POSTSCRIPT / April 4, 2006 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Piatco isn't Naia-3 owner, so can't sell asset to gov't

OFW BANK: The plan of the Arroyo administration to create a new bank or expand its existing banking facilities dedicated to servicing some 8 million Filipinos working abroad is commendable.

But it suffers from one flaw which could prove fatal: It is to be wholly owned and operated by the government. It will have to overcome the widespread mistrust of government agencies.

The government will try to sell the new banking facility as a professional, strictly-business operation. But you know how it is when a project involving large amounts of money is touched by the dirty finger of government.

Instead of having the bank wholly owned or controlled by the government, the administration may want to invite OFWs as stockholders, not just stakeholders. Sell them shares, make them feel they are part of it, that they are co-owners, make them profit from it — and that might work.

If the government bungles this one, big private bankers may come in to fill the void and cash in on the $13-billion that OFWs send to the home country every year. Another gold mine is the collateral business related to remittances.

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WHY PAY PIATCO?: The Arroyo administration’s pushing the expropriation of the idle Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal-3 and rushing the release of P3-billion as initial payment to its builder is suspicious.

Is somebody or some firm with Malacanang connections out to make a killing?

Expropriation is generally done on private property that the government wants to take over for public or communal use. The main requirements are that there be due process and just compensation.

But Philippine International Air Terminals Co. (Piatco), is just the builder, not the owner, of Naia-3. So why is the government expropriating or in effect buying the terminal from Piatco?

This intriguing point was brought out last Monday by lawyer Perfecto Yasay in a talk with newsmen on the $600-million White Elephant sitting in a forlorn corner of the international airport in Pasay.

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MAKING A KILLING: As the builder, Piatco has to be compensated for work validly done after it won the build-operate-transfer contract for Naia-3 in 1998.

Any payment to Piatco will be for work done and related costs, not “just compensation” in expropriation proceedings, or for the government’s taking over possession or ownership of Naia-3.

To pass it off as expropriation is to concede that Piatco is the rightful owner of Naia-3, which it is not. Conceding ownership to the builder will have a legal domino effect that will see the collapse of the government case against Piatco.

But while expropriation weakens the government’s hand, it would make some well-connected characters richer by the hundreds of millions.

Such careless handling of sensitive cases and the dissipation of huge chunks of taxpayers’ money are among the reasons why President Arroyo has gone down in the esteem of even her erstwhile supporters.

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UNJUST PAYMENT: With then Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo having asked the Pasay court last March to stop the expropriation payment of P3 billion to Piatco, he opened for the government an option for it to back out of the suspicious expropriation.

In his motion filed before he resigned recently as Sol-Gen, Benipayo cited the collapse last March 27 of a section of the ceiling of Naia-3 as proof that paying Piatco would be “unjust and inequitable.” The terminal is obviously not that safe enough to accept, much less to buy.

Will the new Sol-Gen, former presidential legal counsel Antonio Eduardo Nachura, follow the direction set by Benipayo? Will Malacanang allow Nachura to take that route?

Yasay pointed out the fact that the government owns the land on which Naia-3 stands, reinforcing the line that Piatco does not own the terminal.

He said that under the Civil Code, “the owner of the accessory to the land, the accessory being Naia-3, is the owner of the principal which is the land.”

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CONFUSION: Local registrars of the Commission on Elections, meanwhile, are at a loss proceeding in a well-defined, uniform manner in their validation of some 5 million signatures that the administration claims had been collected to launch a People’s Initiative to amend the Constitution.

This is because the Comelec, the only agency tasked to validate signatures in a People’s Initiative, has not laid down the implementing guidelines or rules of procedure for the validation.

Some registrars, at least those bold enough to proceed, are going about it using merely their best judgment. Many of them are reportedly following the same procedure used in the recall of local elective officials.

But although there is verification of signatures in both a recall and a People’s Initiative, there is a substantial difference between the two processes.

To make matters worse, no less than the Supreme Court has said in a similar case that there is no enabling law yet to define exactly how a People’s Initiative is to proceed and how signatures gathered are to be validated. The sign-up campaign seems premature.

The unusual haste being shown by the Arroyo administration is bordering on desperation. Now why is President Gloria Arroyo that desperate? What is napping at her hurrying heels?

The answer to that — if you know or can divine it — will explain many things going on.

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FEATS OF RECALL: Have you been unusually forgetful or seem to be experiencing memory lapses?

Dave “The Memory Man” Coffill is in town helping interested people improve their recall by as much as 300 percent. Younger ones such as students who have attended his workshops say improvement in their case was 500 to 800 percent!

Some of the impressive (some say fantastic) feats one can learn from him are remembering 60-150 important things forwards, backwards and in their exact order, instant recall of phone numbers, addresses and passwords, remembering names and faces of 20 or more people that one meets.

Coffill will demonstrate tomorrow morning these memory feats and share pointers before a campus crowd at the Angeles University Foundation in Angeles City.

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OWENS LAUDED: Last Thursday, meanwhile, Super Leaders Inc. founder and chairman Brig Owens was conferred by Dr. Emmanuel Y. Angeles, AUF chancellor, the University Medal of Honor for his outstanding contributions to youth development.

A youth leadership, mentoring and drug-prevention program established in 1985, Super Leaders has benefited 22,000 students across Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia

In his acceptance speech, Owens stressed the importance of ensuring a good future for the youth. “When the youth have a dream, you help them become a reality so that they may become a better community,” he said.

Owens handed a Washington Redskins helmet to Angeles. The sports icon said it was “in recognition of Dr. Angeles’ strong, long-term commitment to development, thereby helping the youth realize their dreams.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 4, 2006)

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