POSTSCRIPT / January 6, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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How to nip coup talk: Ignore, ignore, ignore

WORK ABOVE THE DIN: How do we plain folk, or even plain presidents, survive all this stressful talk about coup plots, political destabilization, EDSA marches, political assassinations and a supposed difficult year ahead?

Simple. You just ignore, ignore, and ignore. And to come out on top, while they keep yakking and you keep ignoring their noise, busy yourself with more productive endeavors. Work, work, work.

Much of what you read and hear about coup plots, EDSA marches and the like is nothing but empty talk anyway. It is plain and simple destabilization by rumor-mongering. The phantom begins to take form only if we take it seriously, talk or text about it, and react the way they want us to react — panic.

Let’s not waste time on imagined problems. Let’s just attend to the more real business of putting the house in order and eking out a living.

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MAKATI STILL LISTENS: Makati officials proved themselves still sensitive to public opinion when they deferred the scheduled raising by 33 percent of parking fees in the city that prides itself as the financial capital of the Philippines.

The basic parking rate in the crowded business district was supposed to have gone up yesterday from P30 to P40 for the first two hours, but when howls of protest were heard, the plan was quickly deferred for further study.

In contrast, two other money-making machines are not as true to their alleged concern for their clientele.

One is the voracious mall owner who collects unreasonable parking fees from his customers. Not content with making money off you on store items, he extracts more blood by charging you for parking. This is unconscionable.

Another insatiable leech is the Philippine National Construction Corp. that operates the toll expressways running north and south of Metro Manila. The new rates are exorbitant and, particularly in the North Luzon Expressway, not justified by the poor condition of the road.

There must be a special furnace in hell for people who gain orgasmic pleasure in sucking blood from helpless victims.

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SHOPPERS RIPPED OFF: What ever happened to the proposal of Sen. Rene Cayetano to regulate the imposition of parking fees in malls and similar establishments? The measure may not be perfect in its present form, but lawmakers should not be swayed by the heavy lobbying against it.

Local governments can come to the rescue and pass protective ordinances to rein in the greed of mall owners in their localities.

If our lawmakers want to strike a balance (since some of them are not ready to displease the moneyed mall owners), what they can do is go halfway and impose a rule for validating parking tickets in open parking areas of shopping centers.

For instance, any shopper who buys at least P100 worth of merchandize should have the parking fee for the first three hours waived.

Better still, mall owners should show a little conscience and take the initiative of instituting such a waiver without need of an ordinance. Some supermarkets are already doing this, but with money coming out of their ears, the big mall operators still refuse to hear the cries of harassed shoppers.

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PAYING FOR TORTURE: The increased toll rates being collected at the North and South expressways are just abominable. There is no way an honest Toll Regulatory Board can justify the 50-percent increase in the rates that took effect last Jan. 1.

Fifty percent means that the old rate of P22+ from Bicutan to Ayala-Alabang is now P33, while the P20+ from Balintawak to Sta. Inez in Mabalacat is now P30. For fast computation, get half of the old rate and tack it on.

The sadist TRB said the increase is just “provisional,” giving false hopes that there is still a possibility of their being revoked. TRB officials, having grown comfortable in their sinecures, must think we’re stupid to bite that.

In the North expressway, there is the irony of paying toll for supposed safety, convenience and less wear and tear. But the opposite happens once you enter the expressway and put your life and that of your poor vehicle on the line.

The North road is some 90 kilometers of unmitigated hazards. It’s one of the most dangerous roads in the country. It’s pure torture not only to motorists, but also to vehicles. Anyone who survives the death trap should light a candle to St. Christopher after every trip.

While inflicting insult and injury, the PNCC still has the gall to raise the toll by 50 percent? We have not given you the gory details yet.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who should try the North expressway more often, should slap down the PNCC and bring back sanity — and decency — to one of the administration’s milking cows.

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HIGH COST OF GRAFT: Motorists must be told the bare truth: The correct rates are actually 40 percent less than what the PNCC is charging. The 40-percent “overprice” represents the corruption that had gone into the project from inception to operation.

Road users are being made to pay for that graft. The tollway operator, naturally, will not dip into his own pocket. He will recover from users the millions he had spent to get the contract. And you know how expensive it is to win a juicy contract in the Philippines.

It’s a long story, dating back to past administrations. So just like our overgrown foreign debt, we will never be able to pay off the cost of gargantuan graft in toll roads and such public works.

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NOT CENSORSHIP: There was a noisy debate days ago on the assignment of Press Undersecretary Manuel Sanchez as Malacañang’s chief press coordinator. We chip in our two cents’ worth to help focus the issues.

The question is not whether or not there is need to coordinate the Palace’s public information work, because there’s always need for coordination. Not only in government, but in any activity involving a big group working on a big project.

If there are to be questions triggered by Sanchez’s assignment, they should focus more on how the Arroyo administration is handling or wants to handle government propaganda.

(Before we proceed we have to clarify that we use the term “propaganda” without its sinister implications. We use the term simply to refer to a communication plan — which we presume Malacañang has — with defined objectives with a specific budget, timetable and scope.)

The questions should not have dwelled lengthily on the fitness of Sanchez, for that’s GMA’s problem, not ours. As for his assignment, it’s clear and reasonable enough, which is to make sure the government “speaks with one voice” and to avoid confusion.

Giving Malacañang the benefit of the doubt, we say that this is not censorship on its face, but simply another attempt to streamline the communication lines to the people and make sure the government does not look stupid whenever a functionary opens his mouth.

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WHO COORDINATES?: But while we agree that there is indeed a need for the Executive department to clean up its act and for government to speak with one voice, we are wont to ask if giving the job to Sanchez is the best way to do it.

Our unsolicited opinion is that, regardless of the qualifications of Sanchez, there is no need to appoint an additional power-point and further burden the bureaucracy and tax the patience of media that even now have to deal with various functionaries with overlapping functions.

The job of coordinating the Executive’s propaganda can be handled easily by the office of Press Secretary Noel Cabrera, whose original job has been lightened by the appointment of a presidential spokesman in the person of Rigoberto Tiglao, also a seasoned newsman like Cabrera.

With the professional and the career personnel working with them, Cabrera and Tiglao can very well handle the assignment given to Sanchez. In short, with due respect, there was really no need for inserting another undersecretary into the media bureaucracy just to coordinate Palace propaganda.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 6, 2002)

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