There are two letters to the editor reacting to items in this column that I feel I must answer immediately. The more recent letter is from the president of the National Press Club who didn’t like one line in this column. He asked that he be given “equal space” but although he was disputing only one line (“The NPC is no longer the respectable club that it used to be”), he wrote a very long letter in which he went on and on about what he is doing for the club. He mentioned a couple of oldtimers who attended an NPC affair but did not mention the very many others who are disgusted with the present NPC and are loath to go there.
The NPC used to be an exclusive club for legitimate journalists. It was a relaxing place to unwind after deadline, after a long day of chasing stories. Government officials and businessmen felt honored to be invited there. Not anymore.
Why? Because the leadership and membership of the present NPC are polluted with fake journalists, pretenders, and hangers-on whom we derisively call “hao shiao” (fake). Many of them come from fly-by-night scandal sheets that are licentious, obscene, and inaccurate.
The letter tried to prove, in a long-winded way, that the NPC is still respectable. But how can it be respectable when its most prized possession, a huge mural by National Artist Vicente Manansala, was surreptitiously removed from the dining room and sold by the officers for P10 million to a person whose identity they refuse to divulge until now? The money was deposited not in the account of the NPC but in the account of a private individual whom they also refuse to identify.
The only way for the NPC to regain its respectability is to return that mural and cleanse its ranks. Its president called me up the other day to say that he wanted to kick out some members. Well, what is he waiting for? Go ahead and do it.
But how can the present NPC leaders kick out the hao shiao when many of them are hao shiao themselves?
Many of them want to be identified with the NPC to gain respectability, thinking that when they become officers and members of the NPC, they immediately become respectable. But instead of the NPC pulling them up to respectability, they have pulled down the club to disrepute. That is why the legitimate journalists have shunned it and refuse to go there.
The present NPC can be compared to the present Pasig River that runs beside it. Fish will not return to it unless it is cleansed of pollutants. The same goes for the NPC.
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The other letter is from Joel Rocamora, chief of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC). He denied what I wrote he said at the regular Kapihan sa Annabel’s. He said my “power of recollection” is inaccurate.
On the contrary, the quotes were pretty accurate. They were direct quotes. The forum was recorded on tape and the many journalists there can attest to the questions and answers.
This is what appeared in the column:
“After going on and on about NAPC: that it cannot implement its plans because of lack of funds in spite of the fact that the whole administration has an abundance of it (‘money is not a problem with the whole government,’ he said), he was asked:
“In short, what you are saying is that the NAPC has not, until now, done anything to alleviate poverty, is that correct?”
“The official (I shall not name him lest he be punished for telling the truth) replied ‘Yes.’”
The only thing I did not put there was that he hesitated very briefly before answering “Yes.”
I understand why Mr. Rocamora has to issue a denial. I did not name him precisely because I did not want him to get into trouble with his bosses, but he identified himself as the “top unimpeachable NAPC official” mentioned in the column. Probably because he figured his bosses would be able to figure out it was him, anyway.
But I think he was justified in saying that because while other government agencies like the Senate, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System have so much money that their heads are generously giving it away as bonuses, the NAPC has a very small budget. So how can the NAPC alleviate poverty when it itself is poverty-stricken?
Mr. Rocamora also said that the coconut farmers are the poorest of the farmers in spite of the fact that they own P100 billion in coconut levy funds.
“What is the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) doing?” I asked.
He said the PCA chief had told him that he could not change the thinking of PCA officials and employees.
The coconut industry can be the richest agricultural sector if only the PCA will “change” its thinking. The price of copra now is at its lowest—P8 a kilo—but the price of fossil fuels is rising and biofuel is the fuel of the future. Coconut is a rich source of cocodiesel, but the PCA, after putting up a cocodiesel station at its office in Quezon City, did nothing more when the publicity died down.
Then there is the coconut water that is now the rage as a health drink and costs more than cheap grape wine in other countries. This water is merely thrown away when a coconut is cracked open. Can’t this water be saved, processed, put in bottles and exported? The same water can also be made into wine and vinegar. There is now a shortage of charcoal because of all the barbecue, lechon manok, and ihaw-ihaw sidewalk stands.
But there is plenty of potential charcoal in the coconut shell, coir, and palms. A machine has been developed to convert agricultural wastes into charcoal bricks. Can’t the PCA bring this technology to the coconut farms and teach the farmers how to make charcoal bricks, coconut wine and vinegar?