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The hanging gardens of EDSA

That headline is from Charie Villa. I took it from her Facebook post in her Tao Po page. It is about the laudable attempt of MMDA to blunt the sharp edge of our concrete jungle by introducing some greenery on EDSA. If we can’t help being stuck on EDSA traffic, it would be nice to see something cool and green.

Over the past two or three weeks, those who have gone through EDSA going towards Cubao would have noticed the hanging gardens. I was inching on EDSA for over an hour Monday last week at less than a kilometer an hour so I couldn’t help but notice.

They actually started putting up the steel structures that would hold the flowering plants more than a month ago. I thought it was a good idea. Some plants with colorful flowers should be welcome to reduce the harshness of our dirty and dangerous metro jungle.

 I suggested as much in a number of columns I had written way back. It was unfortunate that even if I was then able to talk to then MMDA chief Bayani Fernando, he was just not interested. He had other priorities. His sense of aesthetics is also so different from mine. He likes pink and baby blue, colors that may be perfect for nurseries, unsightly on our roads and highways.

I remember suggesting that MMDA use clinging ivy plants on our underpasses and flyovers the way they do in Singapore and Malaysia. That will cover all the soot and grime that are the hallmark of our buildings and road infrastructure. It also prevents graffiti artists from defacing the walls and would not entail the effort and the expense of clean up and maintenance.

Now it is happening. The MMDA has started placing Wedelia plants along the walls of EDSA underpasses... a hanging garden. I can’t wait to see the flowers in full bloom hopefully by summer. I hope those plants can survive EDSA’s highly polluted air. I noticed the other day that past attempts to cover those massive MRT posts with clinging ivy failed because the plants just couldn’t survive EDSA’s polluted air.

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Wedelia is a flowering plant that belongs to the sunflower family. The MMDA thinks the Wedelia is a survivor probably because it is also considered a sturdy weed. It was chosen precisely because it is widely available in the country, easy to maintain.

I googled it and came across a blog that called Wedelia a miracle plant. “No matter where I put this fast-spreading groundcover — sun or shade — it took hold, bloomed and was beautiful. The glossy green leaves and equally shiny yellow daisy flowers always looked like they’d been freshly oiled.”

Charie suggested that MMDA use some plants certified by NASA to purify the air around them. The peace lily, for instance, can neutralize benzene, formaldehyde, xylene and toluene, trichloroethylene and ammonia. The same is true for the Pot Mum or the Florist’s Chrysanthemum.

In her Twitter exchange with MMDA, Charie was told that foreign plants were also considered, but MMDA botanists are not sure if they will survive EDSA’s pollution and could be expensive to acquire. But they are screening more locally available plants and will improve their hanging gardens as they find new plants deemed able to survive EDSA.

Whatever happens, I think MMDA is on to something good. They should however make the gap between the hanging gardens smaller. The more wall the plants cover, the better it is for our eyes and our lungs.

I just hope this project has staying power. Until then, I am withholding my congratulations to the MMDA. I see those withered clinging ivy on the MRT structure and I worry this new project may just be a typical bureaucratic ningas cogon. Let us see MMDA sustain this.

Smuggling

Apparently, government’s losses due to oil smuggling are getting bigger and bigger. The Petroleum Institute of the Philippines (PIP) has estimated the amount could even go beyond the P20-30 billion previously thought.

Pilipinas Shell Petroleum vice president for communications Roberto S. Kanapi explained to Rappler how PIP computed this estimated loss due to smuggling. “If you take away the 12 percent value added tax (VAT) on gasoline that amounts to around P6/l in foregone revenues to the government,” he explained. He claims 1/3 of all diesel products are smuggled.

To address the problem, the industry requested the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to collect in advance VAT on imports from economic zones, particularly Subic and Cagayan de Oro. But the BIR had to suspend action pending a final decision on a court case lodged against the advanced collection of VAT on fuel imports in free trade and economic zones, the Rappler report explains.

Sen. Ed Angara is also not buying what he calls “excuses” of Customs chief Ruffy Biazon for this utter failure to stop smuggling. Specifically, Angara wants to know what happened to the loss of 2,000 containers (some insist its 5,000) of highly dutiable products while in transit from the Port of Manila to the Port of Batangas.

Angara noted that this incident happened during P-Noy’s first year in office and remains a mystery. Nothing more has been reported to the public after the incident triggered the resignation of then-Customs commissioner Lito Alvarez and the entry of now commissioner Ruffy Biazon and the relief of Batangas Port collector Johnny Tan.

Sen. Angara asked: What were in those containers? Where, oh where, did the contents end up? Who actually masterminded such a heist? How much was actually lost as a result?

Angara continues: Whatever happened to the importers, brokers, Customs officials, guards and others who facilitated this unbelievable loss? Whatever happened to the pledge that from then on the systems and procedures for release, dispatch and transport of goods from the ports would be improved?

Angara then raised questions about the attempted rice smuggling at Subic. Angara wonders if “this is really a botched smuggling try using the NFA and Subic as ‘covers’ for the misdeed? Who are the masterminds of this operation? Who are their godfathers or godmothers, if any? Again, we are yet to hear from commissioner Biazon or his deputies on this.”

There are other things Angara brought up: the Shell case, importations of high end cars, oil smuggling, pork and chicken smuggling and “the much-hyped delisting of the ‘ghost’ and non-performing importers from the original list of 13,000 that for one brief moment brought life to the promised reform plan of the administration? The last we heard, the one in charge of the list has allegedly used the same to extract concessions instead of actually delisting the undesirables.”

Angara complained that “these unsolved cases, the ‘business-as-usual’ culture at the BOC and the continued inability of the agency to meet its revenue targets (has it been 19 months and counting?) only reinforced the view that, indeed, smuggling is on the rise and the administration is actually abetting it either through sheer neglect and incompetence or perfumed acquiescence. Or both.”

Finally, Angara thanks “Biazon’s reply to Tiglao’s assertions was lame and unavailing. In fact, he may have unwittingly admitted the points raised by Tiglao showing that smuggling continues and is actually growing and that the BOC is “doing something about it.”

One economist expressed the view that “This was supposed to be the ‘low hanging fruit’. Oil and car smuggling are examples of where the discrepancy between imports and registration were/are ridiculously high.”

The administration early on took the position there is no need for new tax legislation, just enforcement. Now Biazon wants to amend the Customs Code because he says, it is outmoded.

Pink slip

This classic from Robin Tong shows why sentence construction is so important.

The boss had to fire somebody, and he narrowed it down to one of two people: Was it to be Jenny or Jack?

It was an impossible decision, because they were both decent workers. Rather than flip a coin, he decided he would fire the first one who used the water cooler the next morning.

Jenny came in the next morning with a horrible hangover after partying all night. She went to the cooler to take an aspirin. 

The boss approached her and said: “Jenny, I’ve never done this before, but I either have to lay you or Jack off.”

“Could you jack off?” she said. “I feel like shit this morning”

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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