POSTSCRIPT / January 18, 2009 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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What? We’re resuming talks with MILF in KL?

BACK TO KL: The pressure from foreign meddlers for the Philippine government to resume talking peace with the rebel Moro National Liberation Front must be terrific.

President Gloria Arroyo is reportedly sending to Kuala Lumpur in the next few days the reconstituted government peace panel headed by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis to sit down with MILF leaders and allegedly neutral Malaysian “facilitators.”

Despite its clear secessionist intentions and the warlike activities of its marauders in the field, the MILF is still recognized by the United States as the rebel group of choice with whom Manila must coexist in Muslim Mindanao.

The plausible explanation for the US interest is that Washington wants to establish an operations presence in strategic Southern Philippines, and it thinks this can be done by striking a deal with the MILF and like-minded Moro trouble-makers.

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CRIME SCENE: The US is notorious worldwide for sponsoring and subsidizing rebel groups that it thinks are manageable enough and willing to be used as American power pawns in an area of actual or potential conflict.

After Malacanang’s hand was burned last year with its indecent affair with the MILF in forcing a Memorandum of Agreement on Muslim ancestral lands, one would think President Arroyo and her peace advisers would be wiser.

Maybe they are, they should be, but then US pressure must be overbearing.

So back to Kuala Lumpur, the would-be scene of the frustrated high crime of selling the country down the river via a MoA that would require the amendment of the Constitution just to validate the MILF demands!

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MALAYSIA SUSPECT: With just 17 months to go in her turbulent term and so many things popping all around her, President Arroyo must be so stressed out that her discernment has been affected.

Sources said the President believed in the sincere intentions of then Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to help end the generations-old Moro rebellion in the South. So, in good faith, she accepted the Malaysian offer of good offices.

This time, sources said the game plan of Mahathir’s successor, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in the talks is actually suspect — but that “nasubo na” (it’s too late to back out) so the so-called peace talks would continue even under duress.

As we keep asking, why talk to the MILF whose avowed non-negotiable objective is to carve out an independent Bangsamoro in Mindanao?

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CAN’T WE WAIT?: What ever happened to the announced new direction of the government’s peace initiatives that will bring into the consultations duly elected officials and peace-committed community organizations?

And why do we allow Malaysians to oversee the negotiations when we know their dark plans for Mindanao? They are not neutral observers, so how can they be facilitators?

Is it the Arroyo policy now that if rape is inevitable, the victim should just lean back, try to negotiate and beg the rapist to be gentle?

Madam President, it might be best to wait till a new US president is installed. And wait for the next general assembly of the ruling UMNO party, scheduled to take place this March in Kuala Lumpur and expected to replace Badawi.

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GAS ROYALTY: Malacanang’s plan to divert to food and agriculture a big chunk, estimated at P4 billion a year, of the $1-billion royalties from the Malampaya natural gas resources has stirred objections.

For one, the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Inc. said the money should have been earmarked for reducing power costs — a major plea of industrialists and investors.

We cannot spur economic growth without a correspondent upgrading of the power supply to fuel industry.

“We are not totally against the move to allot part of the Malampaya royalties to the food-sufficiency program,” said Seipi chairman Arthur Young. “All we want is to see some of that going to industry, especially with the global financial crisis knocking at our door.”

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CHEAPER POWER: While agriculture is critical, government should find ways to cut electricity prices. The Malampaya royalty presents an opportunity to do so, not only for Seipi members but also for industries and regular electricity consumers.

Among the items padding power rates are the 12-percent value-added tax and the tariff on natural gas, which the government deems as “imported” by indexing it to oil despite the fact that it is sourced locally (in Palawan).

Levies on the Malampaya gas add up to P2 per kilowatt-hour (kwh) — P1.79/kwh in royalties and P0.21/kwh in the 12-percent VAT.

Reducing the take may result in the government losing about $80 million. Young said, however, that the government could gain about $198 million in additional revenues from new investments encouraged by cheaper power — or a net income of about $118 million, almost $40 million more than it will lose in royalties.

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INVESTORS MOVING: “Despite better-quality labor, the high cost of power pushes the semiconductor and electronics companies to moving out to China and Vietnam,” Young said.

At $0.14 per kwh, the generation cost in the Philippines is highest in Asia. The Seipi noted that generation cost in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore amounts to $0.06/kwh, $0.05/kwh in Malaysia and $0.07/kwh in Thailand.

He said that countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia do not tax the domestic use of natural gas for power generation. Instead they subsidize its use.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 18, 2009)

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