POSTSCRIPT / July 7, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Nani to investigate self on IMPSA power deal?

WHY NOT JUST REBID IT?: We were a bit jolted when former Marikina mayor Bayani Fernando, brand-new chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority, was reported as saying that Jancom Environmental Corp. may amend its controversial $350-million garbage incineration contract.

With due respect, we think that allowing Jancom to just smooth out the onerous provisions in the contract would be treating lightly the many sordid attempts to ram through an overpriced deal on the strength of influence at the highest levels.

Since there was a failure of bid and the contract has been voided, the logical step would be to order a new bidding. Allowing Jancom to just rewrite the controversial contract strikes us as rank favoritism.

The crooks in government who have been forcing the contract should be punished. If we cannot punish them, they should at least be denied the fruits of their machination — by voiding the contract (which has been done) and ordering a new bidding.

The sordid mess has tainted even Malacanang and the Supreme Court. And we let them get away with it?

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GMA WON’T SIGN IT: Thursday evening, we asked President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo if the Jancom deal was still pushing through. Despite the expensive high-level lobby, her predecessors Fidel V. Ramos and Erap Estrada could not muster the courage to sign the stinking contract. So all eyes are now on GMA.

Will she sign it? She told us that she would not sign the contract in its present form. “In its present form” is intriguing since it stokes lingering suspicion that if the contract were amended, GMA might just sign it.

The President explained that the matter is in the hands of Fernando. But instead of affirming there was a failed bidding and tearing the flawed contract, the new MMDA boss seems to have no serious objection to Jancom’s merely rewriting the contract. (In fairness to Fernando, he’s new on the job and may not be that familiar with the details.)

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JANCOM’S PATTERN: But haven’t you noticed the pattern? Whenever an objectionable provision is exposed, Jancom merely comes up with an amendment. It puts down one card at a time.

The price is too high? Jancom lowers it a bit. Incineration pollutes the environment and violates the clean air law? Jancom proposes another mode of garbage handling. The proposed site is untenable? Jancom comes up with a new site. Et cetera.

Can’t the authorities just stop the vaudeville and order a new bidding?

But Jancom has already spent a fortune lobbying and following up the papers through the bureaucratic maze? That’s their problem. Like all other investors, they knew all along that dealing with Philippine officials is one costly gamble.

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HIDING BEHIND B.O.T.: We also asked President Arroyo if she would push for some corrective amendment to the BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) Law to nip in the bud big-time corrupt deals. The BOT law has become the legal excuse for many a crooked contract.

Check out all the major scams — from PEA-Amari, to the Centennial contracts, the IPP and PPA deals, the Edsa-MRT line, the PIATCO terminal, among other contracts — and you will discover that all of them were woven around the BOT Law.

When a big juicy contract is found to be grossly unfair or disadvantageous to the government or obviously the product of corruption, the standard excuse is that it’s allowed under the BOT law.

The BOT Law has become the legal shield of scoundrels.

Amend it? That’s not my job, GMA tells us, but of Congress. Of course amending laws is a legislative function. Why does not the President certify amendments? Her reply: If such amendments are introduced in Congress and are endorsed by the proper committees, then she can certify them.

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TOPSY-TURVY WORLD: When GMA said a number of the more than 30 IPP (Independent Power Producers) contracts reviewed by a Cabinet team were found to be legally defective, we asked her if some people would go to jail for it.

She thought for a while, then said that some officials of then President Erap Estrada who consummated some of the rotten deals were authorized by him to sign for government. In short, we noted, they were authorized to violate the law.

But we wonder if such a presidential go-signal is enough legal cover for a signatory official to escape responsibility. In this topsy-turvy country, it seems yes it is.

There is also, as we said earlier, the BOT cover. Watch them defend their unconscionable contracts by invoking that law and hear our officials sighing, while smacking their lips, that we have to honor contracts and not scare away investors.

