POSTSCRIPT / March 20, 2012 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Some senators not sure of raps on SALN filing?

CLERICAL CHORE: The filing of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth may look like a clerical chore, but the questions of how to properly do it threatens to quash the charge that impeached Chief Justice Renato C. Corona did not file his SALN and must therefore be removed.

If a column in the SALN form is left blank, or if some entries have been adjusted to conform to the official’s own assessment, is he lying in the criminal sense or nurturing a malevolent intent to deceive or cheat?

These are just some of the tricky questions raised by the impeachment of the Chief Justice by the House of Representatives on the basis of what they said was his failure to file his SALNs. The omission, the House prosecutors say, is an impeachable high crime.

Is it? Or is it just a political issue, absent the elements that would make it criminal? And if the senators sitting in judgment see the careless filing of Corona’s SALN as a crime, is it so grave as to warrant his impeachment?

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SLIGHT DISCREPANCY OK?: As we have been saying here, the Chief Justice is not more guilty than most of the congressmen prosecuting him and the senators judging him over Article II of Impeachment alleging his failure to file his SALNs as required by law.

So widespread has the careless filing of SALNs been among many officials — from President Noynoy Aquino, down to lesser mortals in the administration — that several senator-judges have recognized the confusion.

Some senators are now saying that maybe a 30-percent deviation or discrepancy from comparative assessment values may be forgiven because of unclear guidelines or dismissed as a matter of opinion.

It seems that some excitable congressmen, taking their cue from their top party leader, simply concluded that the Chief Justice did not file his SALNs just because they did not see the statements filed.

Sen. Miriam Santiago pointed out yesterday that with Corona (as presumably with other SC magistrates) having been confirmed to have filed his SALNs with the SC Clerk of Court, the charge of non-filing under Article II may have been rendered moot.

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CONDO LEAK: Do the owners of the West Tower condominium in Bangkal, Makati City, whose basement was flooded in 2010 with leaking fuel, want it rehabilitated or bought at a stiff price by the owner of the now repaired fuel line?

The question has intrigued the First Philippine Industrial Corp. that owns the 117-kilometer pipeline from Batangas to Manila as it continues its rehabilitation and remedial work on the tower and the area around it after evacuating the residents and offering them payments.

After the Supreme Court issued a Writ of Kalikasan (Environment) stopping the Lopez-controlled FPIC from operating the pipeline, it ordered FPIC to (1) ensure the structural integrity of the pipeline, (2) remediate the Bangkal area affected, and (3) rehabilitate the West Tower.

Immediately, FPIC took full responsibility for the leak. On its own, it shut down the pipeline even before the Writ of Kalikasan was issued. The pipeline — FPIC’s only source of income — has remained closed since Oct. 27, 2010.

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PIPELINE SAFE NOW: The FPIC said it would commission next month a “state-of-the-art multiphase extraction system,” designed specifically for Bangkal, to remove contaminants from the soil and ground water.

It resorted earlier to the manual recovery of leaked fuel through wells drilled around the area. The company has been monitoring the indoor and outdoor air quality to assess potential vapor intrusion. It set up medical missions and a health clinic in the barangay.

Last December, the Department of Energy said it would recommend the reopening of the pipeline after the pressure-controlled leak test ordered by the Supreme Court showed the pipeline had no more leaks and was safe.

The test was supervised and observed by the DoE and its pipeline integrity expert, Societe Generale de Surveillance, together with the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Geological and the UP Institute of Civil Engineering

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ACCESS DENIED: But a problem has cropped up. The condo management has denied FPIC full access to the building.

In an Aug. 3, 2011 letter, West Tower through its homeowners association board prohibited FPIC and its contractors from continuing work at common areas and elevators other than in the basements.

Before that, the FPIC said, it conducted de-watering of the basement and replaced all electromechanical equipment there, repaired doors and cabinets, and repainted the basement walls. The generator, water pumps, sump pumps and their electrical controls were replaced with new units.

It said it also fixed all elevators. The Maynilad supply line outside the building was repaired and water supply to the condo units was restored. Fire extinguishers were recharged and re-deployed.

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TOUGH DEMAND: Condo unit owners have been offered financial help and reimbursement for their relocation while the building is being rehabilitated.

An owner of a 110-square-meter unit, for instance, would receive P1.5 million as relocation assistance. Those with bigger floor areas would receive more. Many of the owners accepted the offer. After all, they can have the money and still go back to their condos after the building is rehabilitated.

But FPIC is puzzled. It wants to know if the West Tower owners really want their building back. Or, it asks, is the agenda just to sell the 22-storey, 12-year-old building to FPIC for P2.3 billion?

On Feb. 10, 2011, FPIC received a letter from the condo firm’s lawyer asking that the West Tower corporation and its residents be paid over P2.3 billion, which includes the purchase of the condominium, cost of damages and attorneys’ fees.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 20, 2012)

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