POSTSCRIPT / May 1, 2003 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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As PW boss, Fernando stepped on sensitive toes

REALITY CHECK: Not that he is a babe in the woods of politics, but Chairman Bayani Fernando of the Metro Manila Development Authority has been dealt another reminder that an official must never be blind to the realities of high-stakes politics.

The MMDA boss just lost his bigger turf, the Department of Public Works and Highways, after stepping on too many political toes in his reformist management of pork barrel projects.

On the surface, the reason given for Fernando’s leaving the public works department was the legal question over his holding two positions concurrently.

The shadow play is reminiscent of Press Secretary Nani Braganza’s exit with his supposed ill health given as the reason and not the turf war that has soured his relations with other members of President Arroyo’s information team.

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POLITICAL BIG TOES: Insiders at the DPWH told us that Fernando had to be shown the door because he was stepping on some big toes as he started to clean the department’s stinking stables.

He scrutinized high-priced transactions, personally evaluating and signing major contracts, questioning claimed project costs and cracking down on the practice of amending (and pricing up) approved contracts.

He reportedly ordered projects costs reduced by 30 percent, presumably proceeding from his knowledge as a former contractor himself that all government projects are overpriced.

Among the politicians who reportedly complained to Malacanang about his cost-cutting rampage were congressmen who had been following up their pork barrel projects.

Insiders said it was politically reckless of Fernando to antagonize congressmen and other local officials with the 2004 elections just a year away. National candidates (for president and senators) ride on the support of local political leaders.

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TOKEN CONTINGENT: There is merit in the suggestion of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. for us to send only a token contingent to Iraq to render humanitarian assistance and to reduce the planned Iraq-bound 500-man mission to only 200.

They will not miss us in Iraq if we fail to send a contingent, although President George W. Bush will note the missing Philippine flag when he calls the roll of the “coalition of the willing” supporters.

“You can reduce the 500-man mission to maybe 200,” Pimentel said of the contingent sought to be sent to Iraq. “After all, there is not much we can do for Iraqi in terms of humanitarian assistance, except as a sign of goodwill.”

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IS R.P. QUALIFIED?: There might be need at this point to differentiate and clarify the notions of “humanitarian” and “peacekeeping” contingents.

Former ambassador Rodolfo A. Arizala tells us that a “humanitarian” mission such as the sending of doctors, nurses and engineers is distinct and different from the deployment of a “peacekeeping force.”

Under international practice such as in the United Nations experience, peacekeeping is defined by the Peacekeeper’s Handbook published by the International Peace Academy as “the prevention, containment, moderation and termination of hostilities between or within states through the mediation of third party intervention organized and directed internationally, using multinational military, police and civilian personnel to restore and maintain peace.”

The handbook explains that “peacekeeping is essentially a third party initiative by the means of which an uncommitted, non-aligned ‘agent’ can keep two or more hostile states or communities apart.”

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THIRD PARTY ROLE: Having been lumped together with the coalition identified with the invading US forces, is the Philippines an objective third party or is it with one of the warring parties? Is the Philippines qualified to send a neutral “peacekeeping” force?

Normally, the sending of a peacekeeping force is done through the auspices of the UN. This was the case when the Philippines sent a police peacekeeping force to East Timor and to other countries. In going to Iraq, we have no UN cover for our peacekeeping force.

According to UN experience on peacekeeping, Arizala says, “a peacekeeping force to be effective should play a third party role upon authorization of the UN and done upon request or consent of the host country or community where direct or indirect violence exists.”

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HUNGER STRIKE: At the agriculture department in Quezon City, half-dozen advocates have been on a hunger strike since April 22 to protest the government’s allowing the commercial sale of genetically engineered Bt corn.

Corn is one of the genetically modified organisms whose consumption has been found to be potentially hazardous to human health. There should at least be a public warning on the packaging of GMOs of their potential harm to consumers.

The strikers are from the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA) and the Network Opposed to Genetically Modified Organisms (NO GMOs!).

The Bt corn contains in its every cell a built-in poison that kills the corn borer. It is patented by Monsanto Corp., an American biotech company.

The protesters said that the Bt corn appears to be harmful not only to the corn borer but also to other plants, to humans who eat it, and to the environment.

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BT CORN FACTS: The Philippine Greens, also a member of NO GMOs!, mentioned “several shocking truths about the Bt corn that may not be very well known to the general public,” such as:

  1. Because corn is wind-pollinated, Bt corn is bound to contaminate local corn varieties.
  2. It has potential cancer risks. While there is an ongoing debate on whether Bt corn is safe or not, scientists and medical experts have objected to it, citing health reasons. Dr. Stanley Ewen, a British histopathologist, warned that Bt corn can raise the risk of stomach and colon cancer and hasten the growth of malignant tumors.
  3. Foreign control of our food supply looms. If their fields are contaminated with Bt corn, Filipino farmers can be sued for infringement by Monsanto, which owns the patents to Bt corn.
  4. Consumer rejection of Bt corn is so widespread that the US can sell the product only when the information about its transgenic content is hidden from consumers.

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STRIKERS, SUPPORTERS: The strikers were identified as Ka Cita Esmao (PAKISAMA), Roberto Verzola (Philippine Greens), Mark Cervantes (SEARICE), Arma Bertuso (SEARICE), Anne Laracas (Philippine Greens) and Gigie Cruz.

The International groups supporting the strike are: Institute of Science in Society, Sierra Club, Tibetan Justice Center; Wilderness, Society of Australia, Genetic Resources Action International, Oxfam, Pesticide Action Network — Asia Pacific and Europe, Safe Age — South Africa, Agbio India.

The local supporters are: Ecological Society of the Philippines, Miriam PEACE, Lingkod Tao Kalikasan, NASSA — Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, Bishop Utleg of the diocese of Isabela, Bishop Gutierrez of the diocese of Marbel, Youth for Sustainable Development Assembly, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Earth First!, Balik Kalikasan, Philippine Federation of Environmental Concerns, Caritas Manila Inc., Caritas Philippines, and a Dr. Ernesto.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 1, 2003)

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