POSTSCRIPT / November 9, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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'Ningas cogon' sets in: Billboards are staying

GRASS FIRE: As many of us feared, ningas cogon has set in after that initial burst of energy displayed in the removal of ugly and dangerous billboards along Epifanio delos Santos Ave. and other main roads after the devastation wrought by typhoon “Milenyo.”

The well-applauded demolition has stopped and the tarpaulins on giant billboards teetering on fragile frames are again being unfurled as if we have not learned our lesson.

Maybe the officials of the public works department and the Metro Manila Development Authority are waiting for the next “Milenyo” (also read as “millennium”).

In its token order for the removal of billboards, Malacanang did not lay down a clear-cut policy but left to public works and MMDA officials the discretion of deciding which billboard must go.

As we all know, discretion is that element in administrative procedures that fouls up the process and creates a proximate occasion of sin for officials prone to corruption.

If Malacanang chooses to play deaf and blind, the media and the public must revisit the billboards issues. Before the next millennium, kung puede.

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FOCUS ON SHEDS: While sparing the towering billboards polluting the skyline and posing a continuing threat to public safety, the MMDA has lowered its aim and has started removing privately built waiting sheds and the smaller advertising erected with them.

The waiting sheds, numbering some 250, were built under a memorandum of agreement signed by private groups and the MMA (forerunner of the MMDA) with provisions for their having lighted advertising panels and free-standing billboards.

From last Oct. 13 to 16, the MMDA demolished 16 of those sheds after notifying the builders. The estimated cost of each shed, minus depreciation, is P50,000. This means that the businessmen holding the contracts have lost about P1 million so far.

What looked queer to some observers is that after removing the sheds, the MMDA is now building new ones in their place.

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QUESTIONS: Now that raises some interesting questions, to which MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando, I am sure, has answers.

Is not the demolition of the sheds and the building of new ones an unnecessary expense at a time when every peso in the tight budget counts?

Should not the millions for the new sheds be spent instead on urgent facilities and essential services crying for funds?

Should the MMDA, whose funds come from contributions of the local governments in the metropolis, spend for the replacement sheds or would it be better for Fernando to tap private entities to just modify the existing sheds to suit his superior taste?

As the contracts were supplemented with side agreements with various local governments (among them Quezon City, Mandaluyong, Pasig, San Juan, Caloocan, Pasay, Parañaque, Pateros, Manila, Valenzuela and Malabon), should they not be consulted first?

Instead of unilaterally terminating the long-term contracts, cannot Fernando just work out amendments to the contracts signed under the BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) concept?

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CONFUSING LIGHTS: Still on Metro Manila affairs, with the installing of Christmas lights and décor on posts, plants, trees and various objects standing along the streets, there is need for guidelines for all local governments gearing up for the Yuletide.

As a motorist trying to survive the hazards of the asphalt jungle, I want to reiterate some suggestions to make driving safer during the holidays.

First on my list is that no light, bulb or any luminous decorative material that may distract or cause confusion should be installed within 50 meters of every intersection where there is a traffic light.

With the proliferation of Christmas and decorative lights in the streets, sometimes drivers cannot distinguish which is the traffic light that should dominate the intersection and control traffic flow.

Approaching an intersection at night, a driver could mistake a green- or blue-colored lantern as a go-signal and go through the intersection without noticing the less prominent red light. Or he could be thrown off by a red lantern located too close to the real traffic light.

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HOUSING FAIR: As chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), Vice President Noli de Castro noticed that while a great number of Filipinos are homeless, there are thousands upon thousands of foreclosed dwellings lying idle.

De Castro hit upon the idea of gathering all these “non-performing assets” of banks and other lending institutions and linking them with families looking for easy-to-pay houses under state housing programs.

His office organized the Housing Fair held Oct. 27 – 29 at the Glorietta activity center in Makati City. Gathered under one roof were some 60,000 acquired or repossessed housing assets of shelter agencies and government financing institutions.

Based on the assessment of the organizers who counted around 20,000 government employees trooping to the one-stop shop for inexpensive dwellings, the fair was a success.

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ONLINE SHOPPING: Eligible to buy the houses are government employees, including personnel of the armed forces, the national police, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, the Bureau of Fire Protection, teachers, elective officials and employees of local governments.

Housing properties of delinquent owners foreclosed by the Social Security System and the Pag-IBIG Fund were also offered to their members during the three-day fair.

Excited by its success, De Castro moved to continue stoking interest by opening a website, www.housingfair.com.ph, that interested and qualified buyers may visit until April 2007.

After that date, the special offer will be opened to the public. This means that the foreclosed assets on the block will be available even to buyers who are not members of the civil service, the SSS or Pag-IBIG.

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RATES LOWERED: Those who went to the Housing Fair were surprised to learn of the bigger discounts and lower interest rates being offered.

If one buys a unit in cash, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas gives a bigger cash discount of 15 percent from the usual 10 percent. The Government Service Insurance System is giving a 5-percent discount for cash payments.

The Home Guaranty Corp. offers a higher cash discount of 20 percent from the 10 percent originally set. The Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. has increased its discount from 10 to 15 percent. The Land Bank is offering a 25-percent discount for those buying its foreclosed houses in cash.

The Pag-IBIG Fund has set a flat interest rate of 6 percent. Before the Fair, it was offering a two-tiered interest rate — 9 percent for housing units valued over P300,000 and 6 percent for those below that. Pag-IBIG Fund also lowered the required down payment from 10 percent to 5 percent of the total selling price.

Same thing with the National Home Mortgage Finance Corp., which lowered its interest rate to 6 percent and extended the payment period to 25 years.

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FLASH DRIVE: My mention of my research materials for my column vanishing last Tuesday elicited email from readers, some of them asking how it happened and suggesting recovery procedures.

In my hurry last time, I wrote that the data were in my “hard disk.” That was not the case. The ill-fated files were actually in my portable flash drive, where I stored the materials that I had collected and organized using somebody else’s computer.

What happened was that the flash drive (sometimes called a “thumb’ drive because of its size) refused to open or be explored. Checking its properties, I was aghast to be told that it was not formatted! How could that be when I used it only three hours ago?

Something was definitely wrong. Whatever it was, it seems I had lost all my data. Having resigned to losing everything stored there, I attempted to format it. Windows XP messaged that the drive could not be formatted. Another time it said the files were write-protected.

Maybe some reader can help me out on this. I am willing to reformat the drive (no big deal really) and lose all my files there provided I will be able to resume using it.

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

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