POSTSCRIPT / February 13, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA: Use part of NLEx toll for alternate highway

CLARK FIELD — President Arroyo adopted yesterday my suggestion that part of the toll being collected from motorists using the North Luzon Expressway be set aside for widening and upgrading the alternate MacArthur Highway.

Saying that my suggestion was a great idea, she told former Nueva Ecija congressman Renato Diaz, now the presidential adviser on North Luzon development, to carry it out. Diaz said he would work on it.

The President said part of the 6-percent share in toll collections of the Philippine National Construction Corp. could be earmarked for improving that part of MacArthur Highway in Bulacan and Pampanga alongside the NLEx.

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MOTORISTS PROTEST: Toll rates in the 84-kilometer expressway were raised Thursday by as much as four times on some segments. The old P41 toll between Balintawak and Sta. Inez (Mabalacat) in Pampanga was raised to P203 for regular cars.

The toll being collected consists of two parts. A P42 flat rate is collected between Balintawak and all exits all the way to Bocaue in Bulacan regardless of distance. But between Bocaue and all points north a P2.49-per-kilometer rate is applied.

Although the increase was announced earlier and repeatedly aired, its implementation caught many motorists by surprise. Claiming that they did not have the money, some drivers argued with toll clerks and caused traffic jams.

Some of the 160,000 motorists using the NLEx daily are expected to shift to MacArthur or go to court to stop the rate increase and force a review of the new rates.

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MNTC TAKES OVER: Diaz informed the President that the government was already set to widen the MacArthur Highway to four lanes starting March so it could absorb motorists looking for alternate routes.

President Arroyo told him that although money for MacArthur Highway is already in the budget, augmenting the funds with part of the NLEx toll collection would ensure its faster upgrading.

She said my suggestion would give back to the people part of the money they had plunked in at the toll booths.

The state-controlled PNCC holds the NLEx franchise. It has been joined by two foreign entities and a Lopez group (61 percent) to form the Manila North Tollways Corp. The MNTC has just taken over management of the $371-million expressway.

Although the PNCC’s share in MNTC is only 2.5 percent, its share in toll collections is 6 percent. It is from this PNCC share that President Arroyo wants to get the additional funds that I suggested for upgrading MacArthur Highway.

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CAMI INDUCTION: The NLEx toll rates were among the topics brought up when we officers of the Capampangan in Media Inc. talked with President Arroyo after she inducted CAMI officers at the Bahay na Puti (a sort of mini-Malacanang) on this former US base.

The CAMI officers inducted were Manila Bulletin chief editor Cris Icban Jr., chairman; Manila Times publisher & chief editor Fred dela Rosa, vice chairman; Philippine STAR columnist Federico D. Pascual Jr., president; Tanod chief editor Ernie Y. Tolentino, vice president; Pilipino Star Ngayon chief editor Al Pedroche, treasurer; former Philippine News Agency executive editor Diosdado M. Beltran, secretary; PNA Central Luzon bureau chief Fred M. Roxas, auditor; andToday news editor Noni L. Pelayo, Press Undersecretary Robert G. Mananquil, Graphic writer Jose P. Cortez and former House of Representatives public affairs director Miguel C. Genovea, directors.

Incorporated as a non-profit organization, CAMI aims to promote and defend the freedom of the press and advance the interests of journalists; upgrade the competence and professionalism of Capampangan journalists and promote camaraderie among them; and work for the revival and enhancement of the culture and positive traditions of Capampangans.

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FATF BLACKLIST: President Arroyo was upbeat yesterday morning at Clark.

The first thing she mentioned to us was the Philippines’ finally being removed, after almost three years, from the anti-money laundering Financial Action Task Force list of “non-cooperative countries and territories.”

The blacklist, which once had 20 countries, is now down to just Myanmar, Nauru and Nigeria. The Paris-based FATF announced that the Philippines, together with Indonesia and Cook Islands, had been removed from it.

President Arroyo said that did not happen in the normal course of things, but as a result of improvements in the local handling and monitoring of the movement of big sums that could be tainted.

Seen in the light of other positive developments — such as the improved standing of the peso in relation to the US dollar and a marked rise in economic growth — the FATF action buoys hopes that the country is shaking off psychological financial albatrosses around its neck.

President Arroyo said the FATF move was a “vote of confidence” in the fiscal reforms of her administration. But much still has to be done to consolidate gains, she added.

The Philippines can now become a member of the so-called Egmont Group, a loose organization of financial intelligence units that share information and assist one another in the prosecution of cross-border financial crimes.

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SUNDAY READING: And now for our Sunday reading, we have this posting by Cesar Torres emailing from the San Francisco Bay Area:

Jack took a long look at his speedometer before slowing down: 73 in a 55 mph zone. Fourth time in as many months. How could a guy get caught so often?

When his car had slowed to 10 miles an hour, Jack pulled over, but only partially. Let the cop worry about the potential traffic hazard. Maybe some other car will tweak his backside with a mirror. The cop was stepping out of his car, the big pad in hand.

Bob? Bob from Church? Jack sunk farther into his trench coat. This was worse than the coming ticket. A cop catching a guy from his own church. A guy who happened to be a little eager to get home after a long day at the office. A guy he was about to play golf with tomorrow.

Jumping out of the car, he approached a man he saw every Sunday, a man he’d never seen in uniform.

“Hi, Bob. Fancy meeting you like this.”

“Hello, Jack.” No smile.

“Guess you caught me red-handed in a rush to see my wife and kids.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Bob seemed uncertain. Good.

“I’ve seen some long days at the office lately. I’m afraid I bent the rules a bit — just this once.” Jack toed at a pebble on the pavement. “Diane said something about roast beef and potatoes tonight. Know what I mean?”

“I know what you mean. I also know that you have a reputation in our precinct.” Ouch. This was not going in the right direction. Time to change tactics.

“What’d you clock me at?”

“Seventy. Would you sit back in your car please?”

“Now wait a minute here, Bob. I checked as soon as I saw you. I was barely nudging 65.” The lie seemed to come easier with every ticket.

“Please, Jack, in the car.”

Flustered, Jack hunched himself through the still-open door. Slamming it shut, he stared at the dashboard. He was in no rush to open the window.

The minutes ticked by. Bob scribbled away on the pad.

Why hadn’t he asked for a driver’s license?

Whatever the reason, it would be a month of Sundays before Jack ever sat near this cop again. A tap on the door jerked his head to the left. There was Bob, a folded paper in hand. Jack rolled down the window a mere two inches, just enough room for Bob to pass him the slip.

“Thanks.” Jack could not quite keep the sneer out of his voice.

Bob returned to his police car without a word. Jack watched his retreat in the mirror. Jack unfolded the sheet of paper. How much was this one going to cost?

Wait a minute. What was this? Some kind of joke?

Certainly not a ticket. Jack began to read:

“Dear Jack, Once upon a time I had a daughter. She was six when killed by a car. You guessed it — a speeding driver. A fine and three months in jail, and the man was free. Free to hug his daughters, all three of them. I only had one, and I’m going to have to wait until Heaven before I can ever hug her again.

“A thousand times I’ve tried to forgive that man. A thousand times I thought I had. Maybe I did, but I need to do it again. Even now. Pray for me. And be careful, Jack, my son is all I have left.

“Bob”

Jack turned around in time to see Bob’s car pull away and head down the road. Jack watched until it disappeared. A full 15 minutes later, he too, pulled away and drove slowly home, praying for forgiveness and hugging a surprised wife and kids when he arrived.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 13, 2005)

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