POSTSCRIPT / September 5, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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MWSS bidder's record hurts Taiwan president

SCANDAL: Update on my Aug. 27 Postscript on Taiwanese firm Kintech withholding its bad track record when it bid for a300-mld (million liters per day) bulk water project and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System prequalifying it:

Kintech reportedly has obtained a 15-month extension for the Taiwan Water Co. to further conduct operations tests on Kintech’s completed Kaotan and Wongkong Yuen water projects in Kaoshiung.

The initial quantity and quality tests failed as the two Kintech water plants, costing US$69 million and US$31.3 million respectively, can provide only 261,000 tons of hard, undrinkable water which is less than 1/4 of Kaoshiung’s 1,200,000-ton daily requirement.

Kintech was given another chance despite an announced order of TaiwanPremier Frank Xhieh to rescind the firm’s contract, “no matter who they are.” That remark referred to the politically sensitive fact that a Kintech high official, Chao Chien-ming, is married to a daughter of Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian.

There is mounting pressure now to oust President Chen because of scandals implicating him and his family. Allowing make-up tests for Kintech is one such scandal.

Chen’s son-in-law Chao of Kintech has been detained on suspicion of insider trading and taking bribes, according to news reports.

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COVERUP COMING?: Over at MWSS, there is frantic finger-pointing as to who should be faulted for the failure to uncover or disclose the questionable record of Kintech in the Kaoshiung projects.

A bidder’s hiding a material fact about its qualification is misrepresentation. Under the BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) Law, such misrepresentation disqualifies an investor from bidding for any Philippine project for two years.

Some MWSS officials, I was told, are looking frantically for a coverup or a justification for their prequalifying Kintech to bid for the 300-MLD water project.

The prequalifying stage of the bidding that started in 2004 had been delayed, raising fears that some five million residents of Metro Manila being served by the Maynilad Water Services Inc. may find themselves waterless in three years.

The bulk water project tapping the nearby Laguna de Bay is designed to ease that shortage. As it takes time to build and start operation, the timetable must be followed.

It should not be delayed by someone keeping the door open too long for a favored bidder.

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SKIN CARE: All you dark-skinned natives who apply bleaching or lightening cream, lotion or gel on your body, take note.

The US Food and Drug Administration proposed last week the banning of over-the-counter sales of skin-care products containing hydroquinone, which it said may cause cancer or skin discoloration (darkening).

The FDA lists some 200 products containing hydroquinone in strengths from 0.4 to 5 percent, about two-thirds of which are sold over the counter.

Not all skin lighteners contain hydroquinone. And evidence of cancer was found by the FDA in experiments with mice, not yet with people. Still, take note.

In the Philippines, some skin-whiteners with fruit extracts such as from papaya have been said (anecdotal) to cause darkening of the skin, instead of lightening it, if the user gets prolonged exposure to the sun.

Users are advised to check the ingredients used in the skin-care product they are buying. If hydroquinone or its variations are among them, heed the FDA notice.

Dermatologists and makers of skin-care products, who have been given until December to present their side, are already protesting the FDA proposed ban.

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CARCINOGENIC: In a Washington datelined story, the Times quoted experts as saying that “most patients in the United States are not interested in lightening their skin color as is the case in Africa and Asia but in erasing blemishes and age spots to look more youthful.”

It quoted Paula Begoun, author of “Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me,” as saying:

“In Asia, you can’t have a skin-care line without a skin-lightening product. In the United States, it isn’t about being lighter; it’s about brown discolorations that make you look older. It’s about being youthful.”

The Times said that in many parts of Africa and Asia, women who use skin-lightening products have reported disastrous results, including permanent disfigurement with alternating patches of dark and extremely pale skin and, sometimes, malfunctioning adrenal glands.

Because of this, hydroquinone has been banned in Japan, the European Union and Australia, the Times said.

Citing studies from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Toxicology Program, the FDA has reported “some evidence” of carcinogenic action in male and female rats and in female mice, including the development of leukemia and liver lesions.

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ANO BA TALAGA?: President Gloria Arroyo announced earlier she was not in favor of a retake in the nursing board examinations marked by alleged leakages.

Now Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita is saying that a retake, if any, would likely be confined to areas in Luzon identified by the National Bureau of Investigation as the places where contents of the tests were leaked.

I thought the NBI has submitted an initial report to Malacanang on its investigation on the leakage. How come its officials are now asking for another week to finish the investigation and submit a final report?

Nurses and their families cannot understand this kind of Palace-speak.

Are the board passers in these “NBI pinpointed places” going to retake the exams or not? The President and the Professional Regulatory Commission said there should be no retake.

But Ermita is saying there might be, citing the NBI’s initial report of the leakage in some areas. Did he really say this or did some hotshot PR (public relations) man make him say it?

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OVERSIGHT: In the absence of any final or conclusive finding of anomalies, why cannot officials stop talking at cross-purposes and start reforming the various PRC boards instead?

So far, only the words of failed examinees have been over-hyped, pointing to a collusion of review centers, Board of Nursing members, and PRC commissioners.

One suggestion by a concerned nurse is to create an oversight agency for the PRC and other testing organizations. Or perhaps the PRC can reform itself by instituting “after-action reviews,” or “what if?” sessions.

In nursing and medicine, there is such a thing as evidence-based studies and learning from errors. Among surgeons, there are “mortality and morbidity conferences” to analyze mistakes. In well-managed businesses, there is benchmarking or best practices approach, or a quality audit outfit that serves as an oversight team.

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SUDDEN ILLNESS: Reader Tony Serquina has a valid question: How come big crooks in government who look hale and hearty suddenly need urgent medical attention and ask for special treatment when they get caught?

He said in an email (edited to evade the same fate suffered by Rep. Peter Allan Cayetano who reaped a libel suit for talking about a secret bank account):

“I want to share with you my dismay (and that of a lot of other people I’m sure) about how government officials behave and react when caught stealing public funds. The two most prominent cases that come to mind right now are those of a general and a big joke of a fertilizer agent.

“If memory serves, they were quite healthy before they got busted for stealing public funds. But as soon as they got caught, all of a sudden, they both developed mysterious illnesses which, according to their lawyers, require special medical care at government expense! (The very same government that they had cheated by stealing public funds.)

“Both these characters were obviously not raised properly. The general even graduated from the Philippine Military Academy where they supposedly teach their cadets the virtue of HONOR. He must have dozed off when the subject came up.”

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SIARGAO WAITING: Listen to the call of the surf — The winds are changing and the swell is building as the Surf Season 2006 rolls in.

The Department of Tourism invites surfers, surfing enthusiasts, sponsors, as well as beach bums to experience more sand, more sun, and more surf trips to exotic locations like Siargao island in Surigao del Norte.

The province is blessed with long stretches of white sand beaches, enchanting rock formations, mysterious caves, and vast mangrove forests. Siargao’s strong waves have made the province the Surfing Capital of the Philippines.

The 8th Siargao National Surfing Cup opens Sept. 14 at Cloud 9 on Siargao. Now is the perfect time to visit the once quiet and pristine province, and discover how its rural charm caught the fancy of local and foreign tourists — especially surfers and body boarders.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 5, 2006)

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