POSTSCRIPT / October 16, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Cha-cha talk revived, but no one's listening

FEDERALISM: Somebody should tell President Gloria Arroyo that nobody seems to be listening anymore.

In a speech at a Manila workshop yesterday on building human rights institutions in Asia, the President announced her creating a panel to draft a “roadmap to federalism by 2012” – presumably another way of pressing “Charter Change” within her term.

The problem is that there are not enough Filipinos paying attention to Cha-cha and federalism issues, except probably those who had been paid to listen even when they do not hear anything at all.

There are many reasons for lack of attention. One is that Gloria Arroyo is a lameduck. Another is that most people are so busy making a living that they have no time for non-gut issues.

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AMNESIA: The President might find an attentive, and expectant, audience if those in the crowd know from happy experience that they would be handsomely rewarded for listening and signing a prepared resolution.

But if you were a jobless head of an urban family pounding the streets on an empty stomach, would you want to listen to a Cha-cha message that is not delivered in a bag filled with P500,000?

Even her Cabinet members, I suspect, do not listen anymore. Some of them nod and say “Yes, Ma’am” in their meetings, but suffer an induced attack of amnesia as soon as they step out of Malacanang.

That is why many Palace projects bog down for lack of follow-through.

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DISTRACTION: The President said “the measures (in the road map) could include super-region planning and oversight bodies, xxx, legislation to affirm and expand executive issuances, and eventually Charter changes.”

In her 2005 State of the Nation Address, she pushed for federalism, saying, “Perhaps, it’s time to take the power from the center to the countryside that feeds it.”

Cha-cha as advocated by Malacanang generally involves changing the present presidential form into a parliamentary system and shifting from a unitary to a federal system.

Critics are expected to jump at her revival of the Cha-cha debate as part of a (1) search for an escape from her no-reelection predicament and as a (2) distraction from serious accusations leading up to possible impeachment.

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RECEIPT: Impeachment was a major topic in the meeting last week of President Arroyo and some 190 congressmen and 40 local executives marred by reports that the attendees were given P200,000 to P500,000 each to help block impeachment.

Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio, a priest, was among those who reported having received P500,000 in a paper bag that he did not know contained money. He said his office will issue a receipt and turn the sum to the provincial coffers.

Panlilio, 53, said Bulacan Gov. Joselito Mendoza handed the bag to Archie Reyes, a seminarian who is now his chief of staff. The latter did not know there was money inside and saw it only in the car with Panlilio.

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NOT A BRIBE: “Bags containing tokens like food and shirts are usually given to Among Ed (Panlilio),” Reyes said. “So I did not pay it so much attention.”

Panlilio said he did not think the P500,000 was a bribe, otherwise he would not have accepted it. “I considered the money to have come from public funds as it was given by Malacañang,” he said.

The money would be deposited in the trust account of the provincial government and spent for barangay projects only with the approval of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

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LPG REFILLS: It is intriguing that the State Prosecutor and his boss the Justice Secretary would see the same set of facts differently as regards probable criminal liability of several persons in the refilling of cooking gas tanks.

Stepping in to settle the disagreement, the Court of Appeals supported the Chief State Prosecutor’s stand, reinstating the criminal charges against Omni Gas Corp. owners for alleged illegal handling of liquefied petroleum gas under Batas Pambansa 33.

Court documents identified the Omni owners as Arnel U. Ty, Mari Antoinette Ty, Jason Ong, Willy Dy, and Alvin Ty.

The Special Sixth Division of the appellate court reversed the ruling of the Justice Secretary of Oct. 9, 2006, that reversed the prosecutor’s recommending the filing of charges against Omni.

The CA also said the department committed a grave abuse of authority in ruling in favor of Omni and usurping the authority of the Department of Energy which oversees the LPG industry.

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TANK REFILLING: In 2004, dealers associations of TotalGaz, Shellane and Petron Gasul complained to the National Bureau of Investigation and asked for surveillance of refillers suspected of under-filling tanks and illegally refilling branded cylinders.

In March and April that year, the NBI placed Omni under surveillance and conducted a test-buy. Omni allegedly refilled cylinders of the legitimate dealers. Inspection by the NBI showed that eight refilled tanks had no seals and one was underfilled.

The CA noted that under BP 33, the refilling of another company’s cylinders without its written authority is a crime. Underfilling of LPG cylinders is also a violation.

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OMNI SIDE: In reply, Omni said the LPG cylinders brought to it for refilling were owned by customers. It also cited the industry practice of cylinder swapping where customers bring their empty tanks and exchange them with full cylinders.

The CA noted that the cylinders were refilled without written authorization from the gas companies. It said that “ownership of the cylinders is shown by the stamp markings on the LPG cylinders, which provide that the said LPG cylinders are properties of their respective companies.”

The court noted that the prosecutor’s ruling was consistent with RA 4109 (Product Standards Law) requiring that cylinders bear the permanent markings of their owners. It cited DoE rules that “refilling or modifying the appearance of LPG cylinders is reserved for owners of the LPG cylinders.…”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 16, 2007)

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