s $5,000 monthly salary a net income (before taxes, but the taxes can be waived).

And since a Moro feels naked without his weapon, the Abus will be allowed to keep their firearms and lug them around, but the guns can be loaded and fired only at the supervised firing range according to a schedule.

Commissary and PX privileges for their wives (maximum of three ladies per Abu) can be thrown in, no sweat, but they will pay for their purchases in dollars. A golden mosque for their exclusive use can be built on the island or camp where the training will be conducted by the Abu faculty.

There is, of course, the downside to this crazy idea — including the possibility that the roster of Abu warriors might suddenly swell to 5,100. But we’ll leave the negative points for the snipers on the other side to bring out.

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BENDING MINDS AND POLICIES: Some killjoy might interpose that this is against policy. But policy can be reviewed, revised or revoked.

Look at the strict American global policy of not paying ransom to kidnappers. It says here in the STAR of yesterday that that policy may be eased somewhat, with the US possibly allowing some payment provided there is a possibility of running after the kidnappers — and, quick!, recovering the greenbacks — after the dastardly deal is consummated.

We’re not hinting, though, that the US can pay the Abu faculty of the proposed training camps and later chase them on their way to the bank. We’re just saying that the rules can be bent somewhat while the bending is good.

Not only policy, but also public opinion, can be bent. A dozen years ago many Filipinos would froth in the mouth upon hearing the dirty word “US bases.” But with the Abus misbehaving, most people nowadays get apoplectic with impatience when told that the GIs plan to start hunting down the Abus only toward the end of the six-month Balikatan exercise.

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ARROYO DIDN’T BITE: As quickly as it raged last week, the debate over the request of former President Erap Estrada to be allowed to go to the United States for knee surgery has died down.

Reasons: (1) It turned out that the routine procedure can be done by Filipino ortho surgeons here, and (2) The attempt to bait President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo into joining the debate failed.

We watched with amusement Rep. Agapito “Butz” Aquino campaigning in the House of Representatives for a resolution supporting the Erap petition to escape, este, skip the trial for a few months. Aquino’s sales pitch was that Erap’s departing (and overstaying in the US) would be good for GMA.

Aquino’s drama was, to this kibitzer, an ingenious attempt to egg the President into supporting the move or at least to make her comment on it and thereby engage the presidency in the debate.

She was being baited to say something and be sucked into a no-win discussion on why the President must or must not let Erap go. For a while there, we thought GMA might blunder into answering media questions on the petition.

It did not occur to many people, including some radio commentators fueling the debate, that it was not for the President but for the courts to decide if Erap may go to the US for medical or humanitarian reasons.

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GMA STILL AFRAID OF ERAP: Another risk of GMA commenting on the Erap plan is that she might inadvertently let the cat out of the bag that she and her political strategists favor Erap’s prolonged absence, in the sense that they won’t stand in the way.

GMA’s cards are showing. It has been noticed that while the Office of the Ombudsman is vehemently opposing Erap’s bid, lawyers representing the Arroyo administration, including Justice Secretary Hernando Perez himself, are not actively arguing for blocking Erap’s medical leave.

Butz, the talkative brother of Ninoy Aquino and brother of one of the Balato Twins, unwittingly exposed two things: (1) In applying for medical leave, Erap’s real intention is to stay abroad as long as possible, and (2) GMA is still afraid of Erap as a force to contend with in 2004.

If you ask us, we think the Palace is part of the grand conspiracy to give Erap a graceful way out.

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WE’RE SLOWLY DYING: On another matter, if you still think you’ve grown immune to foul air, if you still don’t believe that you’re slowly being killed by those smoke-belching contraptions in the streets, if you still refuse to recognize the permanent damage being inflicted on your children, listen to this.

In Great Britain, a massive and long-term study has demonstrated for the first time that ozone, the main component of the smog (smoke and fog) that permanently envelops us, causes healthy children to develop a life-threatening condition.

Top British scientists have gathered enough proof that fumes from motor vehicles cause asthma in children. Now you know why many supposedly healthy kids with no history of asthma in the family are always coughing, have watery eyes, easily get sick and are being sapped of their youthful vitality.

Geoffrey Lean, environment editor of the Independent News, reports that a definitive study, backed by the California state and US federal governments, has demonstrated for the first time the deadly effects of ozone, especially among children.

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MORE SO IN METRO MANILA: Lean reports that in Britain, “more than one in every seven children suffers from asthma — six times as many as 25 years ago — and, in all, five million Britons have the disease.” Some 18,000 new cases are diagnosed each week, and 1,500 people die from it every year in Britain alone. The studies he cited blamed this mass poisoning on air pollution, mainly from car fumes.

The study involved 3,535 children aged nine and older, with no history of asthma, living in both smoggy and relatively unpolluted towns and suburbs. Researchers recorded what happened to them over five years.

One detail showed that individuals engaged in sports were exposed to more air pollution, because they spent more time outdoors and because vigorous exercise made them breathe 17 times faster, drawing air deeper into the lungs.

If that’s true in Britain, more so in Metro Manila. The question is: What are we doing about it? We mean, aside from issuing press releases deploring the situation and drawing millions from the public coffers kunwari to fight the scourge of pollution in the environment?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 24, 2002)

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