Friday, November 26, 2004

Misinformation Can Mislead A Nation

RRRRIIIIIINGGGGGG!!!!! Aaarggghh! Huh?! Yawn! That's got to be my Nokia 3210 waking me up. But it's only 4:30 in the morning, why should I wake up at such an early hour? Oh! I remember! We have some very important guests arriving today at the office. Gotta be there before 8:00. Hhhmmmmmm! Get up! Get ready! But first, let's log onto the net and read the morning's fresh news.

HEADLINE: TRANSPORT STRIKE A GO DESPITE WARNING
Uh-oh! Is this bad? Despite the warning issued by Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board Chairwoman Ma. Elena Bautista about the possibility of revoking the franchise licenses of those who would join the transport holiday, the militant transport groups are still hell bent on staging the transport strike. Luckily, there's still the reliable LRT and/or MRT to bring me to my destination.

After breezing through my reading, I showered then dressed for work. I almost forgot, I should wear a pastel-colored long sleeved polo instead of my usual attire of short-sleeved barong. Damn! I would be wearing my tie again once I got into the office.

Getting out of the house, I hailed a cab and told the driver to please bring me to the North Station of the MRT. After throwing away his cigarette and rolling up the window in the driver side, we were off. On our way I happen to catch a glimpse of stranded commuters, mostly students. College students, I supposed, because I overheard from the TV while on the way out of our house that most of the students of basic education (elementary and high school) has their classes suspended because of the transport strike.

Passing through the Caloocan High School, I can't help but wonder about the news headline I've read just a few weeks ago regarding the alleged erroneous textbooks being used in public schools. My mom works for a private academic institution while I finished my secondary education from a public school, so I have a pretty good idea about the difference between the textbooks being used in both academic institutions. I'm just curious as to who might be at fault regarding this textbook scandal? The teachers, who supposed to teach accurate information to their students, can they be the culprits? The school heads, which supposed to monitor the classroom instructions being done by the teachers, can they be blamed for this?

Oh great! A red light at the intersection, just what I need, damn! It's already 7:05 am, man! Will I be able to make it to the office before 8:00? Hmmmm, so many uniformed students standing along the sidewalk without any jeepneys in sight. I coughed up a question to the cab driver, "manong, malala ho ba yung strike? daming stranded, ah!". The driver glanced at me and said, "may mga nagkalat kasi ng pako sa Monumento kaya yung mga iba ayaw ng tumuloy. Ako nga eh, galing ako ng Munoz yung nasakyan kong dyip kanina biyaheng Monumento-Munoz pagdating namin sa Balintawak ako na lang yung pasahero kaya tinanong ko kung hanggang dun na lang ba siya. Sabi sa akin hanggang Biglang Awa lang daw siya kasi may mga pako sa Monumento." Now I know and just nodded my head in agreement, good thing for me I didn’t wait for the jeepney and go on my usual route.

I once again plugged my earphone and proceeded to discern the culprit behind the textbook scandal. But wait, before anything else, what would we expect from the students who had used the same textbooks before? Where are they now? I remembered that I was one of the recipients of the first government subsidized textbooks. I belonged to the first batch of graduates of the Secondary Education Development Program (SEDP) of the Department of Education. Were our textbooks the same with the alleged erroneous ones? If so, then we could have been misinformed. We could have missed some accurate information. Maybe the world isn't round after all!

If the teachers were at fault because they had overlooked something, are they to blame? I have friends who are now teachers themselves, if we happen to have used the same textbook as of that alleged wrong or bad textbooks now, how can they be blamed? Are they incompetent teachers because they are using bad textbooks to teach their students and they don't know that it was an erroneous textbook? How about the school heads? Maybe, but most of the school heads who approved the use of these textbooks are either talking with San Pedro now or just too old to even remember approving such things. Misinformed students, misinformed teachers, misinformed graduates who used the bad textbooks, what can we expect of our leaders?

One of my schoolmates during college ran for councilor during the last elections and won. If we both belong to the misinformed generation, then one of the leaders of this country is misinformed. Is that bad?

My neck's aching...oooppsss I have napped inside the cab. Where are we, anyway? Hey, that's SM North. Just a few more minutes, I wonder how much would I be paying? P25 plus P2 for every kilometer...whoa! I forgot, it's already P30 initially and then P2.50 for every kilometer. That's in the headline a few months ago. Now I remember a transport strike was likewise held just a few months ago demanding a fare increase from the old P4 to P5.50, reason: the high cost of oil and petroleum products.

What is it this time that the militant transport groups are asking? Another round of fare increase, perhaps? Nah. The issues raised by the strike leaders this time are particularly contentious, or so they say. They want a rollback of gasoline and diesel prices, which have risen nearly a dozen times over the year. But for an oil-importing country like the Philippines, that's like asking for the moon. Since we do not have enough energy resources of our own, we are captives to oil exporters who can and do set petroleum prices according to their own requirements and the movements in the world market.

