POSTSCRIPT / July 9, 2006 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Palace wants Masinloc delivered to Malaysians?

BEHIND THE SCENE: Somebody very close to President Gloria Arroyo is directing high-level government moves to deliver the 600-megawatt power plant in Masinloc, Zambales, to the Malaysian firm Ranhill Berhad without the required public bidding.

That is the only logical explanation for the granting of another 30-day extension for YNN Pacific Consortium, which won the Masinloc plant with a $561-million bid, to pay the $227-million down payment after failing to meet three prior deadlines.

The last deadline for YNN to pay was last June 30. Again failing to pay on that day, YNN was given another extension (until July 30) by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (Psalm), which is overseeing the sale.

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CLEAR CONFUSION: Pretending to enforce the rules, Psalm said it would confiscate YNN’s performance bond of $14-million. But, of course, that is joke only, because there are reports that the bond seized would form part of YNN’s staggered payments for the plant over seven years.

Psalm’s right hand penalizes YNN by seizing its performance bond, but its left hand rewards it with an extension-time to regularize everything. Confusing? Only if you do not know corruption, Philippine-style.

Where does Ranhill come in? As soon as the Masinloc contract is signed, sealed and delivered to YNN, Ranhill will drop all pretenses and step in as the new owner of YNN. It has agreed to pay YNN owners $8 million for their shares.

Without bidding for it, a Malaysian firm is suddenly in possession of Masinloc!

In fact, the $14-million was advanced by Ranhill. YNN has no money for a big ticket like Masinloc, the most valuable generating asset of the National Power Corp. being sold. Its game plan is to use connections to grab a choice asset by bidding very high, then turning around to sell it.

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IT’S ALL RELATIVE: The Masinloc charade confirms what foreign investors already know about doing business in the Philippines:

The playing field is even, but it is more even for those who have connections to the highest places.

The theory of relativity is alive and well in the Strong Republic. That is because honesty in public office is relative. (The run-hill operator was smart enough to lasso a relative with the initials MA.)

There are beautifully written ground rules, but these rules are grounded the moment somebody — local or foreign — with connections takes a fancy on some project or asset. The ultimate rule is that the rules are what the Palace says they are.

Change of officials is trickier than the ebb and flow of the tides. If a project is overtaken by a change of administration, ooops… it has to stop until the poor proponents are able to fix the new administrators, usually at a higher price.

While corrupt officials in neighboring countries come at a fixed price and stay bought, the price of a corrupt Filipino official keeps changing as his needs grow. So he, or his runners and relatives, keep badgering the poor businessman for more.

(Local representatives become nervous wrecks explaining the escalating expenses to the home office. But not to worry — the added expenses can be recouped from taxpayers, captive consumers or the users of the costly project by simply raising prices or usage-rates.)

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HAWAII CASE: Addendum to the email of lawyer Rene Saguisag explaining some details of the class suit of some victims of Marcosian human rights violations, we have another email from Rod C. Domingo Jr., Filipino counsel for 7,500 members of the class.

Domingo clarified in so many words that:

Ten percent of the net amount recovered for the victims had been adjudged as counsel fees for more than 20 years of work rendered by the lawyers in litigations, deposition-taking and other professional services extended by them. Meanwhile, not one cent or centavo was ever spent by any victim to support the prosecution of the case.

The initial award of more than $1.9 billion is not preposterous. Under US laws and jurisprudence, the award was considered and declared just and reasonable and was in fact affirmed in toto by the US Supreme Court.

Judge Manuel Real of the US district court in Hawaii did not reduce this $1.9 billion to $150 million. He merely approved a compromise agreement between the defendant Marcos estate and the Class Plaintiffs in the amount of $150 million. Real’s judgment, affirmed by the appellate courts in the US, has become final and executory.

The P8 billion ($200 million according to Sen. Joker Arroyo) was allocated by the Philippine government for compensation of the victims of human rights violations during the Marcos era. Judge Real never ordered the Congress to do anything.

The defendant in the Hawaii case is the Estate of Ferdinand Marcos. Records of the case show that the estate was adjudged with finality by the US court as liable for the human rights abuses cited.

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SEPARATE MOVE: With the clarifications of Atty. Domingo, I am convinced more than ever that with the Marcos estate being the defendant, the Hawaii court and its agents should exert all efforts to force the Marcoses — not the Philippine government — to pay the victims.

If the Philippine Congress wants to appropriate money for victims of human rights violation, that is a separate action distinct from the Real verdict. Congress can proceed on the basis of a Philippine court ruling that specific victims whose cases had been judicially examined by it must be compensated.

And if there is a move to compensate victims of human rights violations, such move should cover not only those during the Marcos regime, but all others whose cases have not prescribed.

But then we go back to the basic point that if they were victims of Marcos, they should knock on the door of the Marcoses, not the government. Why should the government pay for a liability of the Marcoses?

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PIRANHA!: A couple and their son were caught yesterday by operatives of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with some 40 piranhas, a banned carnivorous species, in their house in Quezon City.

DENR Undersecretary Roy V. Kyamko, head of the raiding task force, identified the couple as Leonardo Marcelino and his wife, residing at Jocson St., Xavierville Subdivision, Loyola Heights.

The three were charged under RA 8550 and RA 9147 with illegal possession and trading of banned animals. Having put up some resistance, they were also accused of obstruction of justice and direct assault.

Piranhas look like our native gurami. This freshwater carnivore is found mostly in the Amazon river in South America. Their teeth are so sharp and hard that natives attach them to poles to make weapons or tools.

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STRAY EGGS: Piranha fry start as vegetarian, but soon develop a craving for meat or flesh. They may even eat their own kind. Moving in schools of about 20, they go into a feeding frenzy similar to that of sharks when blood is spilled in the water.

But when not hungry, they could ignore some large animals (humans included) quietly standing in the water.

There have been stories of a pack of piranhas attacking an animal (such as a pig or cow) in the water and reducing it to bones in minutes. In such attacks, the water turns bloody, further whipping up the frenzy.

There have been many individuals arrested in the country for smuggling or keeping piranhas at home in aquariums, or selling them to fanciers of exotic fishes. No followup stories have been published.

Officials have expressed fear that keepers of piranhas may carelessly throw aquarium water into the drain without knowing that there may be eggs ready to hatch. This could spread the species in natural waterways.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 9, 2006)

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