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Into the dark with ‘Milenyo’

October 5, 2006

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COAST TO COAST
By JA Dela Cruz
Business Mirror, Oct. 5, 2006

ADD last week’s killer Typhoon Milenyo to death and taxes on the “elite” list of life’s great equalizers. At least, based on the havoc it wrought on a wide swath of Luzon and parts of the Visayas on the way to inflicting the same damage to large areas of Thailand, Vietnam and even China.

In our case, rich and poor alike had to make do without electricity for at least 24 hours; some rich enclaves like Forbes Park and Dasmariñas Village in Makati remain in darkness up to yesterday.

There was no “rich-poor” divide as far as flash floods and flying billboards, to name just two things which Milenyo brought, were concerned.

But even as the damage and the losses were universally shared, like in death and, yes, taxes, the rich were able to find ways and had the means to make sure they were “more equal” than the rest of us ordinary mortals. Hotels, lodging houses and even the lowly motels, which had their own generating units, were packed full of the rich and famous forking handsome sums while most others had to make do with candles and flashlights.

Others went out of the metropolis; some even had to spend lonely nights in Hong Kong and their other favorite foreign haunts. Indeed, if sharing a power-less 24 hours can be considered a blessing, then we can all thank Milenyo for leading us all into the dark. It was an equalizer, indeed which was fine even just for a day.

The problem is Milenyo’s damage (and I suspect some had hyped it even more to serve their own ends) has been such that it has swept out of the front pages a number of other big stories, which, if left unattended or unrevisited in time, may darken the landscape even more. Or, as one pundit noted, widen the gap between the rich and the poor even more which has been a continuing bane of this our benighted land for as long as we can remember. We are referring here to such headline-hogging issues as the Guimaras oil spill, the Naia-3/Piatco deal and, closer to home, the increasingly depressing and truncated power situation which have been or are literally being swept under.

The case of the Guimaras oil spill is instructive and darkening. Imagine, after the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) indicted, in a manner of speaking, Petron and the Solar 1 owner, Sunshine Maritime, as principals in the worst spill in living memory we have yet to see some sign of remorse or hear some sympathetic note from the officials of these companies.

What we are getting instead are reports of defiance, if not outright evasion, of their responsibility over this disaster. The BMI, for example, noted that the tanker was overloaded by at least 100 tons based on documents certified by Petron and Solar 1 officials, as well as the oil company’s independent surveyor before the ship sailed out of Limay that fateful day almost two months ago. Well, the companies denied the same and even went as far as saying that BMI’s formula was defective and unavailing.

We are also told that Petron has decreased its “cleanup” assistance crew and even its support fund even as the oily, dark spots in and around the affected areas remain. Worse, the local papers abound with reports that some Petron officials are insinuating the possibility of cementing the seashore lapped up by the oil spill. In other words, entombing the evidence of the damage, which have been and continue to be wrought by this spill.

Truly, there is growing evidence that the scars of this disaster will be with us and the people of Guimaras for a long, long time.

The Naia-3/Piatco deal is another scandal being washed away with the rains. Not content with forking out P3 billion as initial payment for that misguided expropriation case it brought against itself since it should have just evicted Piatco from the premises it already owns through BCDA, the government is now caught in a bind defending its positions against Piatco and its German partner, Fraport, before three other venues two of which are out of its control in Singapore and Washington, D.C.

The problem is the information or, should we say, the defenses the government put up in these venues contradict those it has undertaken in the expropriation case. And to think that we are paying no less than US$7 million for legal fees to defend ourselves in these places.

The power situation is no better. With Milenyo exposing the vulnerability of the power sector in Luzon, the question is: whatever happened to the reforms supposed to have been introduced three years ago under the Epira law? Better still, whatever happened to the billions in pesos the government has been spending all these years to keep this critical sector afloat and, hopefully, rationalized in time for our expected economic takeoff?

In short, what is happening to the people’s money that are used to buy off the debts of Napocor, Transco and even the electric cooperatives, not to mention the monthly burden being carried by consumers who cannot even have decent electricity when they most need it?

Your guess is as good as mine. Truly, these are dark and darkening times and if we don’t watch out we will get into the abyss in no time at all, with or without another Milenyo. Talaga naman.

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