POSTSCRIPT / August 22, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who's this 'A-1' keeping dollar hoard in Munich?

CHALLENGE: So what are we waiting for? Let’s dig out pronto those “hundreds of millions of dollars” of an Arroyo – we’ll tentatively call him “A-1” (it rhymes with “aywan”) — so we can buy instant noodles for the millions of poor Filipinos.

Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano said “A-1,” a member of the First Family, had this secret bank account numbered 87-570-23030-32100-62771571 in the HypoVedreinsbank in Munich packed with “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Many people assumed that “A-1” was First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, especially after he shot back with the standard retort “a blatant lie, and a malicious and fabricated accusation!”

The aggrieved pater familias added: “I accept Cayetano’s challenge to make public this so-called bank account. If he can prove the bank account is mine, the money is his.”

The part I liked best was Mr. Arroyo’s addendum: “But if he cannot prove this, he has to pay me the alleged ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ he claims is mine. I will donate this to the Filipino people.”

That is really something. Instead of putting the millions into his famous foundation, Mr. Arroyo vows to give them to the people. Wow!

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PING-PONG: So let’s fly to Munich for the treasure hunt near the Bavarian Alps!

The footloose among our congressmen may want to travel this autumn to that charming city in southeast Germany and ca tch the beer-driven merriment of Oktoberfest set Sept. 16 to Oct. 3 this year.

The big question, however, remains: Who exactly is “A-1”? Followup questions: Is there another secret account kept by an “A-2”? Or an A-3?

Cayetano was careful not to say that “A-1” who owned the Munich account was Mike Arroyo, but that did not stop the First Gentleman from challenging the congressman to prove the hoard was his.

“Congressman Cayetano,” he said. “I am willing to accompany you and your witnesses to Germany to open that bank account.”

Cayetano quickly accepted Arroyo’s challenge, but added the dampener: “He and his entire family should sign a waiver that we can look at their accounts anywhere in the world.”

Of course the Arroyos are not that stupid to sign a blanket authority for an opposition politician to go on a fishing expedition.

This means that Messrs. Cayetano and Arroyo, both smart lawyers, are just playing ping-pong. The instant noodles, as well as the beer at the Oktoberfest, may have to wait.

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MJ DID IT AGAIN: But Bicolanos evacuated from the slopes of irate Mt. Mayon did not have to wait long for their noodles.

Mark Jimenez, the former Manila congressmen widely known as MJ, went to the evacuees in the holding centers in Lagezpi City the other weekend, checked their living conditions and distributed bags filled with bread, boiled and salted eggs, bottled water, biscuits, diapers for children — and instant noodles!

With the relief goods in each bag was P1,000 cash. The money did not come from a ping-pong game with an inquisitive congressman or from birthday donations to a foundation, but from MJ’s own pocket. So I was told.

Doing my own calculations based on reports, I guess MJ must be the single biggest donor in the Mayon relief operations. In that weekend visit alone he must have given out some P7 million. That’s pretty big for people in need although it might be petty cash to him.

* * *

PHILANTHROPY: After a landslide buried months ago an entire community in Ginasaugon, Southern Leyte, MJ went there unannounced to help. Another time, he braved flashfloods in Isabela to take part in the relief efforts in the past weeks. He also went to several areas in the Visayas and Mindanao last year to assist victims of massive flooding.

Previously, MJ donated a total of P75 million to low-income educational planholders of Pacific Plans Inc. and College Assurance Plans who could not collect overdue benefits (for tuition) from the financially strapped pre-need firms.

Upon his return from the US early this year, MJ organized the “Nagkakaisa sa Diyos, Nagkakaisang Pilipino Movement” centered on values that bring people closer to God and draw them together for nation-building.

In his trip to Bicol, btw, MJ was accompanied by Sonia Roco, widow of the late Education secretary and former senator Raul Roco, and congressmen Cholo Roco and Oyie Umali.

* * *

DISASTERS: Disasters and tragedies are stalking the Philippines. Killer typhoons are in season. Mayon Volcano is again acting up, spewing deadly lava and sending families on its slope scampering to safer ground.

Many coastal villages along the sea off Guimaras island, Iloilo and Negros Occidental are threatened by the spread of bunker oil spilled the other week from a sunken tanker carrying two million liters of oil.

The coming in of private philanthropy, relief activities of non-government organizations and the assistance of foreign entities have shown up the administration’s embarrassing lack of preparedness for such recurrent tragedies.

Natural and man-made disasters have been visiting us for as long as every living Filipino can remember, but its seems the government or, more correctly, its officials are unable to respond promptly and to the full extent necessary.

* * *

WANTING: In the oil spill in Guimaras, for instance, we have had to call for technical assistance from Indonesia , Japan and the US. British experts have gone to Guimaras to help assess the damage.

The spill has affected more than 200 kilometers of coastline marked by beaches and mangroves. A scourge of black sludge is threatening the livelihood of poor fishermen and wiping out flora and fauna crucial to the ecosystem.

The Coast Guard and other agencies are doing their best within their blurred foresight and limited resources, but their improvisations have not been adequate or fast enough.

Petron, whose oil it was that was being ferried, and whoever owned that barge should be in the center of the mopping up. They seem to be playing only support roles.

Sen. Richard Gordon, meanwhile, requested the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, which he used to head, to send oil spill mitigation equipment to Guimaras. He said that Coastal Petroleum based there had such equipment.

There are billions of pesos for frivolous expenses and graft-encrusted projects, but not much for relief, rescue and rehabilitation activities after every calamity that claims a heavy toll in lives and property? Ano ba yan?

* * *

CLINIC EVICTED: Does President Arroyo, who is busy fending off opposition forces attempting to capture the seat of power, know what is happening right in the Palace?

The Malacanang Clinic, an institution that has been extending heroic extension services to the peripheral community aside from Palace personnel, had been padlocked since Friday.

Clinic officials were given four days — until last Friday — by unnamed functionaries in the Office of the President to transfer (except for the hard-to-relocate equipment) to the hospital at the Presidential Security Group compound across the Pasig.

Nobody in the Clinic could show a piece of official paper bearing the order, but talks attribute the relocation to a powerful barangay captain in San Miguel who has asked the President that the Clinic premises be turned over to her for use as a Barangay Hall or something.

The doctors, nurses, dentists and nursing aides would have their clinics and offices at the PSG hospital, which is not as accessible, or await transfer to the Department of Health or wherever they could be accommodated.

Even squatters being evicted are given at least a month to move out, but Clinic personnel had only five days to pack up.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 22, 2006)

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