POSTSCRIPT / June 5, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Reserve Boracay resort for wounded soldiers?

MIDDLE GROUND: Sen. Ralph Recto has broached a middle ground between those who want to continue and those who want to stop construction of a resort complex on Boracay island for military personnel.

Recto suggested that the resort — featuring a swimming pool and cabanas for the top brass — be used as a convalescence center for wounded soldiers. Only those who have shown valor in combat should be allowed use of the beachfront facility, he said.

Those opposing the project said officers would end up dominating use of the resort to the exclusion of enlisted men. Critics refused to believe that the businessmen pushing it had no commercial motives.

The military brass justifying the P10-million 60-room project said the resort would not entail any government funding as civilian friends of some generals were shouldering development costs. It is a great morale-booster, they added.

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GOLFING GENERALS: “It may still serve its purpose of uplifting troop morale if it would host those coming from the battlefield,” Recto said. “The way to that resort is through a field hospital — one would have to fight his way to a room.”

“In short, your wound is your ticket to admission,” he said. “Those who don’t smell of gunpowder will not be admitted. It’s our way of saying ‘thank you’ to wounded soldiers.”

“That resort must be for the rest and recovery of those plucked out of foxholes and not for those who survived 18 holes,” the Batangas senator said, alluding to top brass addicted to golf.

“There are 163 generals and 780 colonels in the AFP,” he noted. “Granted each officer will stay a minimum of three days, the resort will be overbooked the whole year round.”

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PALPABLE BIAS: Many regulatory agencies are not doing their jobs of protecting the public. What do we do with agency officials who are clearly biased in favor of the giant businesses they are supposed to regulate?

The bias is so palpable that consumers — who are not in a position to bribe these officials — are tempted to conclude that they must be on the secret payroll of the utilities they are mandated to watch and discipline.

The cellphone companies, for instance, have been allowed to expand beyond the capability of their facilities — resulting in deteriorating service.

Witness the increasing number of miscalls, “network busy” signals and the endless gimmicks that lure unsuspecting users to send and pay for useless text, and those games making users participate in big-time gambling in the form of raffles?

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BOGUS BONUS: Lately, some Globe cellphone users have been complaining that their pre-paid credits are being used up even when they do not use their units.

For instance, when one loads P300 worth of credit and gets P35 as bonus, every call or text sent is deducted simultaneously both from the P300 and the P35, making the bonus bogus. Why is this fraud allowed?

When users are asked to text their answer to an easy question to qualify for prizes, most respondents get the correct answer but do not win any prize — because all of them still have to win in a raffle or draw. Since winning is based on chance alone, and not on skill or knowledge, this is gambling!

What are the National Telecommunication Commission and the Department of Trade doing?

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EVER-RISING RATES: There is also the case of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), a utility firm whose rates are supposed to be regulated by the Energy Regulatory Commission.

Isn’t it obvious that the ERC is pampering Meralco and other power utilities? Now, it is the consumers — not the ERC — who spend time and resources monitoring the operations of the power utilities to expose and curb abuses.

Wide awake consumers seeing the ever-rising rates of Meralco refuse to accept the power firm’s explanation of why its rates are endlessly on the rise.

Reacting to Meralco’s rejoinder to his comments (POSTSCRIPT 02June2005), reader Mon Ramirez of the Plaridel egroup said: “After bragging about how it has allegedly cushioned the impact of the NPC increase in generation rates, Meralco comes up with a new petition for a 14.76-centavo/kwh increase!

“By sourcing power at higher cost from its own power generators (IPPs) and passing them on to its consumers, Meralco pays lip service to Section 23 of the Power Reform Act (EPIRA) requiring a distribution utility to ‘supply electricity in the least cost manner to its captive market.’

“Meralco bought some of its power at P32/kwh in March 2001 from its own IPP called Quezon Power (QPPL) when it could have purchased it from NPC at only P3.64. In January 2001, it bought power at P23/kwh from QPPL when it could have purchased it from NPC at only P3.62. (The complete tables for 2000 and 2001 will be posted at our organization’s website <www.agham.org> so readers can judge for themselves).”

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CHEAPER POWER: Ramirez continued: “In its attempt to show that Meralco is now sourcing its power from its own IPPs at rates lower than those of NPC, the company’s PR official does a neat trick of bundling together the generation and transmission costs into an item he calls purchased power cost.

“The PR official must be reminded that the ERC, in its unbundling decision, separates the generation charge and the transmission charge, with the latter to be paid to the company called TRANSCO, not to NPC. When so unbundled, NPC rates are lower, notwithstanding that the NPC has been plagued with severe financial short-circuits.

“Latest figures furnished last April 28 to the electricity consumer group NASECORE by Meralco’s Utility Economics Department show that actual generation costs this year of Meralco’s IPPs are still higher than those of NPC. For January: NPC – P4.00, IPPs ­ P5.47; February: NPC – P4.00, IPPs ­ P4.32; and, March: NPC ­ P4.14, IPPs ­P4.47.

“With Meralco getting only 45 percent of its supply from the cheaper NPC, one can imagine how many billions of pesos are passed on to the consumers to burden them some more because of Meralco buying 55 percent of their requirement from its own higher-priced IPPs.

“The utility company critiques us for not mentioning that NPC’s rate was artificially reduced in May 2002 by President Arroyo, which is the reason it has lower generation rates. What of it? Consumers always expect Meralco to buy power from the source that offers the lower rates, artificially low or not.”

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PRE-NEED ISSUES: Another watchdog agency is the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been found napping on the explosive problem of education pre-need companies suddenly unable to meet maturing obligations to planholders.

Last May 24, the SEC revoked the incorporation papers of Lifetime Plans Inc., a 10-month old pre-need company created by Pacific Plans Inc. to handle its fixed-value plans numbering 400,000-plus that were formerly under PPI.

With the LPI suddenly out of legal existence, where will holders of fixed-value plans go now? And what will happen to the thousands of displaced employees and sales force of the company?

The more manageable fixed-value plans moved to LPI include pension funds, memorial plans and fixed educational plans. Left with PPI are the problematic open-ended educational plans whose claim value soared after tuition was deregulated in the 1990s.

A PPI spokesman explained: “The transfer of the healthy fixed-value plans to LPI is to protect the 400,000 planholders from the continuing hemorrhage of PPI from the availing 16,000 of the 34,000 open-ended educational plans. This is due to runaway tuition fees since the 1992 deregulation.”

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DISPLACED WORKERS: Personnel of LPI rendered jobless by the SEC order ran to us with copies of a manifesto and a letter to SEC Chairman Fe Barin whom they reminded about the SEC obligation to protect the industry, its agents and planholders.

The LPI workers said: “Comparing to the 34,000 who have open-ended plans affected by the PPI rehabilitation plan, we the sales associates who are mostly dependent on our income with LPI are now in deep trouble. You have deprived us of our livelihood.

“The more than 400,000 LPI planholders now have sleepless nights because of the uncertainty of their investments caused by the revocation order the commission has imposed on LPI… Sadly, the commission should be their protector.”

In a manifesto, the displaced personnel said: “The SEC, setting aside substantial compliance by LPI of its registration requirements, has dealt a fatal blow on the company on ground of mere technicality. The regulatory body did not bother to apprise LPI of the insufficiency of the submitted documents.

“We also appeal for justice for the thousands of policy holders… whose payment of benefits are imperiled.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 5, 2005)

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