POSTSCRIPT / March 6, 2003 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Bums in gov’t more scary than bombs in Mindanao

JUST DO IT!: Instead of wasting time blaming Central Bank authorities for Congress’ failure to pass needed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, our senators should just pass the amendments pronto and get it done with.

The order of the day is to legislate away global sanctions hanging over our banking system, instead of wasting time looking for a scapegoat for our senators’ own failure to act with dispatch on the amendments to the AMLA.

The compromise draft that emerged from the meeting between our lawmakers and representatives of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force may not be perfect at this point, but we can make do with it and polish it later.

The urgent goal is to meet the March 15 deadline of the FATF that has been monitoring suspicious movements of illicit funds.

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PROTECT THE INNOCENT: When the time comes to refine the AMLA, as amended, we suggest that protection and relief be provided for bank depositors whose accounts are audited but found to be in order.

We refer to the possible abuse of the power of the monitoring body to examine bank accounts for motives other than for tracking down illicit wealth and the laundering of dirty money.

We reiterate our suggestions:

  1. The depositor must be informed in advance of the planned inspection of his account and given the option of being present during the audit or sending a representative. Examination must be at the local address of the bank.
  2. If the fund examined is found to be legitimate income or asset, the depositor must be paid a disturbance fee. This should help discourage malicious or capricious inspection.

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BUMS, NOT BOMBS: It’s not the bombs but the bums in government that we sometimes find more scary.

Those terror bombs have been exploding for as long as we can remember. But until now we’ve not seen or heard anything new from the authorities on how to deal with the problem. Our supposed protectors in government are barren of ideas.

These are the people we have elected to office, and their appointees, to look after public welfare and safety. With them looking after us, who would not be scared?

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REFLEX REACTIONS: After a bomb explodes in a crowded place, these are the usual (yawn) reflex action of our protectors in government:

  1. Order a full-dress investigation. (Why full-dress? Can’t they wear something a bit skimpy so they can come up with more interesting revelations?)
  2. Order heightened security in airports, malls and other places where people congregate. (What were they doing earlier — sleeping?)
  3. Blame the New People’s Army, if in Luzon, or Muslim dissidents, if in Mindanao. (These armed bands have a monopoly of violence?)
  4. Draw cartographic sketches of suspects. (All the while we thought cartography is about maps. Can’t we just have plain sketches?)
  5. Subject suspects to tactical interrogation. (Why are interrogations always tactical?)
  6. Demand an audit of intelligence funds. (In the first place, why do some offices have intelligence funds even if they are not military, police and investigative agencies?)
  7. Appeal to the citizens to report suspicious activities of strangers. (Try calling the police or the military to report anything astir in your community.)
  8. Ask for a bigger budget for the military.

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EMERGENCY SCENARIO: An exciting scenario flashes on the screen when we view the explosions in Mindanao in the context of the Arroyo administration’s supporting the plan of US President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and welcoming US military presence in the South.

All these security developments taken together definitely do not spell peace. Violence breeds only more violence.

But note that violence can create emergency situations that call for emergency measures.

It cannot be that there is no method in this madness in Mindanao.

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MILITARY CABAL: No, we are not saying that the country is being prepared for martial law or something close to it.

The process of imposing martial law has been made so tedious and so detailed in the Constitution — which was a reaction to the Marcosian dictatorship — that any cabal dreaming of authoritarian rule must look for avenues outside the charter.

And then, President Arroyo is not the type who could pull a martial-type takeover, despite the Herculean efforts of her publicists to picture her as a Dragon Lady of sorts.

The only way Ms. Arroyo can force a regime resembling martial law is to collaborate with the US and accept the inevitability of the military establishment sharing power. When we say military, we have in mind Angelo Reyes types.

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PETRON SELLOUT?: We must be getting dense. We cannot figure out why the government would want to sell its remaining 40 percent in Petron.

After then President Fidel V. Ramos committed the monumental blunder of selling 60 percent of Petron to its Saudi oil supplier in 1995, the Arroyo administration will complete the capitulation by selling the remaining 40 percent?

Some analysts describe the Ramos sellout as almost traitorous as it deprived us a strategic leverage in tempering the avaricious price increase of the oil cartel. At the time he sold majority control of Petron, the oil company was the biggest in the local market, overshadowing Shell and Caltex.

Are we so close to bankruptcy that we are willing to sell everything, including our remaining crown jewels? The government earned P640 million in Petron dividends last years, P560 million in 2001, P960 million in 2000, and P1.2 billion in 1999. And we will sell it?

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FAILED DEREGULATION: The series of increases in the retail price of gasoline and other petroleum-based products is a signal that it is time to review the deregulation of the oil business in the country.

Clearly, the deregulation law is not working. The hoped-for proliferation of small players and their selling at lower prices did not materialize. There are no indications that a price war among retailers as a result of deregulation will ever happen.

Will somebody please tell us what went wrong and then introduce remedial legislation?

One thing deregulation has accomplished is to condition consumers into resigning to the inevitability of price increases.

Try asking the Arroyo administration what measures it is ready to adopt to minimize increases in the price of oil products. It does not have a ready answer, because it has not prepared for the expected escalation.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 6, 2003)

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