POSTSCRIPT / December 29, 2005 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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'Bridges to Nowhere'-- A test for Ombudsman

TEST FOR MERCY: Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who has pledged to be independent despite her closeness to the First Family, may want to check out information contributed by readers reacting to my POSTSCRIPT (Dec. 27) on “Bridges to Nowhere.”

From readers came raw information that one operator, obviously with connections and logistics, has been able to work out repeated contracts for steel bridges, some of which now stand alone leading to nowhere since no roads connect to them.

This operator reportedly bought last year several Land Cruisers as gifts to his benefactors. One of his residences is described as a tightly secured unit at Rockwell in Makati.

But it is not all about bridges, another reader said. Aside from being given the fat contracts, this operator has been appointed board member of a big government-controlled corporation reportedly as reward for handling election results in his province in 2004.

It should be easy for Ombudsman Gutierrez, if she is independent, to check these and related details without having to wait for a formal complaint to reach her desk.

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PALACE PRIORITY: Another reader from Legaspi Village who asked not to be identified at this time says:

“I belong to a small group of businessmen doing business with the government. I came to know of this so-called President’s Bridge Program more than 10 years ago during the time of President Ramos. It was then Executive Secretary Teofisto Guingona who penned the Executive Order creating this project. It was then realized by his replacement Ruben Torres. It was Mr. Torres and his group; including Mr. Haresco, who at that time was working under Torres; who aggressively started the business of Mabey and Johnson.

“The first package of bridges supplied by Mabey run by Torres but implemented by both DPWH and DILG was already full of problems and controversies. Both DPWH and DILG were not involved in the technical or financial negotiations. They were in the meetings but could not do anything because it is the Office of the President telling them what to do.

“Mabey even refused to have their steel materials tested in accordance with the DPWH specifications! These bridges are not seismic-rated as required in an earthquake-prone country like ours. And many more issues… but the agencies are helpless.

“Mabey’s bridges which are temporary Bailey type are even in some instances five times higher in price/lineal meter than those heavy-truss permanent bridge built by other companies. We do not need more temporary bridges, what we need are solid permanent type structures that can last for a lifetime.

“Since many years ago, we have been trying to call the attention of the public and media about these projects but it seems nobody was interested. Thanks to POSTSCRIPT for taking it up.”

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DRAMATIC LEAP: In its Dec. 20 online edition, the UK-based Guardian said it has established that Mabey is charging substantially more than its rivals. Its steel superstructures, it said, cost about £4,800 (P333,000) per lineal meter, quoting Philippine highways department figures.

For comparison, the Guardian said: “Records show an Austrian firm, Waagner-Biro, gained one small contract from the Philippines highways department to supply comparable superstructures for only £3,138 (P217,000 per lineal meter). A UK consortium, Balfour-Cleveland, is quoting £2,899 (P201,000).

It said also that “analysis of M&J’s accounts show that the Philippine contracts have returned an exceptionally high rate of profit and turned the Mabey family into Britain’s 141st richest.

“Analysis of the company’s accounts shows that the dramatic leap in fortunes has come largely from its Philippine contracts, worth £429million (P30 billion) and all funded by UK-backed loans. In the last five years it has booked £137 million in trading profits, whereas 10 years ago, it was making less than £3 million a year. They have the former Conservative trade minister John Redwood on their payroll as an investment adviser, and donate to the Conservative party.

“In Manila, the company is even better connected politically. Mabey would not name its agent, to whom it has passed millions of pounds in commission. However, he is a businessman, Teodorico Haresco, who is close to President Arroyo.

“Mr. Haresco told the Guardian he had never “attempted to exert any improper influences’.”

(As requested by a PR man of Mabey and Johnson, we waited until 6:30 p.m. yesterday for their reaction to our Dec. 27 column. But it failed to reach us by that late hour.)

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ABUEVA PAHABOL: On another report in POSTSCRIPT that overseas Filipinos would lose in one sweep their hard-earned right to vote in absentia, Jose V. Abueva, chairman of the Consultative Commission that drafted constitutional amendments said this would not happen.

This column reported that wholesale loss of suffrage could result from the Con-Com proposal to shift to a parliamentary system where the President and the Prime Minister would be elected not by popular vote but by members of Parliament from among themselves.

Under the Overseas Absentee Voting Act (RA 9189), qualified Filipinos residing abroad are allowed to vote only for the president, vice president, senators and party-list representatives, or only for national officials.

But under the proposed parliamentary setup, all voters are to elect only members of Parliament drawn from local districts. There would be no nationally elected officials for whom overseas Filipinos could vote.

Abueva clarified, however, that “in due course, the details of the reforms proposed by the Con-Com will be fully reported to the media and the public.”

He added: “The Con-Com fully recognized the right of overseas Filipinos and those with dual citizenship to exercise their right to vote as already authorized by law with respect to the election of the President, the Vice President and the senators under the 1987 Constitution.

“As these officials will no longer exist in the new system, the Con-Com supports the amendment of the law to allow them to vote for the Member of Parliament in their parliamentary district.”

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NOLI SHUFFLED OUT: The Con-Con’s proposing to amend the Overseas Absentee Voting Act to give overseas Filipinos wider voting rights was never mentioned in its announcements. Now it is making pahabol.

Abueva might want to rush another addendum concerning Vice President Noli de Castro, whose office (which he must occupy until 2010) is to be abolished under the Con-Com proposal.

The Con-Com wants to cancel elections in 2007, resulting in a mass holdover of local and national officials. The President would become the temporary Prime Minister in the interim Parliament to take over joint executive-legislative functions in 2007.

All sitting congressmen and senators are to be absorbed with President Arroyo into the interim Parliament. What will happen to Noli de Castro, the Vice President who was elected directly by the people and given a mandate to serve until 2010?

Baka magalit ang mga Lopez!

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DISCOVERY: You may have heard about this major scientific discovery, but let us share it with those who have not come across this Internet item:

A major research institution has just announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element has been named “Governmentium.”

Governmentium has one neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an Atomic mass of 311. These 311 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally take less than a second.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of four years. It does not decay, but, instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as “Critical Morass.”

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes “Administratium,” an element which radiates just as much energy, since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 29, 2005)

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