POSTSCRIPT / May 29, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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What media need is not guns but professionalism

NOTA BENE: Before readers get the impression from front-page photos of newsmen firing away at silhouettes that we in media are busy arming and training to shoot it out with our tormentors, it should be pointed out that:

■ Long before they started to murder Filipino journalists at the rate of one head each month, many of us have been avid gun fanciers who take gun-handling training for the same reasons that we indulge in sports — for fun, skills, discipline, camaraderie.

■ Responsible media men are not in the habit of brandishing weapons. Many of us are aware that such provocative antics could just trigger the opposite — attract violence from those who feel challenged by the show of firepower.

■ No amount of braggadocio and waving of weapons would deter a determined assassin. Even the President of the United States, the most guarded individual in the universe, is never safe.

■ Most of us believe that the best way to thresh out a conflict in to subject it to the rigors of free discourse — not to push protagonists into a mindless exchange of fire.

■ We also believe that waving a weapon, as it is with spitting out cuss words, does not add to our arguments. When one shifts to physical violence or foul language, that is a signal that he has run out of arguments.

We should stop this irrational arms race between journalists and the onion-skinned individuals they write and talk about. Media managers should refrain from fanning the heat.

Better still, instead of putting emphasis on their staff toying with deadly weapons, industry leaders should launch in earnest a program of Continuing Education for journalists. We need it badly.

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MALL PARKING: Hello, is the lady-senator Pia Cayetano there? Is she back from her jogging?

Many of us have been wondering what Senator Pia has done to continue that crusade started by her late father Companero Rene Cayetano against the unconscionable collection of bloated parking fees from shoppers at the malls.

We drive over to shop yet still have to pay for parking? What ever happened to the conscience of the super-rich mall owners?

At the very least, the rates should be lowered to half of their current levels. Or there could be full validation based on the purchase receipts. There should also be some way of making parking lot operators responsible for negligence resulting in theft or damage to parked vehicles.

Whatever formula is best, will Senator Pia please buckle down to work and recall what her father set out to do for us poor shoppers?

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WHERE’S ENRILE?: Many consumers are also wondering what ever happened to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile who campaigned last year — and got elected — mainly on his promise that he would slay the PPA monster then wreaking havoc everywhere.

PPA, of course, is “Purchased Power Adjustment” that the power distributors, notably the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), used as an excuse to pad electricity bills. Because of PPA, we were paying double the cost of electricity that we actually consume.

To lull us into thinking PPA has been abolished by a benevolent government, that hated charge had been removed from our bills. Don’t look now, but what they did actually was to rename PPA as “Generation Charge.” Neat.

Since Enrile won a seat in the Senate last year, the Energy Regulatory Commission has allowed several rate increases. Many people are asking tuloy where Enrile has been all the time. Maybe he should tell them.

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MERALCO MATH: On the rampaging power ogre, reader Mon Ramirez (dpmasia) said in a posting in the Plaridel egroup:

“Meralco has this half center-fold ad that says in big bold caps that the National Power Corp. will raise its rates by 47 centavos this June, but mercifully for Meralco customers, the utility company was able to reduce this by almost half, or 24 centavos (NAPOCOR MANGTATAAS NG 47 SENTIMOS NGAYONG HUNYO! NAIBABA SA HALOS KALAHATI PARA SA MERALCO CUSTOMERS?)

“How did Meralco achieve this outstanding feat for its customers? It is a natural result of the fact that Meralco buys only half of its power from NPC, the rest it buys from its own Independent Power Producers like the Lopez’s First Gas, Quezon Power and Duracom; therefore, it is simple arithmetic actually, no sweat.

“Using the same logic, Panay Electric Co. (PECO), the distribution utility that lights up Iloilo City, can make an even better claim: that NPC will increase its rates but PECO is able to reduce it to zero! That is because it doesn’t buy any of its power from NPC.”

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THREE STRIKES: Ramirez continues: “The Meralco ad, however, does not mention three things.

“One. The NPC charge gets into our bill in the Generation Charge. Since this is only about 50 percent of the total bill, its reduction by Meralco to 24 centavos means a reduction only of 12 centavos relative to the total bill. Thus, if you consume 200 kwh, Meralco does not reduce the NPC increase by 48 pesos but only by 24 pesos.

“Two, When Meralco buys all its power from NPC, residential consumers get a discount of 30 centavos per kwh of their total kwh consumption as mandated by the EPIRA law. With only 50 percent being sourced from NPC, our discount becomes 15 centavos only or thereabouts as you can verify in your current bill. Thus, if you consume 200 kwh, you should have a total discount of 60 pesos; but with Meralco buying only 50 percent from NPC, your discount is only 30 pesos.

“Overall, you lose P6 in the two transactions above. And yet Meralco puts out an ad that suggests we should be thankful to them that it buys only half its power from NPC which had its power rates hiked.

“Three. Meralco does not mention the costs of purchasing power from NPC and its own IPPs. Data given during the ERC hearings on Meralco’s petition for the unbundling of its rates show that for the base year 2000 Meralco was buying at an average of P7.55 per kwh from First Gas and P6.23 from Quezon Power while NPC was charging it only half at P3.19.”

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UNTRUTHFUL AD: Ramirez added: “In November that year Meralco bought from First Gas at P18 when NPC was selling only at P3.57. In October of the same year it was buying from Quezon Power at P11.64 at a time when the price charged by NPC was only P3.48.

“These costs are of course passed on to its customers. If Meralco wanted reduced rates to its consumers, it should have bought its power from NPC.

“Our latest data on the monthly submittals of Meralco are dated February 2004. Its report to ERC shows that it bought power from NPC at P3.73 per kwh; from Duracom, P4.23; from First Gas Sta Rita, P4.98; from First Gas San Lorezno, P4.50; and from Quezon Power, P4.90. Their average price is 25 percent above that of NPC.

“So what’s all this claim of the Meralco paid ad about ‘tungkulin naming siguruhing mabibigyan kayo ng pinakamagaling na sebisyo sa pinakamagandang presyo’? Where’s the truth in expensive advertising?”

* * *

VAT OBJECTIONS: It is good that some parties are questioning in court the constitutionality of Congress’ authorizing the President in the new Value-Added Tax law to raise the VAT rate from 10 to 12 percent if certain situations come about in January.

The situations under which the President may raise the VAT rate are (1) if the VAT tax effort exceeds 2.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product or (2) if the national government deficit exceeds 1.5 percent of GDP.

Only the Supreme Court can resolve the constitutionality question.

The main thrust of the objection is that such authority granted the President is undue delegation of taxation powers vested by the Constitution exclusively in the legislature.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said that the imposing of conditions (the two situations cited above) did not cure the constitutional flaw of the VAT law signed by President Arroyo last Tuesday.

* * *

NOTHING DELEGATED: As another harassed taxpayer, I would welcome the striking down of the VAT law as unconstitutional.

But my fearful layman’s view is that no taxing power has been unduly delegated to the President by the VAT law just approved.

In the new VAT law, Congress did not give the President legislative discretion because the mandate given was specific. The President was authorized to raise the VAT rate to 12 percent — not to any arbitrary rate of her choosing.

To make certain the President sticks to the schedule and spirit of the mandate, Congress specified conditions under which the President was to carry out her assigned task. The President was not given discretionary latitude.

No taxation power was delegated to the President. It would still be Congress imposing the tax. She was just commanded to carry out at a given future date and under clear conditions the specific instructions of Congress.

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

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