POSTSCRIPT / May 5, 2005 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Another journalist silenced in 'most murderous' nation!

ANOTHER HIT!: Just hours after Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye dismissed as “exaggerated and malicious” reports tagging the Philippines as the “most murderous” country for journalists, three gunmen attacked Klein Cantoneros of DXAA radio in Dipolog City at the close of the worldwide commemoration of Press Freedom Day.

The outspoken broadcaster was hit seven times with bullets from a .45 caliber pistol. He succumbed hours later at the Dipolog Medical Center. The attack occurred past midnight of Tuesday (May 3) just outside his radio station.

Cantoneros was the eighth journalist to be attacked this year. Three earlier assassination attempts were also successful, killing Edgar Amoro of Pagadian City, Arnulfo Villanueva of Cavite and Marlene Esperat of Sultan Kudarat.

Four other journalists survived but were seriously wounded: Max Quindao of Tagum City, Pablo Hernandez of the Manila-based tabloid Bulgar, Alberto Martinez of North Cotabato and Nestor Seguismundo of DZXE, Ilocos Sur.

Thirteen journalists were killed last year, seven in 2003. None died in the crossfire of war. They were all murdered.

Is Malacanang saying that these violent attacks on working newspapermen were concoctions? Or that media themselves staged the attacks to prove that they were being swatted down like flies?

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CAMI CALL: At the “Human Chain for Press Freedom” staged Tuesday evening by several media groups at the Morato and Timog Sts. rotunda in Quezon City, the Capampangan in Media Inc. added its voice to the protest with this statement:

“We members of Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) stand in solidarity with our fellow journalists in denouncing repression, intimidation, and the liquidation of media practitioners who displease people in power. Every journalist lost to such violence is a loss to the cause of a free press. We must strengthen this Human Chain against the dark forces seeking to subjugate the press.”

With an initial membership of some 40 print and broadcast media practitioners who are Capampangan, CAMI was incorporated on Dec. 29, 2004.

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ACTING STRANGE: It is strange, if not suspicious, behavior when Malacanang pretends it is unaware of the jueteng scourge that has grown to alarming proportions under the Arroyo administration.

When 15 jueteng lords in Luzon alone deliver some P13 billion a year in payola to national and lower officials, or about P1 billion a month!, such massive activity cannot but be noticed even by the blind.

What has been plastered on the eyes of President Arroyo and her boys that they cannot see what everybody else sees?

In my town alone in Pampanga, the President’s own home province, there are three jueteng draws daily vacuuming the small change of plain folk who hardly have money to buy nutritious food and pay for expensive electricity.

The draws are at 12:30, 5:30 and 10:30 p.m. daily. In Angeles City, there are also three draws. Asked who the operators are in these two places, cobradors (bet collectors) name a certain Bong Pineda.

* * *

WHO NOW?: After Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz submitted to a House committee the other day a sealed envelop containing a list of gambling lords, he told reporters, “Definitely, jueteng is bigger now compared to the past administration.”

“The (jueteng tong) collection remains centralized,” he added, “But they have new collectors… some of these collectors are even bigger than those before.”

During the time of President Erap Estrada, Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson was the confessed tong consolidator. He testified under oath in the impeachment trial of Mr. Estrada that he regularly delivered the lion’s share to the Palace.

The big question now is who is/are now doing the tong collection for top officials — as obviously the illegal numbers game has not only continued but has flourished under the Arroyo administration.

Malacanang cannot strain our credulity by saying: Yes, jueteng has continued; but No, the tong collection has stopped. (Ha, ha, ha!!) Or that everybody down the line gets his share of the loot, but not key people in the Palace. (Ha?!)

* * *

FOR SHOW ONLY: Challenging archbishop Cruz to prove his allegations or to produce evidence of wrongdoing is a strange response from officials who profess innocence.

Kahit pakitang-tao lang, President Arroyo should at least display her legendary taray and demand from his boys kunwari why this jueteng scourge that had deposed a popular president was still flourishing under her.

Take the archbishop’s report in good faith. Look seriously into it (although that may be like looking into the mirror).

Malacanang knows all those on the take. (It would be stupid to claim it does not know them).

The President could publicly dress down and dismiss a few officers found with some dirty money still dangling from their sticky fingers. Anytime she wants, the President could burst with a fiery display of temper and purge tong-tainted subalterns.

But then, such drama would be difficult to stage — IF a big chunk of the tong still finds its way to the inner sanctum of the Palace.

* * *

POTENTIAL ALLY: Taking the archbishop’s report in good faith, an untainted President could visit the prelate to discuss in depth the problem in the presence of a small group of respected citizens.

His report said that national officials alone have been receiving, as of March 15, a P20-million monthly payola per province.

More than congressmen, whose function is just to pass laws, the Chief Executive should lose no time getting the names of the executive officials involved. From there, she would be able to draw conclusions and take corrective steps.

The archbishop himself said that some of his information needs validation. The President can help in that area since she is in the best position to pursue any lead given in the report.

If she and all her family members are tong-free, the President should not find it difficult joining hands with the archbishop in the anti-illegal gambling campaign. She should regard him not as an adversary but as a potential ally.

* * *

FUEL LOSSES: The same way that system loss, including the pilferage of electricity, is ultimately added to the bill of power-users, the cost of smuggling and pilferage of fuel is also absorbed by consumers.

Smuggling of oil products, which continues despite supposed efforts to stop it, is costing the government millions, maybe billions, in lost revenue. This is another revenue leakage that needs plugging.

Pilferage of fuel has been a problem. Police sources said this is pulled off in the high seas and along the Pasig River, where oil firms’ facilities are located. Police said the barges are hijacked enroute to the depot and their petroleum cargo stolen.

The stolen fuel is sold to waiting fences who pass them on to small firms or sell them directly to gasoline station operators. Consumers fall into the cycle as their purchases result in more pilferage.

* * *

CASE FILED: The business has been so lucrative that it has already resulted in the killing of some oil company personnel investigating the pilferage.

Inventory losses traced to pilferage have been hurting some oil firms. Petron Corp., for instance, said it has lost more than P260 million in the past five years in just one case of suspected pilferage of its fuel while being delivered.

Petron has filed suit in court against marine haulers it had linked to the alleged pilferage. One company against whom it had filed a collection case is Herma Shipping and Transport Corp.

Herma allegedly under-delivered 20 million liters of fuel worth of P261.2 million from 1999 to 2004. In its complaint, Petron said that Herma defrauded it at both loading and unloading points and transferred the fuel to other vessels. Herma officials have denied the allegations.

* * *

TO THE RESCUE: Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco said yesterday he was raising P250 million from his personal resources to help meet the tuition needs of planholders of Pacific Plan Inc., one of the firms under his wings.

Although this is Pacific Plan’s own corporate concern, the envoy said he was doing it in his desire to help parents pay their children’s tuition for this year’s school opening. The fund will be used to provide additional tuition support, details of which will be announced shortly.

Pacific Plan said it would meet and dialogue with planholders for a satisfactory resolution of any other problem they may have.

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

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