POSTSCRIPT / August 20, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why Comelec is insisting on illegally bought ACMs

COMELEC SIDE: The information director of the Commission on Elections wrote to clarify some points in my Postscript of Aug. 15 titled “Using illegally bought poll computers is a trap.” He said:

“There was no ‘hurried acceptance of the equipment.’ Each machine accepted by the Comelec had to undergo a rigorous acceptance testing process conducted by the Department of Science and Technology and monitored by a Technical Ad Hoc Evaluation Committee composed of representatives from Congress and the private sector. No machine was accepted without first having gone under the scrutiny of these two bodies.

“There was no such thing as ‘rush payment by the Comelec despite the SC order.’ All payments to the supplier were made in accordance with a payment schedule whereby payment was delivered in several tranches corresponding to the submission of proof that the supplier had complied — to the Comelec’s satisfaction — with certain agreed-upon milestones. These payments were made inasmuch as the Supreme Court had issued no Temporary Restraining Order. Thus, when the modernization project ground to a halt, by order of the Court, payments to the supplier were stopped prompting them to avail of legal remedies which, to this day, are pending resolution before the Regional Trial Courts.

“The Comelec never tried to ‘use the computers for voters’ registration to advance the transaction one more step beyond recall.’ ”

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LOBBY & PR DRIVE: All that rationalization will not change the ugly fact that there is a costly lobby and PR (public relations) campaign for the acceptance of a plot to use in the 2007 elections the Automatic Counting Machines that Comelec had bought illegally.

A trap is being set. Once the idle machines are used, legal and psychological objections would readily die down, and criminal charges against those behind the illegal purchase could be ignored or dismissed easily.

This is a repeat of the foiled attempt last year to use — for the same sinister motive — the same machines for the elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

If the Comelec spokesman thinks the purchase of the equipment was above board, he should tell the Supreme Court, specifically Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban who wrote the decision, not me.

Instead of trying to salvage the deal that was struck down with finality by the highest court, the Comelec should return the equipment and get back the P856,914,088 reportedly paid the supplier that won the bidding although it was not even a bidder!

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UNTOUCHABLE?: All those crooks who had a finger in the pie should be jailed. What is taking the Office of the Ombudsman? Cannot Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez rise above the fact that she was once the chief legal counsel of President Gloria Arroyo?

Chairman Benjamin Abalos presides over the poll body that evaluated and consummated the illegal deal, approved payment and accepted delivery, yet he was left out by the Ombudsman in the charge sheet. Ang suerte naman niya! (How lucky can he get!)

The Comelec’s resident auditor must have approved the delivery and the payment of the equipment. In the bureaucracy, no deal of that magnitude is possible without the approval of the auditor. How come the Ombudsman also spared the auditor?

If the Comelec cannot be trusted with such a routine chore as buying equipment, how could we expect it to have managed with integrity such a nationwide election as that one in 2004?

Where are the millions being spent in the Use-the-ACMs lobby and PR campaign coming from – and going to?

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ENERGY TREE: Three kilos of tuba-tuba (jatropha curcas), known as tubang bakod in Tagalog and physic nut in English, can yield one liter of crude or unprocessed oil that can run low-rpm diesel motors, such as those in hand tractors, water pumps and threshers.

The experts say that one hectare of land planted to 2,500 jatropha trees can yield an average of five tons of seeds that can produce 1,430 liters or about 370 gallons of crude oil. No wonder it is sometimes referred to as the energy tree.

As it is flammable, oil from tuba-tuba has been used as substitute for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and kerosene, whose prices are rising every week. It can also be used for cooking and lighting.

The pressed cake has proved to be good as farm fertilizer and fodder for livestock. The sediment from the extraction of jatropha oil can be used for making soap and candles.

The tree has a short gestation period. It starts bearing fruit after about six months and becomes fully fruit-bearing between one to two years. Planting of tuba-tuba reduces soil degradation and erosion.

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MANY USES: You can see pictures of the jatropha fruit in clusters and a cross-section of the fruit showing the seed by visiting the website http://herbal-medicine.philsite.net.

The site has this to say, among other things, about the tuba-tuba:

“The latest craze to hit agri-business in the Philippines. Primarily for its oil to produce biodiesel. The tuba-tuba has been planted in the country for quite some time but it was used mainly as fencing since animals do not eat the leaves — even the insatiable goat would not eat them. The ever-rising price of petroleum prices has triggered interest on it.

“Tuba-tuba is one of the most promising sources of bio-fuel today. About 30 percent of the tuba-tuba nut is composed of oil. This oil can be easily processed into fuel to replace or be mixed with petroleum-based diesel and save on imported oil.

“The leaves can be used for fumigating houses to expel bugs. The root extract can be used as yellow die and the bark extract as blue dye. When pounded, the seeds can be used for tanning.

“The tuba-tuba plant grows to about three meters, making harvesting easy. It can be grown practically anywhere (ordinary soil, sandy, gravely or rocky soil) and adapts easily to different climates. The tuba-tuba is resistant to droughts — it can stand up to two years without rainfall and produces seeds up to 30 years.”

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PHILFOREST: If you have tracts of land that you want to plant to tuba-tuba or if you want to lease public land for the same purpose, contact the Department of Energy and Natural Resources.

The department has organized a subsidiary, the Philippine Forest Corp., (Philforest), under the Natural Resources Development Corp. (NRDC) for the propagation of the “energy tree.”

Philforest plans to do this through large-scale production of seeds and seedlings. It intends to spearhead the commercial cultivation of tuba-tuba in partnership with other agencies and private individuals and corporations.

Philforest has been given the power to distribute property and usufructuary rights over public agricultural and forest lands. It may also provide support to the beneficiaries of such lands.

Applicants can gain access to idle public land through a 25-year stewardship program. They will be required to commercially produce tuba-tuba seeds in two years. Philforest commits to buy the seeds at a guaranteed price of P100 per kilo.

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STATE MONOPOLY: Philforest looks like another state monopoly in the making.

The NRDC already has a monopoly on sand and gravel quarrying. The DENR also controls gold mining at Mt. Diwalwal and elsewhere.

The PAGCOR has a monopoly on casino gambling and gaming arcades, while PCSO controls lotto and sweepstakes lottery. The state still has to dismantle the sugar, tobacco and rice and corn oligopolies.

A law has yet to be passed to control monopolies, oligopolies and cartels in the electricity and power industries, as well as utilities.

Now forest lands are being placed under state monopoly.

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WHICH SYSTEM?: What kind of politico-economic system is President Arroyo trying to establish? A variation of national socialism, like Hitler’s?

Or is it a simple case of creating corporate subsidiaries under every department to provide opportunities and legitimate extra income and allowances for the department secretaries who are not as well paid as other Cabinet members with several subsidiaries under them?

Or as in the creation of mega-regions and positions therein, is this meant to provide sinecures to military and police retirees who have been loyal to the administration and who now have to be integrated into the civilian bureaucracy in choice positions?

Is President Arroyo now encouraging or allowing a military-industrial power complex to rise in the country? Note that she has grown more and more beholden to the military and the police.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 20, 2006)

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