The striking transport workers are also demanding the repeal of the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Law. Instead, they propose that whenever global oil prices rise, the government should step in and subsidize the pump prices of gasoline, diesel fuel and other petroleum products. And where do the transport sector militants think the government would get the money to support fuel prices at levels favorable to urban-dwellers like them? From everybody who pays taxes, whether directly or indirectly, including Filipinos in far-flung villages who rely on their feet for getting around and private motorists who don't take public transport, but must actually compete with these road hogs for scarce road space on a daily basis.

Walking the steps of the MRT station, I remember the time when the government actually subsidized with billions of pesos in taxpayers' money fuel prices, but the so-called Oil Price Stabilization Fund not only made the country sink deeper in debt, it also bred mind-boggling corruption.

Going back to the concerns of the transport strikers, as if a fuel price rollback and fuel price subsidies were not enough, they are also demanding the nationalization of the local oil industry. Huh?! What local oil industry is there to nationalize? The few offshore oilfields in Palawan have long ago stopped producing crude in commercial quantities. Attempts to tap oil in Tarlac and elsewhere have proved fruitless. What remains of the local oil industry are depots and distribution outlets of imported oil. Even some of our refineries have found that it makes more financial sense for them to buy refined fuel products from places like Singapore, because their refining operations here have become a losing proposition.

Finding a seat in the not so crowded MRT train, I glanced at my watch it's just 7:15. I can make it to the office before 8:00, after all. With Linkin Park's Somewhere I Belong playing in my old and reliable MP3 player, I began to wonder who is feeding such false information to this militant group? A day before this transport strike, a radio interview at DWIZ took place between PISTON president Mar Garvida and two veteran broadcast journalists. Garvida revealed during the interview that the government's refusal to do something about the successive increases in the prices of diesel and other petroleum products is the major reason why they called for the transport strike. The PISTON president further explained that the government could do something about the oil price hikes. One of the reasons for the high oil price, he said, is that the government is shipping out the crude produced from the Malampaya gas field off Palawan. According to him, crude oil produced from Malampaya is enough to provide for more than 40 percent of the country's oil requirement; thus, if the government would just use the Malampaya crude, there would be no need for the oil price increases.

Wait a minute, kapeng mainit! Malampaya does not produce a single barrel of crude oil, only natural gas. Despite the repeated explanation of the veteran broadcast journalists who interviewed Mr. Garvida, he did not budge. He kept on insisting on his belief that the Malampaya is producing substantial amount of crude oil. He would then repeat this misinformation in all of his media interviews. This is the same thing he told the members of his jeepney organization that is why they in turn was convinced to join the strike.

He does not know what he's talking about. True that there is crude oil in Malampaya. The estimate is that there is 27 million barrels of recoverable oil in Malampaya. But having it and producing it are two different things. To recover that crude oil from what is principally a natural gas reserve is a complicated and expensive process.

Mr. Mar Garvida and other militant groups should realized that and it is only now, with crude oil prices breaching the $50 per barrel mark, that extracting crude oil from Malampaya has become viable. In an interview, Energy Secretary Vince Perez said the Philippine National Oil Co. is conducting a study on the feasibility of extracting oil from Malampaya because of the jump in world oil prices.

Perhaps this is what Garvida was referring to. His issue might have been the failure of the government to make sure that the crude oil from Malampaya could be extracted to ease the country’s dependence on imported crude. However, he should understand that even if the country were able to extract crude oil from Malampaya, it would not have any impact on the prices of petroleum products in the Philippines. Malampaya’s production, whether it is natural gas or crude oil, would still follow world prices. The majority owner of the Malampaya consortium, Shell Philippine Exploration and Chevron Texaco, would not allow anything less. In fact, prices of Malampaya crude might even be higher because of the extra expenses for its extraction.

Rising oil prices are not unique to the Philippines. They are a worldwide phenomenon. In fact, if you compare prices of petroleum products in the Philippines, they are lower or at par with the prices in other countries. The price of oil is determined by two main factors: the price of crude in the international market and the value of the peso vis-à-vis the US dollar. If crude prices are high and the value of the peso is low, then the result is high oil prices. Those are the realities that we have to accept and endure.

Misinformation or is there something, perhaps someone behind all this brainwashing? Were the transport strikers real motivation is the desire to ease the plight of jeepney drivers or to just simply cause trouble? Looking out the window of the MRT as we passed through the Shrine of Our Lady of EDSA, I wonder about the workers who failed to report for work because there's no means for them to get to their destination because the misinformed transport sector brainwashed to no end by one misinformation after another refused to ply their usual routes. What a pity! The transport strikers once again failed to realize that it isn't the oil companies and government officials targeted by the protesters who would be inconvenienced. The brunt of the strike's impact will be borne by the daily-wage earners who probably lost a chance to earn a living for a day.

As the MRT slowed down to a stop at the Ortigas station, I rose from my seat and began to walk for the exit. It’s just 7:30, what a journey! And as I descend the steps, I wondered what if the driver of the MRT announced the station differently? For instance, what if instead of telling the passengers that we are at the Ortigas station he said otherwise, like Ayala station? Would the passengers bound for Ayala get up and exit the train even if they knew that it wasn’t Ayala station? Ah, misinformation...it can really mislead us especially if we are not aware of what is happening around us and we do not learn from the lessons of the past.

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