POSTSCRIPT / June 19, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Hanging tough, Gloria is likely to ride out crisis

RELAX LANG: It’s a Sunday. And you need peace and quiet.

Keep away from the news media. Forget about mobs supposedly massing in the streets, ageing generals plotting coups, the nation preparing to bring down its President, foreign investors rushing for the airport, and the nation going to pieces.

None of that is about to happen. It seems that, for the moment, President Arroyo has survived the latest attempt to whip up mass hysteria in a bid to wrest the presidency away from her tenuous hold.

The noise about jueteng payola has died down and will soon be forgotten like last night’s lotto draw. The usual chatter about election cheating is receding into the background to join old tales of how votes wrapped in certificates of canvass are sold to the highest bidders.

Rebellious elements in the military are sneaking back to barracks and will vanish into the ranks of their comrades in arms who had chosen to stick to the chain of command and obey duly constituted authority.

Relax. Enjoy the weekend.

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ROAD MISHAPS: But there is Sen. Ralph Recto, not to mention yours truly, to remind you about fatal road accidents and how money meant for road safety is squandered.

Ticking off statistics showing that six children are killed and 257 others are injured in road accidents daily, Recto called on the government to spend part of the P7.2-billion “Road Users Tax” collected this year in making safe accident-prone highways. The “RUT” is tucked in the registration fee of motor vehicles.

“Our roads kill more people than AIDS, SARS and Bird Flu combined,” he said. “Bad roads, drunk drivers, unsafe vehicles, heavy traffic, poor implementation of laws are the hazards both motorists and commuters confront daily.”

Part of what is known as the Motor Vehicle Users Charge should be used for a study on why vehicular accidents have become one of the “top 15” causes of death in the country, he added.

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BLOODY STATS: An Asian Development Bank study said that road accidents claimed 9,000 lives and caused injuries to 493,000 persons in 2003. The 7.8 vehicular deaths per 100,000 persons ratio is one of the highest in Asia-Pacific.

Btw, road accidents kill more children than those in other age groups. Each day, six kids die, 257 are injured in traffic accidents.

Recto gave Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City as an example of a high accident-prone road. There were 3,792 vehicular accidents there in 2001.

Instead of issuing press releases, Recto may want to personally bring up the matter with MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando, whose traffic management ideas have contributed to the rise of road accidents in the metropolis.

I have seen quite a number of these accidents, including vehicles crashing into obstructions that mindless MMDA officials scatter on thoroughfares like they were throwing dice.

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COSTLY POWER: Reading some materials on power generation, I was struck by the government failure to ensure predictable and reasonably priced electricity to households and industry.

The Arroyo administration appears improvising and temporizing through it all. Worse, President Arroyo appears unable to make good on her campaign promise to deliver steady and cheaper electricity.

With the imposition of value-added tax on power generation and the law’s allowing VAT’s being passed on to end-users, consumers will be hit really hard by higher rates instead of seeing the lower rates promised by Ms Arroyo.

Look at your Meralco (Manila Electric Co.) bill. The hated PPA (purchased power adjustment) has been removed all right, but in its place had been inserted a generation charge that doubles the cost of the electricity actually consumed.

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COAL — TOP FUEL: Data culled in 2003 from the National Power Corp. show that 38 percent of the country’s generation mix is from coal, 35 percent from natural gas, 10 percent from hydro (water), 10 percent from oil, and 7 percent from geothermal energy.

Local industry statistics show that generation facilities using coal are able to produce energy at an average of around P1.65 (cost of production only) per kilowatt-hour while that of natural gas is P2.09. Oil produces it at P2.36, and diesel at P5.31 per kwh.

Its cost efficiency appears to be the reason why despite its negative reputation as a polluter of the environment, coal still being used as the dominant mode of energy source in the Philippines.

In the US, supposedly more enlightened as far as pollution is concerned, coal accounts for some 60 percent of the energy produced.

Industry planners point out that aside from the price factor, coal is more versatile in that it is not as site-specific as the more environment-friendly renewables (geothermal, hydro, wind, etc). You can build a coal plant practically anywhere and generate energy on short notice.

Industry figures show that solar energy via battery-powered solar panels can produce electricity at P50 per kwh. Compare: Consumers pay an average of P8 per kwh at present.

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ON PLASTICS: Still on health issues, read this article written last June 14 by Judy Foreman of the Boston Globe:

“Priscilla Ellis, a 61-year-old Jamaica Plain psychologist and mediator, was suspicious the minute she opened the mass e-mail. And with good reason.

“It was an old e-rumor that has picked up steam again recently, alleging that microwaving food in plastic containers releases dioxin, a carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. The e-mail noted that the warning about dioxin had been sent out in a newsletter from Johns Hopkins, the esteemed medical institution in Baltimore, and that similar information was ‘being circulated’ at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. The e-mail added that freezing water in plastic bottles also releases dioxin.

“Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even amid the growing barrage of presumably well-intentioned health ‘warnings’ now flying around cyberspace, this one is a doozy. A Johns Hopkins spokesman called the e-mail a ‘hoax,’ adding, ‘It was never in our newsletter.’

“Put bluntly, there is ‘no dioxin in plastic; that’s absolutely crazy,’ said George Pauli, associate director for science and policy at the office of food additive safety at the US Food and Drug Administration.

“The FDA reviews all substances that are designed to come into contact with food, he said, noting that there is nothing in plastic food containers that appears to be a concern. ‘We would take action if there were.’

“Moreover, dioxin is not water soluble, so, even if there were dioxin in plastic containers, it would be more likely to stay in the plastic than dissolve in the water.

“So, do plastics used in food preparation get a totally clean bill of health? Not quite, but the risk is not something to lie awake worrying about.

“Ana Soto, a professor of cell biology at Tufts University, said that certain clear, rigid plastics made with polycarbonates could release a substance called bisphenol-A, a kind of weak estrogen.

“In her research, animal fetuses exposed to bisphenol-A may show altered development of mammary glands. Bisphenol-A, she added, can be released by heating or microwaving polycarbonate plastics, though there is no way for consumers to tell which plastics contain polycarbonates because this is not indicated on the containers.

“Some baby bottles are made from polycarbonate plastic, noted Pauli of the FDA. But even when such bottles are heated in the microwave, FDA scientists have not been able to detect any bisphenol-A residues in the milk or formula, suggesting the products are safe.

“And what of the plastic cling wraps used to cover leftovers?

“The filmy plastic sheets are made with ‘plasticizers,’ chemicals that make the plastic more bendable. One such plasticizer, DEHA (diethylhexyl adipate), can leach out of cling wraps even without heating, Pauli said.

“The bottom line: Microwave food in glass, ceramic or plastic containers that are advertised (sometimes on packaging only) as safe for microwave use, the FDA advises. Do not microwave food in plastic containers such as margarine tubs, take-out containers or other products designed for one-time use — this plastic can melt, possibly causing chemicals to migrate into food.

“If you microwave food in plastic wrap, to be on the safe side, don’t let the wrap touch the food during cooking.

“If you still want to worry about microwaving, you can worry about this instead: The unevenness of cooking in a microwave may leave some undercooked ‘cold spots’ that still may harbor bacteria.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 19, 2005)

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