POSTSCRIPT / December 6, 2007 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Gloria & Mike to talk of bridges in London?

BANDAID: This item is too good for this cabalen not to pass on.

Question: What are the distinguishing details of these prominent persons:

1. Erap Estrada? Answer: Wrist band.

2. Benjamin Abalos? Answer: Broadband.

3. Gloria Arroyo? Answer: Husband.

* * *

TALK OF BRIDGES: This next one is not a joke. It is deathly serious matter, more serious than London bridge falling down.

So President Gloria Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel are going to see the Queen. All you Malacanang watchers better keep your eyes open.

Check if any business-minded member of the royal family, or a prominent business associate, talks to the President and her business-minded husband about the contract of a British firm amassing a fortune building Bailey-type bridges in the Philippines.

By the time the Arroyo couple flew to Europe days ago, the contract of bridge-maker Mabey & Johnson was reportedly set for the trash bin. Reason given by sources was that the M&J headman has failed to deliver fully the, huh, materials that his father had promised in exchange for the fat contract.

* * *

MISSING MATERIALS: But, as Malacanang watchers know, a threatened business will not necessarily fold up just because of a notice of termination. Smart investors doing business in the Philippines know what to do when they see such a warning sign.

And what is the royal connection? A member of the Royal Family is reportedly a sort of, huh, patron of Mabey & Johnson.

In fact, some time back, the M&J gofer in Manila was reported to have been lined up for a royal decoration or something, a knighthood?, for his impressive delivery of business to the firm with Buckin

This despite the firm’s activities in the Philippines and elsewhere having been investigated on allegations of irregularities.

* * *

SERIOUS FRAUD: In 2004, the Serious Fraud Office in the UK investigated claims that M&J paid bribes to win a contract to build 116 bridges in Papua New Guinea .

In February 2007, the SFO also confirmed that M&J was again being investigated for the alleged payment of bribes under the Oil for Food Program. The SFO is accountable to the British Attorney-General.

In its defense, M&J said that it did not pay bribes or any other form of unlawful inducement.

Its website says that it is in more than 115 countries where its “modular steel panel bridge systems provide a means of helping communities and markets connect reliably and safely.”

* * *

TRILLANES TRALALA: Noting that I was not that critical of the police rounding up media members covering the infamous Trillanes Tralala at the Manila Pen last Thursday, a friend asked me if I would have left the hotel had I been there on coverage.

I said No, I would have stayed — like most of the media did despite the admonition of the police to leave for their own safety. The police kept repeating the advice in preparation for going after the armed rebel group at the hotel. The appeal fell on deaf ears.

But I qualified my No answer. I would stay, I said, if I saw that there were other members of media sticking around to cover. I would not want to be scooped.

Now if all of us in media pulled out, then I would pull out with them.

* * *

NO TRESPASSING: In other countries, in the United States for instance, whenever there is a police situation (a fire, hostage-taking, manslaughter, accident, and such), a colored “Police Line” ribbon is placed around the scene.

In those countries, the press respects the Police Line. No member of media, even the owner of a big newspaper or the host of a popular TV show, would dare cross the line.

Where the coverage rules are clear and respected, we would not have the spectacle that the whole world witnessed at the Manila Pen.

Our elders in the industry, including publishers and network owners, should have attended to this detail a long time ago.

* * *

MEDIA MOGULS: There is also the problem of reporters, opinion writers and other media practitioners who are actually paid partisans.

Some newspaper writers and radio-TV commentators are undercover camp followers of some big politicians, but they use their media involvement to present themselves as “Press.”

This is a gray area that, again, the media owners should sort out immediately. Not everybody flashing a Press ID or carrying a videocam or tape recorder is a member of the legitimate media.

The authorities sitting down with the media to lay down ground rules will fail if the media moguls do not participate and commit their organizations.

* * *

NO OVERKILL: The Philippine National Police, under Gen. Sonny Razon, handled the Trillanes Tralala correctly. There was no overkill.

The police had to respond, in calibrated fashion, to the developing threat — on the basis of the situation on the ground and intelligence reports on rebel teams outside the hotel preparing to assist the main Trillanes group.

The layout of the Manila Pen (note its balcony where snipers could have positioned themselves) shows that it was suicide for responding policemen to walk through the front glass door. The barging in of an armored personnel carrier with policemen sneaking in behind it, was necessary.

And then, police officers arriving at the scene of the crime will have to accost and process all persons that they find there, including those claiming to be with media.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 6, 2007)

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