POSTSCRIPT / July 15, 2007 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who pocketed millions in lahar quarrying fees?

WOW!: Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio collected in his first two weeks in office an average of P1 million DAILY in quarrying fees — against a measly P30 million reported for the entire past YEAR by his predecessor.

Quarry operators have been taking the same amount of sand (actually lahar from Mt. Pinatubo) from the heavily silted rivers and waterways of Pampanga, so how come only a trickle flowed into the coffers of the capitolio under the past administration?

The stark difference — a potential P370 million vs P30 million (in one year) — appears to validate the quarrying scam as a key issue in the May 14 election that saw the 53-year-old parish priest of Betis winning the governorship from Gov. Mark Lapid.

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POLL ISSUE: Quarrying was among the points discussed by Among Ed, as he is more popularly called, in a forum last Friday of the Capampangan in Media Inc. at the Annabel’s resto in Quezon City. It was his first presscon with mainstream media in Manila.

Within hours of his assuming the governorship last July 2, all 82 personnel having to do with quarry collections were replaced to see what would happen.

In just five days, P6.2 million was collected. By July 11, the provincial government had earned P9.8 million in quarrying fees. That averaged P1 million a day — during the rainy season when quarrying was even in a slump.

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SHARING SCHEME: For every truck carrying sand/lahar, the government collects P150. Under existing arrangements, 30 percent goes to the town where the quarry site is located, 40 percent to the barangay, and 30 percent to the provincial government.

Among Ed announced that from now on, the beneficiary towns and barangays will get their shares promptly at the end of each month. Several mayors have expressed elation over the new policy.

Towns without quarrying sites will not be left out. Among Ed said they would get 30 percent of the share earmarked for the provincial government.

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DILEMMA: In response to questions, the governor said he was not just about to file charges over missing quarry collections. He added that he was leaving any prosecution to the Tanodbayan, where graft cases had been filed before the elections.

This stance of Panlilio has not sat well with three mayors, including Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo who said that the governor should be more forceful in his approach to the alleged corruption in the Lapid administration.

He said he would have wanted Panlilio, if he is not ready to initiate additional charges, to submit the documents he had discovered to theTanodbayan to buttress the charges already being investigated for filing with the Tanodbayan.

Obviously, one big dilemma of the new governor is how to strike a balance between achieving unity (through conciliatory and consultative moves) and weeding out corruption in the capitolio and prosecuting grafters.

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CANLAS IDEA: The discussion on quarrying drew from former Public Works Deputy Minister Aber Canlas who was in the forum a suggestion that the bountiful lahar deposits be tapped systematically for providing jobs and generating income.

Reacting to CAMI member Sonny Valencia’s observation that lahar is a finite resource that would run out in time, Canlas said it has been there for centuries and is continually replenished during the rainy season by upstream deposits from Pinatubo.

Canlas, a native of Floridablanca and an acknowledged “miracle worker” when it comes to civil engineering projects, said that displaced cabalen numbering thousands can be organized for cottage industries using lahar as raw material.

This free gift of God, he said, can be used for making hollow and solid blocks, as well as decorative and pre-cast figures that can be sold much cheaper than the prevailing market prices. “We can beat any supplier in the country,” he said.

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ON TO S.C.: As announced in an anonymous newspaper ad, Stradec is making good its threat of taking to the Supreme Court its losing fight against the compromise agreement between the Philippine National Construction Corp. and Radstock Securities Ltd.

That’s actually well and good. Never mind that the ad is riddled with errors and misleading statements. Our justices will see through that and what it represents.

The facts presented and ruled upon in the Regional Trial Court seem clear: There were two valid loans from which the money was used by the company CDCP Mining. Valid guarantees of those loans were issued by the parent company Construction and Development Corporation of the Philippines, forerunner of PNCC.

Actually, if there is anything that gives lie to claims of a so-called sellout, it is Stradec’s argument that it be given PNCC — lock, stock and barrel — for P1.2 billion.

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BARGAIN: The P1.2-billion figure was offered during the failed 2000 privatization of PNCC. The exercise failed, because Titoy Pardo, said to be among the few honest men in the Estrada administration, refused to play along with what could have been a virtual giveaway.

There was little chance of the PNCC auction turning out to be a bidding war among giants. In the first place, every Tom, Dick and Harry in town knew that PNCC was hobbled by major debts — to private corporations, to banks and to the government.

These debts would have embroiled PNCC’s new owner in decades of litigation. Some sectors would have us believe the government should not have acknowledged some of these debts, but hiding such secrets from prospective investors is not the best policy anywhere anytime.

Besides, governments are duty-bound to reject offers that are grossly disadvantageous. Even by 2000 standards, P1.2 billion was worse than bargain basement level.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 15, 2007)

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