POSTSCRIPT / October 27, 2002 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA has to deliver sample of big grafter

IT TAKES FOREVER: The lifestyle check ordered by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will take forever if, as advertised, the search for corrupt officials includes all Cabinet members, bureau directors, military and police top brass and executives of government-controlled corporations.

In this slow-mo country, you never get things done that way. What she should do, we think, is grab a few glaring examples and throw them in jail with a lot of attendant noise — while the rest die biting their nails as they wait nervously for their turn.

It’s much like smoke-belching on crowded EDSA. You don’t try to be democratic and test every vehicle that passes. Instead, you pick first the sooty buses whose smoke can be spotted 10 miles away. You don’t even need special gadgets to confirm the obvious violations. You then shoot dead the engine with armor-piercing bullets and solve the problem on the spot.

The President knows, or should know, who among her Cabinet members are busy making hay while the glorious sun shines. If she does not, she must be sleeping on the job or making hay with them.

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DIRTY DOZEN FIRST: Instead of taking an eternity gathering all over again everybody’s statement of assets and liabilities (which are not honest declarations anyway), and another eternity verifying the statements, and still another eternity checking everybody’s lifestyle, the President could just focus on the first dirty dozen, build airtight cases against six of them and, in one dramatic move, purge them at the start of the new year.

The Iron Lady can then parade before media the big grafters garbed in the now-familiar orange t-shirt with a cardboard hanging in front of each one showing his/her name and the amount stolen. (On second thought, maybe the names won’t be needed as we all know them.)

Purging the big-time grafters should be easy for the President, since most of them serve at her pleasure. If they do not pass the Caesar’s wife test of not only looking clean but also looking clean, they will have to be kicked out — minus their ill-gotten millions.

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IPP REPORT AWAITED: The process involved in the projected cleanup is also much like the review of the PPA (power purchase adjustment) and the IPP (independent power producers) contracts.

It takes forever to review the contracts of more than 30 IPPs, checking which provisions are illegal, onerous or unreasonable, then putting together the findings of that backbreaking review and translating the voluminous paperwork into lower electric bills for Juan Pasang Krus.

The President has said that some of the IPP contracts reviewed were found to be legally flawed, some technically deficient and others financially unsound. Some contracts carried various defects in varying degrees.

Instead of waiting for all of the IPP contracts to be reviewed and a master recommendation submitted to her — all the while delaying the corrective measures that would benefit consumers — why does not the President act right away on the patently illegal contacts while reserving action on the rest?

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CLEAR, FAIR WARNING: Electric and water bills are climbing again because of the deterioration of the peso in relation to the US dollar. The President should do something right away to carry out another round of power rate reduction and arrest the growing restiveness.

Resolute action in favor of consumers will send a clear signal, a warning, to crooks in business and in government. But we will scare away foreign investors? Yes, we will scare the carpetbaggers, but who needs them anyway?

On the other hand, legitimate businessmen should welcome the clearing of the field of slick operators and the steps being taken to make the playing field even. But somebody has to hurry up with those planned reforms, if any.

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CATCH THEM EARLY: Before some readers think we meant it when we said traffic officers should drill a bullet through inefficient engines of vans and buses emitting thick noxious smoke, we take it back.

The consequences of such extreme measure are obvious: Costly bullets are wasted; somebody might get hit by the ricocheting slugs; dislodged passengers will be inconvenienced; the vehicle will pose an obstruction on the crowded route; and the “executioner” of the offending vehicle opens himself to criminal charges.

Instead, the composite anti-smoke-belching teams should go to the garage or depots of the bus companies before the vehicles roll out. Testing will be done in the premises, not on the road. The vehicles found unfit must be grounded until another test, made after the remedial measures are taken, shows that the smoke-belching has been corrected.

(By “remedial measures” we don’t mean “substantial compliance” — the latest euphemism added to the lexicon of extortionist officials dropping a hint to their victim.)

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HECTIC FUND-RAISING: Back to the lifestyle check ordered by President Arroyo. Where does the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission start its Herculean task? Does the PAGC wait for formal complaints to be filed or does it initiate investigation on its own?

By now, the President should know, or should have been told at least by her Bulong Brigade, who in the Executive department are giving her administration a bad name by their unmitigated fund-raising.

Without meaning to besmirch the reputation of anybody, our unsolicited advice would be for the PAGC or the President’s own intelligence team to look more closely on high-profile Executive officials who are likely to run for Vice President or senator. These aspirants are under extreme pressure to raise millions for their 2004 electoral campaign.

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SIMPLE ARITHMETIC: In our hurry last time, we produced a hodgepodge of a paragraph on how to catch grafters that probably nobody understood. We were able to correct the messy construction in our electronic edition in the Internet (www.manilamail.com) but not in the print version.

That embarrassing paragraph subheaded “How to catch ‘em” should have read: “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.”

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CLEARING UP BTU: Another unfortunate mess was that one on BTU (British thermal unit) and the efficiency of the Sta. Rita power plant (in Batangas) of First Gas.

We said that “As applied to power plants, BTU is the amount of heat needed to produce a kilowatt-hour (kwh) of electricity.” A few readers thought that was our definition of BTU. We were not defining BTU; we were just saying that some local plants use BTU to measure the amount of heat needed to generate a kilowatt-hour of electricity.

For the benefit of those who are interested, BTU is an English standard unit of energy. One BTU is the amount of thermal energy (or heat) needed to raise the temperature of one pound of pure liquid water by one Fahrenheit degree.

Most people would say “…the heat needed to raise the temperature of water… one degree Fahrenheit.” Our Physics professor in Diliman would insist on our saying “one Fahrenheit degree,’ and not “one degree Fahrenheit.” Spot the big difference.

Btw, when establishing the value of one BTU, the water must be at that temperature at which it has its greatest density, and that is 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 27, 2002)

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