POSTSCRIPT / April 14, 2013 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Revise telcos’ unfair pretermination rule

UNFAIR TELCOS: The National Telecommunications Commission should stop cellphone companies from holding hostage their contracted users by making them pay a flat pretermination penalty when they opt out before their two-year term is over.

When a customer backs out any day within the stipulated two years, he is made to pay a fixed pretermination amount. It does not matter how few are the months or days still left of the 24-month term.

The NTC must impose a rule that the pretermination payment gradually decreases in proportion to how many days are left in the two-year contract. It is only fair and reasonable that the amount shrinks, diminishing toward zero, as the contract runs to expiry date.

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LOOSE CANNON: Sen. Serge Osmeña is turning out to be the Aquino administration’s loose cannon. He is questioning the “low fine” of P1.034 billion slapped by the government on Philex Mining for the spill in its Tailings Pond 3 in Padcal, Benguet, on Aug. 1, 2012.

The senator said the fine should be raised to $1 billion, contending that the penalty assessed by Mines and Geosciences Bureau Director Leo Jasareno and approved by Environment Secretary Ramon Paje was “a pittance.”

He expressed surprise that the penalties being imposed by the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and other rules and regulations of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources were “dirt cheap.”

Even as a lawmaker, Osmeña apparently did not know that this schedule of penalties has been in use for decades.

Does ignorance explain why he did not lift a finger to have the penalties raised to conform to his desire to punish erring mining companies?

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MINING ISSUES: But what really raised eyebrows in the mining industry and the DENR was the alacrity of Osmeña in pounding on the penalty issue in tandem with the campaign of his relative Gina Lopez to prevent the Padcal mine of Philex from operating.

Days before Osmeña raised a ruckus, Gina Lopez was in Baguio and other places in the Cordilleras seeking support for her campaign to keep the Philex mine shut.

It is common knowledge that Gina Lopez clashed with Philex chairman Manny V. Pangilinan during a mining forum in Makati late last year.

Their exchange turned a bit nasty when Pangilinan told Lopez that without mining, there would be no ABS-CBN network and that she could never use a cellular phone.

Lopez made the mistake of entering a lion’s den in that mining business forum, and the hostile Makati crowd booed her mightily.

The scene turned ugly. The Lopez-owned network blasted Philex for the Padcal leak and highlighted the purported environmental horror facing farmers and fishermen downstream of Benguet.

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DISTRACTED?: Osmeña is apparently adding ammunition for Gina Lopez. It is not far-fetched that the senator is marshalling his resources to nail down Philex and prove that it had been remiss in its duty to prevent tailings leaks.

Osmeña could end up being so busy with Philex and other Pangilinan/Metro Pacific companies that he would forget about the environmental disasters that struck the Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp. in Kananga, Leyte, in early March.

In the Leyte landslide, 14 workers were killed and the leak of toxic gas threatened to kill more of them.

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CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The Visayan senator may want to also look into another landslide in the coal quarry in Semirara that killed several miners.

…Or he could inquire into the death by electrocution of five underpaid Filipino workers in a palm oil plantation operated by Malaysians in Agusan del Sur.

…Or he may also want to look into the gas leak at the West Tower condominium in Makati that the residents had blamed on the Lopez fuel pipes running underground near the building.

… Or he could quiz Gina Lopez herself after the indigenous people of Palawan accused her of appropriating part of their ancestral domain as the site of her rest house.

Is Osmeña flouting the rule against conflict of interest as he conducts hearings on power issues in spite of his being a minority owner of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco)? Btw, his wife Bettina Lopez was once the Meralco comptroller.

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CLARK ON THE GO!: Two decades ago this month, after the Senate voted against further allowing American military bases in the country, control of the sprawling Clark air base in Pampanga passed on to the Bases Conversion Development Authority.

On April 3, 1993, President Fidel Ramos approved the creation of the Clark Special Economic Zone and established the Clark Development Corp. to oversee the transformation of the former base of the US 13th Air Force into a major economic hub with an international airport.

One immediate problem then was the lack of employment for the thousands of victims of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption and some 5,000 Filipino workers in Clark who were suddenly out of job with the pullout of the American military.

Now, CDC President and CEO Arthur P. Tugade reports that some 510 Clark investors employ around 70,500 Filipinos, many of them from nearby communities. Additional space has had to be opened in the Sacobia area in Bamban, Tarlac, to accommodate new investors.

Evaluation by the Financial Times and the FDI Magazine of London places Clark among the most business friendly economic hubs in the world in terms of processing of permits and transacting business.

Locators, for one, are heartened that Tugade has made sure certificates of registration and tax exemptions in Clark are now valid for three years.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 14, 2013)

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