POSTSCRIPT / August 27, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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The simple solution to rash of executions

NOW NA!: There is a simple and quick solution to the rash of extra-judicial executions of pesky members of militant groups and the media.

President Gloria Arroyo does not need to form an “independent” commission, to pretend to speak in the harshest terms, or to feign ignorance of the fact that the nation is bleeding from the serial killings that have drawn international censure.

All that the Commander-in-Chief has to do is gather her generals and tell them, “Boys, that’s enough. Stop it. Now na!

The only problem is if, as some of us fear, the President has lost control of the military. In which case, let us all kneel, make the sign of the cross and start praying.

* * *

EEEK!: Don’t look now, but Ranhill Berhad of Masinloc notoriety is back! This time it is targeting, together with Taiwanese firm Kintech, not power but water — a 300-mld (million liters per day) bulk water project at Laguna de Bay, to be exact.

This project impinges on the health of some five million residents of Metro Manila served by Maynilad Water Services Inc. If the project gets snagged in controversy like the ill-fated Masinloc power plant, half of the metropolis may go waterless by 2009.

The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System opened in 2004 the bidding process for the project, but it bogged down at the prequalification stage. The MWSS is reportedly taking time to keep the door open for Ranhill Berhad and Kintech.

The MWSS better look twice on these foreign bidders. With the public now watching, it should not allow itself to be compromised or pressured by the big shots backing the duo.

* * *

BAD RECORD: Kintech completed last year the Kaotan and Wonkong Yuen water plants in Kaoshiung, Taiwan. Press reports said that both water plants failed the quality and volume tests conducted by the Taiwan Water Co.

The MWSS knows this fact, but is keeping the lid on it. Is it hoping that Kintech can solve the problem while it keeps the Maynilad door open longer — never mind if the need for adequate potable water of half of Metro Manila hangs?

Back in Taiwan, Kintech has requested for an additional 15-month testing period. But because the vice president of Kintech will soon become Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian’s in-law (their children are getting married), Premier Frank Xhieh was advised not to extend the testing period to avoid a political scandal.

Press reports have it that Xhieh had ordered Kintech’s contract rescinded, “no matter who they are.”

* * *

DISCLOSURE: With its contract being rescinded, Kintech faces the prospect of losing 4.8 billion Taiwan dollars for the infrastructure and the opportunity to sell water to TWC for about 3 billion Taiwan dollars.

If Kintech did not formally disclose this sour deal to MWSS, it is guilty of misrepresentation. Under the terms of the BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) Law, Kintech should be sanctioned and not allowed to bid for any Philippine project for two years.

The MWSS may also be faulted for negligence. It did not properly investigate the background of Kintech and hastily included the Taiwanese firm for prequalification despite its bad record in its own country.

In Taipei, the Premier says “no, no matter who they are,” but over here in Manila we say “yes, it doesn’t matter.”

* * *

WHY SO: If you’re looking for reasons why the ruling coalition in the House junked the impeachment complaint against President Arroyo by a vote of 173-32, try these:

One, because of their arrogant antics, the minority angered the President’s allies in the House and thus failed to win them over to their side, whatever evidence they may present. The justice committee did not even bother to look into their purported boxes of evidence.

Two, the opposition failed to do their homework, after their failure to impeach the President last year. They could have tried to win over many of those who have been protesting against the “fascistic inclination of the administration,” but even in this they failed.

Three, opposition numbers in the House are dwindling (from 51 last year to 32 this year) because they are looking forward to releases of their pork barrel. Congressmen are allocated P40 million and senators P100 million each. Seven of those who voted for impeachment last year voted against it this year. One abstained, while 11 were absent from the 17-hour marathon session.

* * *

PALACE LIFE-RAFT: The last reason is plausible, considering that congressmen from both sides of the fence have been grumbling about the slow or non-release of their Countrywide Development Funds since January.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya claims there is delay in the processing of the CDF because the 2006 budget was not enacted, and the government has been using the 2005 budget that was automatically carried-over.

Moreover, he said releases are subject to certain guidelines, and failure to comply with these guidelines can, and do, delay releases.

Earlier, Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor warned that congressmen ran the risk of seeing their allocations suspended or delayed if they support the impeachment case. Looks like the warning on that fact of political life has been heeded.

The congressmen can ill-afford to lose their allocations. Given the choice between saving the President and their own, naturally they clung to the life-raft offered by Malacanang — the all-important pork barrel.

* * *

COSMETICS: Back to the brazen assassinations. Amnesty International, which has recorded 51 political killings in the Philippines in the first six months alone of 2006, lashed out at the Arroyo administration for showing no political will in stopping the carnage.

AI may not have known it, but it failed to mention as human rights violations the red paint over the houses of suspected NPA-CPP sympathizers in my hometown of Mabalacat, Pampanga, and in Calumpit, Bulacan. Or the forced securing of cedulas by barrio folk in Nueva Ecija.

Fear has gripped Central Luzon and Southern Luzon as GMA’s P1-billion anti-insurgency campaign continues.

President Arroyo, who is set to go on a European tour next month, appears to be applying cosmetics to her administration’s human rights record by putting up an “independent” commission and naming allies and loyal supporters as members.

With due respect to the commission chairman, our cabalen former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, that approach will hardly work. (An alternative quick solution is suggested in the beginning of this Postscript.)

* * *

SEPARATION: An appointee to the six-member Melo commission, Bishop Camilo Gregorio of Batanes, had enough sense to decline, pleading Church-State separation. In his place, Malacanang inserted Butuan Bishop Juan de los Pueblos.

It is interesting how two bishops, steeped in the same religious tradition, see differently the same issue of separation of the Church and the State. To complicate the question, how does the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines see it?

Archbishop Oscar Cruz cited Canon Law as probably one reason for Gregorio’s decision. He said it prohibits clerics from “exercising public office that partakes of civil power.” That basically sums up the idea of Church-State separation.

The government should stop offering positions in civil government to priests. Do not lead them into temptation.

* * *

BASTES LESSON: There is the sad example of Bishop Arturo Bastes who fell into the trap and accepted the chairmanship of the Rapu Rapu Fact-Finding Commission. Gregorio must have learned from that experience of a colleague.

Bastes was caught on tape saying that his commission relied on “philosophical” thinking, probabilities, and conscience. He also said there was “probability” that the Lafayette project caused mercury contamination of Sorsogon waters, ignoring several scientific findings to the contrary and the fact that the company does not use mercury.

Listen to some of his quotes in press conferences: “Our studies were not scientific like those of the experts (from UP and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources). We focus on the historical background and on our personal knowledge but we come up with scientific findings.”

More: “We are endowed with knowledge by our Creator. Our conscience dictates and the historical background could assure us of our findings. We follow our conscience that’s why when we decide, we are sure we will not falter.”

We need Church guidance even on temporal matters. But bishops should exercise more discernment when invited to accept a public office that involves performing political duties.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 27, 2006)

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