POSTSCRIPT / October 24, 2002 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Purging big-time grafters is easy, if GMA wants it

JOKE OF THE DAY?: It says here that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered a lifestyle check on Cabinet officials from department secretaries to bureau directors, on military and police top brass, and on officials of government-controlled corporations.

It seems that the main point is to see who among our top officials are living beyond their means and are presumably wallowing in the fruits of corruption.

The report adds that the President was reacting to the last survey of the London-based Transparency International that rated the Philippines 11th most corrupt among 102 nations assessed.

This jaded observer thinks nothing will come out of this latest act of desperation to turn things around.

It is actually easy to make a graft case against most corrupt officials. The simple rule is that any wealth that is manifestly out of proportion to an official’s legitimate income is presumed to be ill-gotten. It is subject to forfeiture and makes the official criminally liable.

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HOW TO CATCH ‘EM: It’s simple arithmetic. You add up his legitimate income during his tenure. You then subtract this total income from his assets acquired during that time, making sure there is reasonable leeway for error and good faith. You confiscate the difference as ill-gotten and you jail the official if the difference is outrageously big.

But then the lawyers will step in and lecture to us about due process, as if there was also due process when grafters in government merrily made their dirty pile.

If due process gets in the way, the President can just focus first on her Cabinet and fire anybody who fails the test. If it’s high drama that GMA wants to jolt this country to take notice, she can start the purge with her official family.

Pardon our saying so, but the lumbering Presidential Anti-Graft Commission may need help. Why doesn’t the President turn over the chore to a citizens’ group composed of respected members of the community? The PAGC, in fairness, should be all right, but it is part of the bureaucracy that is under investigation.

The President should inject insulin into her administration by getting rid of the deadwood, misfits and the corrupt in the higher echelons of government and announcing a new working team in the new year.

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WHAT IS BTU?: The technical abbreviations BTU, HHV and LHV may be peanuts to engineers and technicians of power plants, but not to laymen and even senators of the land.

So when former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, it seems to us, confused HHV and LHV in relation to BTU, we thought it normal. But the confusion should be immediately clarified as it could mislead the Senate committee listening to him and the general public concerned with the cost of electricity.

The terms BTU, HHV and LHV stand, respectively, for: “British thermal unit”; for “higher heating value”; and “lower heating value.” As applied to local power plants, BTU is used to measure the amount of heat needed to produce a kilowatt-hour (kwh) of electricity. Depending on its efficiency, a power plant may have either a higher or a lower heating value.

We may define efficiency as the plant’s generating the maximum power (electricity) at minimum expense of means and with minimum wear and tear.

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ALPHABET SOUP: We got a taste of the industry’s alphabet soup when Enrile claimed before the Senate public services committee that the heat rate of 6,859 BTU per kwh guaranteed by the Sta. Rita (in Batangas) plant of First Gas “would be inefficient at 51 percent when the plant’s efficiency should be 55 percent or better.”

We got the impression from him that a power facility like Sta. Rita is more efficient if its BTU registers HHV (higher). And, conversely, it would be less efficient if the BTU registers LHV (lower).

The fact is that the opposite is true. If a power plant needs or uses less heat to generate the same amount of electricity, it is more efficient. If it requires or uses more heat to produce the same amount of electricity, it is less efficient. It may be that Enrile’s message was just garbled in the transmission.

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AS IN GOLF, LOWER IS BETTER: The BTU standard can be likened to golf, which Enrile plays avidly. In golf, the lower your score, the more proficient you are as a golfer.

Sta. Rita, by the way, is distinguished as the country’s most efficient plant today. It earned the distinction on the strength of its most recent heat rate test, conducted last July, wherein it registered 6,577 BTU per kwh — lower than its guaranteed 6,859 BTU performance.

Per manual, the ideal heat rate to produce one kwh of electricity is 3,413 BTU. That’s much lower than Sta. Rita’s rating, but that does not take anything away from its distinction as the country’s most efficient power plant so far.

Enrile refused to attend subsequent hearings, saying in so many words that he has said his piece and it’s now up to the Senate committee chaired by Sen. Joker Arroyo to dig further on the issues.

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

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