POSTSCRIPT / January 30, 2011 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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SMC, Petron to change North Harbor landscape

SAN MIGUEL CITY: The landscape of North Harbor is likely to change for the better with the entry of San Miguel Corp. and its subsidiary Petron Corp.

The country’s biggest conglomerate plans to put in an additional P20 billion for the construction of “San Miguel City” in the soon-to-be-expanded North Harbor. Petron, the country’s largest oil refiner, is acquiring a 35-percent stake at the Manila North Harbor Port Inc. (MNHPI).

Petron is now majority owned by San Miguel. The arrangement is seen to complement MNHPI’s effort to fast-track the modernization of North Harbor, based on the development planapproved by the government.

In a disclosure before the Securities and Exchange Commission, Petron said it has signed a “share-sale and purchase agreement” with the Romero’s covering 35 percent of the outstanding and issued shares of MNHPI.

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PETRON DEPOT: This development is expected to boost employment opportunities in Manila and environs, as it complements the initial P14.5-billion capital outlay that MNHPI has allocated for the modernization of North Harbor’s dilapidated facilities.

As approved, MNHPI plans to, among other things, reconfigure the existing ports,expand from 52 to 70 hectares the operational area and upgrade its facilities to worldstandard.

Ramon Ang, SMC president, said they plan to invest the initial P20 billion for putting up fuel tanks needed by Petron and a grains terminal and bulk cement silo for use by San Miguel.

Petron has announced its plan to transfer its oil depot in Pandacan, where Pilipinas Shell and Chevron also maintain fuel storage facilities.

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GOOD VIBES: It appears the Romero family is imbibing good vibes with the entry of SMC/Petron to port development.

Despite the renewed but failed hatchet job against the Romero’s, they just continue on with their business and quietly market the ports to foreign and local businesses as the next big “IT” needed to boost the economy.

The family looks like it is on a roll. Michael “Mikee” Romero, for one, is now entering the airline industry with his partnership with businessman Tony Boy Cojuangco and Maan Hontiveros fora joint venture with Air Asia’s Tony Fernandes.

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EGYPT CUT OFF: It was widely thought that it could not be done. Or if it could be, should not be done. But 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak, who has been president of Egyptfor almost 30 years, has just done it.

Shortly after midnight Friday (about 5 a.m. Friday in Manila), the embattled Mubarak switched off most of the almighty Internet, crippling related services like social media and cellphone texting, in the Arab nation of some 80 million in the throes of widespread unrest and street protests.

The reason was that the Internet and cellphones, together with email, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, were being used by anti-government activists and protesters in spreading rumors and coordinating movements.

Mubarak’s closing down the Internet, however, has not stopped the turmoil – and may have even added fuel to it.

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STIFF PRICE: Is Egypt, a modern country with booming Internet-driven commerce, willing to pay the stiff price for isolation from the worldwide web? Not for long, it seems to most observers.

There are reports that while the primary service providers — private companies operating their own IT infrastructure – were ordered off the air almost simultaneously, the Noor Group hosting an IP address for the Egyptian Stock Exchange was still operating.

James Cowie, co-founder and chief technology officer of an IT company in New Hampshire that helps monitor web networks, said the situation in Egypt differs from what happened recently in Tunisia, where specific services and websites were blocked, or in Iran where the Internet was reduced to an almost unusable speed during last year’s political unrest.

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PUEDE RITO?: Can something like the Egyptian ban happen in the Philippines? Our educated guess is that if government does that here, a revolt would erupt in the national capital and leap-frog to other urban areas in 50 hours.

Filipinos have discovered the liberating power of the Internet and other electronic communication and information media. In mythological terms, it is as if the fire they have stolen from the gods has become part of their being. And they will now die without it.

If the Internet falters in this country that improvises from crisis to crisis, it is not because of any government crackdown. The iron-fisted Marcos knew the folly of damming legitimate information and soon allowed media to reopen one after the other after his initial clampdown.

If the Internet breaks down in these parts, it can only be due to a crippling power blackout, a devastating worldwide virus attack or a total breakdown of IT infrastructure. Even that would be a temporary disruption.

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UNTHINKABLE: In the United States where information and communication have risen to the clouds, existence without the Internet is unthinkable.

Firstly, the US government is not likely to initiate, or even just to allow, a similar simultaneous clampdown. To do so would be not only idiotic, but also suicidal.

Secondly, there are so many service providers in the US and a myriad ways to connect to the web. Cutting off the service is like building a dam to protect California from possible tsunami from the Pacific Ocean.

“How many people (service providers) would you have to call to shut down the US Internet? Hundreds, thousands maybe?” Cowie remarked, “We have enough Internet here that we can have our own Internet. If you cut it off, that leads to a philosophical question: Who got cut off from the Internet, us or the rest of the world?”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 30, 2011)

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