POSTSCRIPT / June 26, 2008 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Sea tragedies bring the clowns to town

SOUND & FURY: Days ago, a radio anchor was arrogantly asking on the air a Coast Guard officer why it was taking them that long to sail to the site of the mv Princess of the Stars tragedy and to bore holes into its hull to save passengers trapped inside.

We understand impatience, even panic, in a life and death situation. But somebody should have told the broadcaster that cutting openings on the side of a half-sunken ship and extricating bodies is no simple matter.

Assuming the rescue team has the expertise and the equipment to do the job, it has no control over the stormy weather that day that could turn ugly and endanger the rescuers themselves.

Then there is the physical fact that holes hurriedly bored into the hull sticking out of the water may cause the vessel to lose its remaining pockets of buoyant air and sink altogether — thereby complicating rescue operations.

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BRING IN THE CLOWNS: The announcer’s doing a Gloria Arroyo public scolding sent me searching my mental files for an item in the “maritime watchkeeper” website titled “Sea tragedies bring the clowns to town.”

The item goes: “After each sea tragedy, what follows is a predictable and routine series of events purported to sympathize with relatives of victims and the survivors, the start of the finger-pointing season, issuance of headline grabbing one-liners, trial by publicity, imposition of sanctions sans due process, a flurry of public hearings, and the eventual forming of a presidential maritime task force that would result in a formal statement that henceforth such tragedies would never happen again.

“Once the media lose interest, everything dies down and it is back to normal again… until the next tragedy.

“Look at the headlines since the Princess of the Stars capsized near the Sibuyan island: Biazon seeks Senate probe on Princess of the Starstragedy; Marina, Coast Guard chief pinagbibitiw ni Jinggoy; DOTC pins blame on Sulpicio Lines over sea mishap; Marina to open inquiry; Inquiry board subpoenas Sulpicio, Marina officials; Gov’t grounds Sulpicio ships; inquiries set; Sulpicio fleet grounded, company may lose franchise; DOTC orders grounding of all Sulpicio vessels; Biazon seeks Senate probe on Princess of the Stars tragedy.

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FREE-FOR-ALL: “An investigation in a sea mishap is initiated when a marine protest is filed with the Board of Marine Inquiry. Jurisdiction, therefore, rests with the BMI to conduct a most expeditious examination into the cause or causes of the tragedy.

“The BMI findings would be the basis of the resolution of legal claims expected to arise. It would also provide legislators and administrators with technical considerations to form a basis for whatever remedial laws or practices may be needed to correct wrong practices.

“But why are there so many who want to jump into the investigative aspect of the tragedy?

“Media attention set aside, is it perhaps because the BMI has lost its credibility as far as conducting a thorough investigation is concerned?

“There might be something to this angle if we revisit the BMI’s failure to accept the report of the Marina (Maritime Industry Authority) in a previous investigation.

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MARINA REFORMS: “Such bias caused the filing of a case of graft and corruption with the Ombudsman on July 21, 2004, against Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza and Captain Manzano for ‘changing the facts’ — a criminal act punishable under the Revised Penal Code.

“And, you guessed it right, that case has been sleeping the sleep of the dead since lawyer Fatimah Remedios Balbin filed it.

“Aside from the usual ‘whipping boys’ on whom the blame is heaped (the shipowner, Coast Guard, Marina and sometimes the PPA [Philippine Ports Authority] or NTC [National Telecommunications Commission]), it is about time the leadership in the maritime affairs of this archipelago be scrutinized.

“Former Director General Romulo Neri of the National Economic and Development Authority has mentioned Marina as prone to ‘regulatory capture.’  Should there not be an effort to release or free this agency from patronage politics? An investigation would offer clues for strengthening maritime administration. Hint: Check the attendance at Marina board meetings.”

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OVERPRICING: Reacting to our Postscript of last June 22 on the comparative overpricing in the P30-billion French government-assisted bridges program of President Gloria Arroyo, reader Juniper C. Dominguez of Sabangan, Mountain Province, said in an email:

“Let me cite some of the glaring overpricing in the DPWH-Mountain Province district engineering office headed by District Engineer Leonardo Leyaley and Acting Assistant District Engineer Rex Oya-oy:

“1. Center studs or ‘Cat’s eyes’ – four-inch square aluminum studs installed in the middle of the highway: The DPWH paid P11,200.00 per piece for thousands of these items, when the actual cost was only P550 per piece.

“2. Guard rail post – four-inch diameter by five-foot long GI pipe: The DPWH paid P3,900 per piece for thousands of these items, when the actual cost is only P1,200 per piece.

“3. Guard rails – 12-inch by 12-foot: The DPWH paid P4,500 per piece, but the correct cost is only P1,200 per piece.

“4. Diesel fuel — bought by DPWH last Dec. 18, 2006, at P44.50 per liter when the price at that date was only P36 per liter.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 26, 2008)

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