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NANI TO PROBE HIMSELF?: It’s topsy-turvy all right. Imagine GMA telling us that the questionable IPP deals were to be referred to the Department of Justice for action!

How can Justice Secretary Hernando Perez presume to pass judgment on, say, the controversial IMPSA (another IPP) deal when Perez himself was the one who had hurriedly advised GMA that the contract was above board?

That was the same IMPSA deal that Mr. Estrada refused to sign (because the proponents were asking for sovereign guarantee for loans they would seek for the project) despite, according to him, dazzling material considerations being dangled.

Even assuming it can eventually help generate cheaper power, the IMPSA project will haunt the Arroyo administration. As she and her gofers keep attacking Mr. Estrada (while absolving Mr. Ramos who had approved far more IPP contracts!), they keep quiet about the fact that just five days into her presidency, GMA approved the IMPSA deal despite the glut of IPPs whose combined generation capacity had soared beyond the requirements (plus a buffer) of the country.

* * *

THEY ARE ALL THE SAME: This is one of the reasons why this administration, and other administrations for that matter, will never find the moral ascendancy to go after the crooks of the previous administrations.

Officials go through the motions of investigating and prosecuting, kuno, the grafters of the past, but that’s all. You think any big fish would be landed? It will not happen, not in this country in this century.

Our politicians have to cover for one another. It’s part of the unwritten rules of politics. It’s weather-weather, panapanahon lang. This is also the reason why party lines are as meaningless as the lanes drawn on our roads. They are merely decorative; they do not mean anything.

John Osmena changes skirt and jumps to the other side? Blas Ople would eventually succumb to the tantalizing offer (with the excuse of serving in the Cabinet) of Malacanang? The Puno brothers are now to make hay in the Arroyo stable? There will be mass migration of salivating politicians as the 2004 elections draw near? We’ve seen it before and will keep seeing it again and again.

In all this, where does poor Juan Pasang Cruz figure? Don’t worry, he’s in the picture. On Election Day, the poor fellow will be handed a few hundred pesos for his vote (which will not be counted anyway).

* * *

WE FOOL ‘EM TOO!: One beauty of democracy (some people still believe in it, survey says) is that it’s not one way. While politicians fool us, we also fool them and the government. We don’t feel the least guilt when we sell our vote, cheat on taxes, disregard ordinances, dump garbage into the drain.

We talk back at politicians, even armed policemen. Once in a while, we get a high defying the Establishment and shouting invectives at our leaders. It’s one of the pleasures we can still afford in our democracy.

So we see jeepney drivers going on strike to denounce the enforcement of traffic rules. We see squatters making a joke of our torrens system of land titles — and being awarded for it. We see lowly government workers taking office supplies home. Drivers of some officials imitate their bosses and appropriate government vehicles for their use.

* * *

SQUATTERS DELAY PROJECT: In Batangas City, squatters have invaded a portside area marked for development for Phase II of a P5.5-billion international seaport project. Word got around that like other squatters and residents in Phase I, they would be paid and given other incentives to vacate the premises.

Phase II calls for the expansion of the Batangas Port to adjoining areas, for which the Philippine Port Authority has allocated some P7.4 million for relocating residents and squatters. The defiant stand of the squatters, whose number has swelled (of course), has hampered work, resulting in additional costs of P117 million as of last May.

In 1994, when Phase I was started, hundreds of families were given relocation assistance of P35,000 per household. Instead of moving out, some of them stayed and used the money to buy space in the Phase II area in anticipation of another relocation.

Port authorities identify the leader of the stubborn residents and squatters as a certain barangay leader Thelma M. Maranan. With their mounting and diversifying demands, her group was reportedly able to extract some P35 million in additional compensation from the PPA recently.

Delayed by the relocation problem, the Phase II contractor, a joint venture between F.F. Cruz and the Japanese firm Shimizu, may not be able to finish the project in the 1,080 days specified in the bid.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 7, 2002)

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