POSTSCRIPT / January 9, 2011 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Ideas tested in open media discussion

FEEDBACK: Some readers complain that their reactions to columns are first screened before being posted.

For the record, I have no problem with readers’ reacting to my Postscript. I have no control over PhilSTAR policy and procedure for publishing feedback. I do not have to approve or disapprove reactions for posting.

But I reiterate my suggestion that all participants in a public debate disclose their true identities and locations. Anyone who joins the debate must be man enough (including the women, ha ha ha!) to step forward and stand by his (her) every word.

I hope I do not sound like I just TOLERATE readers’ feedback. Like most newsmen who started out as beat reporters and devoted decades to professional journalism, I WANT an untrammeled, but responsible, public exchange of opinion.

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UPDATE CYBERLAWS: Another point I have been stressing, at the risk of being misunderstood, is for our laws to keep not only in step, but, more importantly, also ahead of the galloping developments in communication, especially electronic media.

It has been noted, as in the unleashing of the destructive Pinoy-made “I love you” virus in early 2000’s, that there are not enough laws prohibiting and penalizing certain acts in cyberspace injurious to personal rights and public interest.

Onel de Guzman, the young creator of the Love Bug that paralyzed a big part of global communications and systems serving big business operations, could not be pinned down under any local law. He went scot-free and reportedly joined a giant foreign outfit.

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ANGARA BILL: Comes now Sen. Edgardo J. Angara pushing the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Bill (Senate Bill No. 52) in the face of an exponential increase in the number of Internet users and the resulting rise in online crimes.

The senator, chair of the committee on science and technology, cited statistics showing that almost 30 million Filipinos use the Internet. An estimated two-thirds of that online population, or nearly 20 million, use Facebook and other social media.

“However, this has the unfortunate effect of attracting criminals who want to take advantage of the burgeoning use of the Internet,” the senator said. Online offenses include hacking, fraud, cybersex and child pornography.

The bill, originally filed during the previous Congress and overtaken by adjournment, has been reintroduced in the current 15th Congress. It is now awaiting final reading.

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RAISE RICE OR IMPORT IT?: One time over lunch, I asked a former president when the conversation turned to the nauseating stink in the National Food Authority:

“Which is better, to raise our own rice or just import it? Which comes out cheaper: planting rice or importing it?”

The former president, who always has a response to almost any question thrown his way, must have been caught off-guard. As he could not immediately respond, I moved to another subject.

Until now I have not found the answer to that question. Maybe some readers can help?

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IS NFA NEEDED?: Some readers might expand the subject, or shuffle around the determinants of the retail price, leading us away from finding an answer to the question of whether to plant rice or to just import it.

Some people might end up commenting on corruption’s adding to the cost of NFA rice, on farmers being squeezed between the slow rice-planting cycle and the super-fast middlemen, on the folly of subsidizing farmers in foreign lands who just learned the rudiments in Los Baños, on rice having become a political tool and a source of graft money, on the rice cartel co-opting the NFA boys, and a host of other sub-topics.

Like the meandering procession inevitably leading back to the church doors, the discussion always goes back to the basic question: Is the NFA necessary?

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MINUSCULE SHARE: The figures I last saw had the rice stock in the hands of NFA, which is an adjunct of the Department of Agriculture, at not more than 10 percent of the total supply in the market.

With NFA claiming to be a stabilizing factor in the pricing of the cereal, we are wont to ask if with its less than 10-percent market share the NFA can influence the retail price considering the other factors impacting on the market.

If the NFA inventory is too minuscule to sway retail pricing, what is the point in allowing the agency to continue to throw away billions in losses due to operational leakages and graft?

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MAKE A KILLING: When a propagandist who had helped in the campaign was rewarded by President Aquino with control of the NFA treasure house, the first thing he did was to sniff around the warehouses.

He then announced with a flourish that NFA bodegas were bursting with hoarded rice, a good part of which was rotting.

There being an oversupply, he proclaimed – too early, it seems — that the NFA under him would stop importing rice as there was no need for it.

The next thing we heard was that the NFA under him was back in the merry business of importing rice in huge quantities.

This may explain the widespread assumption that every President amassing the billions needed to keep himself in power will continue to import rice as this is reportedly one of the easiest ways to pack one’s political arsenal.

Insiders report that the smart operator can make a killing in the multi-stage handling of the rice, including the bidding, shipping, hauling and warehousing, and the diversion of part of the stock to the black market.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 9, 2011)

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