POSTSCRIPT / November 26, 2006 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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A denial doesn't always mean news item is false

MAX IS WITH US: The best way for us orphaned media workers to honor Max Soliven is to rededicate ourselves to what he had been writing about and fighting for throughout his professional life.

There were many things he was working on relentlessly, but numerous as they were, just one idea held them together and suffused them with life and meaning — and that is that Truth must prevail in the full and free flow of information.

Those who would trifle with press freedom to hide the truth are then served notice that while we his co-workers are momentarily dazed with his sudden departure, we will not falter as we pick up and carry on the fight with rekindled fire and force.

We shall not fail, because Max Soliven is still with us.

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FALSE DENIALS: Our Postscript exposed the power price manipulation in the WESM (Wholesale Electricity Spot Market) as early as Oct. 10.

In reaction, there were vehement denials. Friends were even sent to advise me that I had been given wrong information about WESM, an exchange mechanism enabling distributors and big users to select their power supplier offering the lowest rate.

But now no less than the market surveillance committee of the Philippine Electricity Market Corp. (PEMC) — which operates the five-month-old WESM — has blown the lid off alleged prices manipulation. And the media have been gobbling it up.

One lesson for us here is that self-serving denials of news reports and column items are not always true.

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FOCUS ON PSALM: The PEMC pointed an accusing finger at the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) as having had a hand in the price manipulation that had dropped, then bloated, the electricity bills of unwary consumers.

Naturally PSALM president Nieves Osorio was livid. She was in tears in the last hearing of the joint Congressional Power Commission looking into the PEMC expose, but it seems that her side was not adequately ventilated.

Maybe Ms Osorio should just make a clean breast of it, reveal who were behind the manipulation and why, and then resign so as not to allow other people’s schemes to stain her reputation.

Industry sources said that the congressional commission should not limit their investigation on PSALM but look for the culprits elsewhere.

* * *

SUBSIDY OR GIMMICK?: The manipulation was bound to happen, because the lowering of prices with the initial operation of WESM was artificial. It was more of a price subsidy, or even a propaganda ploy, not really a genuine lowering of rates as dictated by free market forces.

Remember that in her State of the Nation Address last July, President Gloria Arroyo promised to deliver cheaper electricity with her launching of the WESM.

And rates did go down for a while, never mind if the National Power Corp., which delivers the bulk of the supply coursed through WESM suffered losses in the process.

Of course Napocor will not allow itself to keep on hemorrhaging. The question now is how it would recoup its forced losses.

It would be interesting also to watch the rates this December-January, in view of the coincidence of an expected upsurge in demand and the closure of some big power generators.

* * *

TRICKLE DOWN: Malacanang has been griping that positive news about the economy, where President Arroyo has been scoring big points amid the attacks involving other concerns, has not been getting the prominence it deserves in the media.

Critics complain that the supposed economic gains are hardly felt by the masses. Getting the poor to taste the fruits of a resurgent economy looks like a good way for President Arroyo to prove her critics wrong.

Palace sources said that the President has been searching for programs and “action” officials who would create new jobs, raise incomes in the countryside and boost the purchasing power of poor families.

It was in this context, I was told, that Arthur Yap was sent back to the Department of Agriculture last month. He has a vision that dovetails with the President’s wanting to have the benefits of her economic achievements reach the grassroots.

* * *

J0BS & FOOD: Yap talks of his programs for raising incomes of farmers and fishermen, creating more jobs and opening wider access to cheaper goods for low-income families.

On his agenda are: a massive rural infrastructure buildup, a streamlined rural credit system, intensified technology transfer and rural extension work with the help of state universities and colleges and local governments, and an incentive program to persuade young farmers to remain in their farms instead of seeking jobs in urban centers or overseas.

As concurrent presidential adviser for job creation, Yap’s tough assignment is to make sure no family goes hungry by making sure there are Enough jobs to go around, especially in the countryside.

* * *

SELLING SORTIE: Two weeks ago, Yap led a Philippine team to China in a follow-up to President Arroyo’s recent working visit to the mainland. He brought back several agribusiness projects and commitments worth some P9 billion.

He said that Filipino fruit exporters would soon be able to penetrate deeper into the $1-billion-plus fruit market of China. Our mangoes, pineapples, papayas and bananas, he said, will be sold on commission basis in a 1,000-square-meter market in China where 80 percent of fresh fruits in that country are traded.

Filipino exporters will not have to go through middlemen and brokers, but sell their fruits directly at the vast area provided by the Guangzhou Jiangnan Fruit and Vegetable Market Development Co., Ltd.

With the help of the Department of Trade and Industry, Yap also got a $40-million commitment from the Guangzhou Tianhe Yi Xin Fiber Product Co. Ltd., the largest buyer of coconut coir in China, to purchase 100,000 metric tons of this material at $400 per ton.

The condition is that the agriculture department must ensure 17 percent minimum moisture content and 97 percent purity of supplies. Coco coir is used for landfill projects to stop soil erosion.

* * *

FISH REFRIGERATION: The delegation sealed a deal with the China National Constructional and Agricultural Machinery Import and Export Corp. for the supply and installation of 100 mobile ice plants, 10 refrigerated vans and one central ice plant with satellite storages for coastal fishing communities in the country.

With these cold storage facilities, Yap expects that small fishers, who are forced to sell their catch for as low as P50 per kilo, would be able to sell at P80 to P90 per kilo to traders.

With cold storage plants and vans, small fishermen will cease to be at the mercy of unscrupulous traders who force them to immediately sell their catch at rock-bottom prices lest the fish become stale.

The delegation was also able to bag an aquaculture project with the Guangdong Guangyan Fishery Group Co. Ltd. for the building of eight 324-square meter fish cages in Tacloban City that can hold as much as 200 tons of bangus. Next year, the same company plans to add 40 fish cages that can hold another 1,000 tons.

Yap’s visit to China also resulted in a package for the renovation, repair, rehabilitation and expansion of the Navotas fishport complex, which would be financed with the balance of the $40-million loan with the CAMC negotiated six years ago.

* * *

MORE PROJECTS: For food security, the mission was able to get China’s largest agricultural investor — the Beidahung Group — to commit to enter into rice and corn production covering 200,000 hectares in the North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle.

The group is also interested in agri-tourism and organic food-growing ventures, which could mean the infusion of P2 billion to P4 billion of foreign capital.

Yap reports that Chinese officials want to develop an initial 40,000 hectares of agribusiness lands in the Philippines for cassava and sugar to be used to produce ethanol in China, and another 30,000 hectares for grains crops.

The delegation also secured a commitment from the Guandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences to expand its techno-demo farm on sweet corn in Mabalacat, Pampanga, from two hectares to 35 hectares and to later produce this cereal in commercial quantities, initially in a 2,000-hectare farm in Central Luzon.

These agreements, along with the proposed construction of a bio-ethanol plant in Palawan and a mariculture park in Shantung, to be formalized when Chinese Premier Wen Jia Bao comes to Manila next month for the 12th Asean Summit.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 26, 2006)

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