POSTSCRIPT / May 27, 2007 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Turn quarrying-jueteng scourge into opportunity

BUSINESS FORUM: Central Bank Gov. Amando M. Tetangco Jr. will host on May 29 the first Business Forum of the Capampangan in Media Inc. He is expected to discuss the evolving economic scenario that has the Philippines finally shaking off IMF control by fully paying its debts accumulated over the decades; the steady buildup of our foreign exchange reserves; the appreciation of the peso’s value vis-à-vis the US dollar; and the taming of inflation despite the rise in the world price of crude oil.

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TWO FACES: As my Chinese friend used to say over dimsum, the other side of crisis is opportunity. The wise do not collapse in the face of crisis but take it as an opportunity for good.

Taking a case in point, Pampanga has been milked by crooks pocketing millions from quarry operations and operators of the illegal numbers game of jueteng.

As these two factions fought for control of the province, there emerged an alternative in the person of a priest — who eventually won the election for governor.

Now the nitty-gritty of governance will test the mettle of governor-elect Ed Panlilio, particularly in grappling with the twin evils of quarry corruption and jueteng operations. How will he turn the crisis into an opportunity?

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HIGH GROUND: The quarrying racket is easier to tackle than the jueteng scourge. By sheer example alone, Panlilio can start dismantling the quarrying racket in a big way.

He has to begin by himself refraining from dipping sticky fingers into the millions from lahar quarrying that are supposed to go to the government.

By his example, he will be able to take the moral high ground to tell everybody down the line, especially the mayors, to stop quarry tong-collection.

The bigger problem is actually jueteng, whose poison has seeped to all levels of society. It may be an exaggeration to say that the vice has corrupted all officials in the province, but it is near the truth.

Assuming that Panlilio, with the aid of crusading elements, is able to convince lower officials back into line, what will he do with the thousands of bet collectors (cobradores) and others who have known no other livelihood except jueteng?

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CANLAS FORMULA: I was talking about these twin problems with former Public Works Deputy Minister Aber Canlas, a natïve of Floridablanca and an acknowledged “miracle worker” when it comes to civil engineering projects.

He outlined to me an approach to both the quarrying and the jueteng problems that looked so workable that it makes me wonder why the leaders of Pampanga never thought of it.

Canlas’ formula hews to the Chinese penchant for converting crisis into an opportunity. It is not pure theory as he has had rich experience in this line of work.

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QUARRY TONG: As a result of the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, millions of tons of lahar — a sandy volcanic debris — have covered wide areas in Pampanga, notably rivers and other natural channels.

Operators dig out lahar and sell it to dealers of construction materials as an aggregate for concrete. It is like sand, but lighter. Everyday, loads of lahar are moved by truck, each vehicle paying toll as it is accosted at checkpoints along the way.

The operators make good money because this free resource is just lying there waiting to be shoveled, loaded, carted away and sold for a good price. To keep the lucrative business going, operators share their fortune with officials.

This toll (actually “tong”) collection rakes in dirty millions for some municipal and provincial officials. Quarrying and other fees that should go to government end up in private pockets.

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HOLLOW BLOCKS: Canlas said the new governor can organize — maybe into cooperatives? — the cobradores and others displaced by his clampdown on illegal gambling.

These jobless jueteng personnel can be trained to man new businesses using lahar. One such business is the making of hollow blocks using lahar instead of sand.

These block-making enterprises will be located near lahar areas and linked to a province-wide network dedicated to similar or related enterprises.

Canlas said this network — which can be a joint undertaking of the local governments and some civic-spirited private groups — will sell hollow blocks at prices that beat the lowest in the market.

The network can outbid any supplier because of its cheap raw materials and lower overhead.

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SOCIAL ENGINEER: Canlas said the provincial government can encourage projects using the hollow blocks made by jueteng personnel who had shifted to a more honorable occupation.

The kapitolyo can stir up a building frenzy, improving the climate for businesses related to construction. More health, school and community centers can be built, new walls erected, etc., all using Pampanga hollow bocks.

The province’s four congressmen might be persuaded to allocate part of their “pork barrel” funds for such projects.

As the local market nears saturation, the network can look outward and sell cheaper but superior hollow blocks to builders and construction firms outside the province.

Panlilio knows how to handle this kind of mobilization. He is not an ordinary priest who just says Mass, gives communion and delivers sermons. He is a social engineer.

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DREDGING EFFECT: That business angle is just one aspect of Canlas’ approach to the lahar-jueteng problem.

On the engineering side, he said the quarrying of lahar will be rationalized and closely supervised province-wide.

To prevent a degradation or destruction of the quarry areas, workers will not just dig where it is convenient for them. Quarrying will follow an overall engineering plan.

Digging out the lahar must result in a systematic dredging of the lahar-covered rivers. While taking the deposit, the quarry operators will actually be dredging the clogged waterways according to an integrated engineering plan.

If it needs startup capital, this project that promises tremendous social, commercial and engineering impact can easily find funding. It is viable and bankable.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 27, 2007)

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