POSTSCRIPT / August 3, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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De Castro to the rescue of OFWs -- and GMA?

NOLI CARD: If he plays it right and the pseudo-elite allow him, Vice President Noli de Castro may yet provide a resolution to the imbroglio over the funding of the evacuation of some 30,000 Filipino workers trapped in Lebanon areas under Israeli attack.

De Castro has been installed head of a task force overseeing the safe and speedy repatriation stymied by a lack of money that Malacanang is hard put to explain considering the billions in workers’ welfare funds under its care.

The Vice President seems harmless to some senators, many of whom have been turned off by President Gloria Arroyo’s refusal to let Executive officials testify in the Senate inquiry into the collection and disposition of trust funds for workers.

Is Malacanang hiding anything? Is it afraid the Senate would stumble on something similar to the alleged massive diversion of fertilizer funds before the May 2004 presidential election?

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GORDON IDEA: Sen. Richard Gordon broached earlier the idea of President Arroyo herself updating the senators in an executive meeting and explaining sensitive issues. Candidness could have forestalled a situation similar to the ongoing stonewalling.

But Malacanang has its own ideas — and self-preservation reasons. It thus failed to move in a manner close to Gordon’s suggestion.

Enters De Castro. His filling in for Ms Arroyo opens a possible face-saving scenario that may yet resolve the impasse — if the major actors would allow him.

When talking with the Vice President, many senators could be less confrontational. In his last executive briefing on the Lebanon evacuation, a number of senators who are not known allies of Ms Arroyo were in attendance.

If he is game enough, De Castro — a top media personality before his plunge into politics – could even attempt a press coverage-type sortie into Beirut or a nearby staging area to gain first-hand impressions from stranded Filipinos.

That is, if the President and senators with presidential ambitions would allow that scoop.

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Such activities of the Vice President, especially if publicized, may be able to divert enemy fire from Ms Arroyo and thus get the evacuation that is mired in politics moving faster without the distraction of a Senate investigation.

It would be interesting to see how De Castro (assuming he could play that middle role) and Senate President Manuel Villar — No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the presidential line of succession — interact as they handle the fast-moving crisis in Lebanon.

But even with the De Castro card, Malacanang must be compelled to tell the legislature exactly how much has been collected in addition to budget appropriations for workers’ welfare — and how the billions are being kept and spent.

For his part, Villar may want to involve other committees in co-conducting the hearings to lessen the adversarial air in the Senate inquiry and convince the Palace to open up.

He should understand President Arroyo’s reaction to having the senator-son of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada presiding over an inquiry into her turf.

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KENNEDY ECHO: In his speech accepting the Senate presidency last July 24, Villar invited his colleagues to soar with him to new heights of creative legislation as the chamber seeks solutions to problems weighing down the nation.

“ Whatever methods and solutions that worked well in the past are time-bound,” he said. “Different times call for different solutions as demanded by the complexity of today’s questions.”

He added: “A creative Senate is what this nation needs. Such creativity is manifested by becoming more responsive, and more proactive. There is a need for the Senate to reinvent itself by redefining its relevance. We must strive to break new ground. This is only possible by going beyond the confines of what is familiar and traditional.”

The Kennedy-look-alike Villar then said something that sounded JFKish: “To be able to break out of our comfort zone, we must dream of things that never were. We must have the courage to test the limits of what is possible.”

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POLITICS-BOUND: Alas, legislative responses to problems are not only time-bound as Villar observed. They are also politics-bound as they are the creations of politics and politicians.

With politics being the art of compromise and politicians being master manipulators, Villar may want to plead with his colleagues to break out not only from their comfort zones but also from their political zones.

But that may be asking for the impossible.

Another impossibility with the present Senate, pardon my saying so, is for it to soar to heights reminiscent of the glory days of the chamber when intellectual giants and patriots stood on the floor and, from there, moved the nation.

Considering the cast now performing on the Senate stage, how can the body soar to heights that Villar is dreaming of? There are a few great minds and certified patriots in the chamber, but this minority is eclipsed by the mediocre majority.

Villar said: “We need a change of heart so that we can rise above the narrow corridors of our old assumptions and lingering doubts.” I think we should start with a change of membership, to quality membership.

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MALAKAS TALAGA!: The PSALM (Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp.) has just given itself more rope to hang itself.

It reportedly extended AGAIN the deadline for YNN Pacific to make its contracted $277-million down payment for its $561-million winning bid for the 600-megawatt power plant in Masinloc, Zambales.

Was not the asset purchase contract already terminated when PSALM confiscated the $14-million performance bond of YNN after it failed to deliver the upfront fee?

I hope PSALM President Nieves Osorio was misquoted in news reports saying that PSALM would still accept YNN’s overdue payment after August 6, the last deadline after three previous failed deadlines. Let us see if it would.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino was right when he said the failed sale of Masinloc was due to PSALM’s failure to follow its own rules and that it is further eroding its credibility by protecting the interests of YNN and not of the public.

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QUESTIONS: These are some of the questions that the Joint Congressional Power Commission looking into the Masinloc mess may want to ask energy officials:

  1. Why did PSALM fail to see YNN’s lack of qualifications? When it bid, YNN was only four months old, had a capitalization of P625,000, had no technical expertise in running a power plant, occupied an office for janitorial services in Binondo, and did not have a telephone or fax or TIN, among other requirements.
  2. Why did PSALM ignore a JCPC recommendation to hold the awarding of the contract to YNN as a result of its dubious credentials?
  3. Why did it take PSALM four months to comply with all its conditions precedent when it could have easily done so since it had long prepared for the Masinloc sale? Was this to give YNN more time to produce the $227-million down payment?
  4. After announcing that YNN had complied with all conditions precedent on March 7, 2005, PSALM gave it 292 days (not 270 days as provided in the assets purchase agreement), or an almost 30-day extension to tender its down payment. Why?
  5. What was the reason behind the pulling out of YNN’s previous foreign partner, the Great Pacific Financial of Australia, from the consortium?
  6. May the Malaysian firm Ranhill Berhad participate in YNN’s contract for Masinloc despite the fact that it has yet to be screened by PSALM as required?
  7. Should PSALM allow the proposed YNN takeover by Ranhill for $8 million considering that the asset purchase agreement does not allow the winning bidder to transfer its rights to another firm while the contract exists?
  8. Is not such takeover enough proof that YNN is merely a peddler firm whose aim, considering its lack of technical and financial capacity, is just to get the power plant then sell the contract?
  9. Why is PSALM allowing YNN to violate the terms of its contract by pursuing a power supply contract with the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) for the Masinloc plant?
  10. Why did the Energy Regulatory Commission issue Resolution No. 21 when Ranhill was demanding from YNN exactly that kind of supply contract with Meralco? The resolution suspended the requirement for pubic bidding for supply contracts.
  11. Does the series of PSALM concessions to YNN, particularly its granting of several payment extensions (when it has the power to cancel the contract at the onset of YNN’s violations and forfeit its performance bond) have anything to do with the reported connections of YNN boss Sunny Sun with former President Fidel Ramos, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, among others?
  12. Why did PSALM give out P10 million in bonuses for the sale of Masinloc when YNN has yet to pay the government a single cent from its bid price?
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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 3, 2006)

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