POSTSCRIPT / February 23, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA bridge gift to her cabalen won't be rickety?

MABEY BRIDGES: Readers stung by the explanation of British firm Mabey & Johnson about how they allegedly performed such great service to the country by building those rickety Lego-type bridges around the country refuse to drop the subject.

One reader, Jonathan Buga, said it was sneaky for M&J to have claimed that the bridge built at the intersection of the MacArthur Highway and the Gapan-Olongapo Road in San Fernando, Pampanga, was at no cost to the government since it was put together from savings.

“All those bridges were not free of charge,” he said. “Some spans were supposed to be used in other locations but instead installed there in San Fernando.” (The truth is that all expenses incurred in that atrocious span in San Fernando will be charged to the Philippine government’s loan from the UK.– fdp)

But hear this: The loudest whisper along Morato St. in Quezon City is that M&J will convert this embarrassment of a bridge into a PR coup by replacing it with a real one and passing it off as a gift of President Gloria Arroyo to her grumbling cabalen.

We had echoed in this space the complaint of the President’s provincemates who said they were insulted with that ugly M&J span standing right smack in that major intersection in the heart of their province.

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PALACE MONOPOLY: Buga said that the M&J bridges did not go through the required approval process by the Bureau of Design/Bridge Division of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

“No files or drawings were submitted to the DPWH during the negotiation period, for any Mabey project.” he said. “It iss always Malacanang that instructs DPWH to implement the project, no questions asked!”

The same information was relayed to me by sources, who said that although public works and other technicians are sometimes consulted, they are never in on the final approval process which Malacanang, for some strange reason, keeps to itself.

Oo nga naman, why is somebody in Malacanang grabbing the multi-billion-peso project, to the exclusion of the usual line of technical experts and officials at the proper departments having to do with bridges and such local government concerns?

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NEW RULES AGAIN?: A level playing field and a clear-cut set of rules are among the things that investors look for when exploring options before they plunk their capital into a country or an industry.

For reasons that should be obvious even to the dullest development planner, the rules that welcomed investors should remain in place during a reasonable period and not twist and turn with changing political winds or presidential whims.

Officials engrossed with their petty quarrels are not yet discussing it, but at the growth rate they threaten to push the economy and in the manner our power infrastructure has been wearing out, we might just have an electricity crisis toward the end of the Arroyo presidency.

Given that, it is surprising to see government planners again poised to change the rules in the middle of the game, at the risk of scaring away foreign investors already in or just considering plunging into the power industry.

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NO LONGER FUNNY: Casting around for investors at the height of the power crisis in the early 1990s, the government gave Independent Power Producers (IPPs) tax holidays and other juicy incentives to lure them.

The enticements included exemption from real property taxes, which under their contracts, are to be shouldered by the National Power Corp. However, several local governments unable to collect taxes from cash-strapped Napocor have filed court cases to force collection directly from the IPPs.

Local government officials refuse to listen or to read the IPP contracts which say that real property taxes are to be paid by Napocor and not by the IPPs. Investors being harassed, I heard, no longer find this funny.

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MORE GRUMBLING: The justification by a Change Management Team bent on collapsing the Malacanang Clinic and removing a number of long-serving personnel has stirred more objections instead of quieting the scene.

Everything considered, I think President Gloria Arroyo better stop the demolition job and consider other options that would even enhance the service that the clinic does for Malacanang personnel and the neighboring community.

Instead of knocking it down to a “mere clinic” where a worker goes to check his body temperature or blood pressure or have his teeth cleaned or ask for family planning advice, the President can go the opposite direction and expand its services.

The President can make the clinic into a specialty hospital, hire specialists, particularly fellows or diplomates of specialty societies, not mere observers, as well as additional nurses with upgraded skills and pay.

The doctors should be the type who can really cure the sick, not general practice types who just write out prescriptions or routinely pass on patients to specialists outside. They should be the kind of doctors to whose hands the President will not hesitate to submit herself.

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REACHING OUT: The existence of nearby clinics or health center in the city should not be reason for the Malacanang Clinic to scale down its public service and stop the extension activities of its health personnel outside the palace grounds.

If only for public relations, the President — who once referred to herself as the mother of the nation — should reach farther out through the Clinic to the community around her office.

A presidential bastion is forever insecure, even if medically self-sufficient, if it is surrounded by a community plagued by disease and other marks of poverty.

It follows that the Clinic must have, aside from qualified personnel, the equipment and the medicines needed.

At present, most patients have to go out and buy the medicines outside because the Clninc does not have them or refuses to give them. But strangely, even exotic drugs are suddenly available if the patient is a VIP.

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AUDIT FUNDS: In this connection, the President should order a no-nonsense audit of the millions flowing in from the Pagcor, the PCSO and private donors to help fund the intended public service functions of the Clinic.

Where is the money going, and who corners the procurement?

For that matter, can you imagine a medical clinic directly under the office of the President whose toilets stink? Ano ba yan?

When President Arroyo’s father Diosdado was president, her mother Dra. Evangeline M. Macapagal would go around the Palace premises and make a special point of inspecting the toilets to make sure they were fit for use by anybody — even visiting dignitaries.

I remember reading a report that quoted Dra. Macapagal remarking that the housekeeping group should pay extra attention to the men’s rooms because, for some reason, urine of the menfolk seem to stink more.

The story may just be apocryphal, but it illustrates how Gloria’s mother, a medical doctor, was that particular about public health.

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VICTIM SPEAKS OUT: A Malacanang source who said he was shown the letter before it was sent to PhilSTAR to rebut my column on the clinic’s emasculation said:

“Waldo Flores and the team that is pushing the reorganization should perhaps ask themselves why the representative of the rank and file, Mr. Bong Rodriguez, stopped attending the meetings of the CMT since December last year, and why he refuses to sign whatever recommendations the CMT has made, vis a vis rationalization of offices in Malacanang.

“I have talked to Bong Rodriguez and quite emotionally, he said he could not swallow what the team wanted to do. He himself is a victim, his entire office is up for abolition, and his position declared redundant. Why indeed should he sign the warrant to lay off members of his union, the Office of the President Employees Network (OPEN)?

“Besides, Rodriguez felt that this was not a rationalization, but a devious way to carry out a general reorganization. He said there was no transparency in the decisions of the team, in fact, he was not even given minutes of their meetings, although as a member of the CMT he was entitled to them.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 23, 2006)

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