It was really a massive P30.5 million hijacked from FEDEX in the Cavite robbery!

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven () - December 23, 2005 - 12:00am
The disgraceful proportions of the hijacking last Saturday night of a FEDEX truck which was seized by five or six armed men in Dasmariñas, Cavite, then emptied of its valuable cargo in Amadeo, Cavite, grow worse.

A misprint in the original "report" put the value of the MAXIM microchips seized by the hijackers at only US$65,000 or P3,471,000. That’s big enough a robbery caper, but the report was inaccurate – falling far short of the actual amount of electronic products stolen.

The shipment from Maxim Integrated Products (MAXIM) intended for customers all over the world was worth US$565,000 – or a devastating P30.5 million!

By golly, the notorious hijack "king" and super-fence, riding high and mighty not just in Cavite but in other Southern Tagalog provinces, made a financing "killing" that night – in fact, the investigators believe the gang chief and robber baron led the "raid" himself. This mastermind, instantly richer by over P30 million in just one hijacking, is well-known in Cavite and Southern Tagalog, and is obviously an untouchable.

As I wrote yesterday, he was . . . well, "arrested" several times, but got off the hook in a jiffy. His houses and safehouses were occasionally "raided" by law enforcement agencies, but even if he was found in possession of stolen electronic parts and other goods, he miraculously beat every rap. What is the secret of this robber king’s survival, indeed his waxing sassy and prosperous? What accounts for his clout among the cops, lawmen, and officials? This bandit "kingpin" has struck again – will he get away with his insolent strike once again? I’ve heard the initials J.B. again and again. Is this the fellow?

The terrible truth is that failure to nab this elusive and apparently extremely powerful Godfather of crime – and put him behind bars as he deserves – or crush his rampaging gang is ruining any prospects of investment, especially foreign investment, in our country. When a swaggering crimelord, whose "exploits" are widely known can’t be stopped and hijacking has become a growth industry in the Calabarzon – as the old economic maps used to call the Cavite, Laguna, and surrounding region – how can President GMA expect to attract investors?

Some multinationals are close to packing up to seek more hospitable countries in which to relocate. Who wants to operate in a region of bandidos and ladrones?

Cavite, for its part, may have a proud history as one of the major seats of our Philippine Revolution, why the Declaration of Independence was pronounced in Kawit, Cavite. However, Cavite has another, sadly malodorous reputation, too. In our younger days, not just blood feuds, political murders and assassinations marked the province, but other rackets, from smuggling to . . . yes, cattle rustling. We used to call the rustlers and bandits – President George "Dubya" Bush may be interested to know (for all his own current troubles) – would you believe, "Texas." We didn’t mean the "Texas Rangers," but the type of desperados of the Cavite "Texas" variety. Them varmints stole carabaos and cows, and other stuff – defying lawmen with pistols and automatic weapons. Lawmen? There were some lawmen (even PC) in their ranks as well.

It’s time GMA and the Philippine National Police (paging Gen. Art Lomibao, etc.) sent the real Rangers to corral the hijack "king" and free Cavite and the other provinces from those modern-day "Texas" bandidos, who specialize in stolen hi-tech stuff. We’re losing hundreds of millions, even billions of pesos to this racket operated by guys like "Mr. Untouchable," whom everybody seems to know, but nobody seems capable of "touching."

I repeat. It’s a disgrace – and it will lead to our disgraceful failure.
* * *
It was known to some of us two weeks ago that the President was reappointing former Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap back into her Cabinet, but Yap modestly asked us not to mention or speculate about it. (The hint, of course, was that a premature disclosure might attract the evil eye). Yap’s assignment as confirmed yesterday, is as Presidential Adviser for Job Creation with Cabinet Secretary’s rank.

It’s difficult to tart up such a post as something significant – and everyone in the know realizes that Yap’s real importance is as a troubleshooter and gofer for La Presidenta. In any event, I believe Yap will get a more meaningful Cabinet portfolio – with a ministry under him. (When it was suggested weeks ago that he be named Secretary for Agrarian Reform and run the DAR, Alikabok tells me, Yap politely demurred. Sus, if he had accepted, he would be the one trying to "land reform" former President Cory’s sprawling Hacienda Luisita).

In any event, Yap’s return to the Cabinet is to be applauded. He had the rare delicadeza to resign from his previous post in the Cabinet, that of Agriculture Secretary, after a tax evasion charge was filed against him and his family. Yap and his family, after closer inquiry, were cleared of the unjustified tax evasion accusations. Even after being exonerated and his family’s honor cleared, Arthur did not seek reinstatement in glory to the Cabinet – he had to be prevailed upon by the President. We celebrate such men, we have, alas, so few of them.

Not so pleasing to the public eye has been the sudden . . . well, dismissal of the hardworking and courageous Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Bureau of Customs, Alexander M. "Balong" Arevalo. A Philippine Military Academy graduate cum laude (PMA 1982), OIC Commissioner Arevalo was a no-nonsense, straight-talking Customs Chief during the few short months in which he ran the Bureau after the resignation of former Commissioner Bert Lina (one of the controversial "Hyatt 10").

The two-fisted Balong Arevalo, with the precision and mission-consciousness of a former military officer, ran headlong into the political brickwall, apparently, and now he’s been taken off-duty. Sayang. Arevalo had everything slowly, but surely on track – after all, his previous experience in the Palace, and the Department of Defense, was academically backstopped by a Masters degree in Public Administration from Harvard University (USA) and a Masters degree in Business Management (MBM) from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Manila.

He holds the Presidential Legion of Honor and the Military Cross and Bronze Cross Medals. But when you crack heads with the powerful upstairs and the politicos, even the most valiant of government men soon finds that . . . he’s toast. We salute Arevalo, with the commendation: You fought the good fight.

As for his sudden successor, Deputy Commissioner Napoleon L. Morales, who’s been named Acting Commissioner of Customs, of course, he’s a veteran of the bureau, with four decades of service there. Let’s see. There are a few question marks in the background, but his performance will be the yardstick of judging him in his job.

Seeing what happened to Arevalo puts in some doubt whether he’ll have the nerve or moxie to play the same kind of hardball in imposing Customs tariffs, duties, and penalties.
* * *
I’m puzzled – in truth alarmed – about all the furor over a "threatened" government takeover of the Manila Electric Company (Meralco). What takeover? And how? If you ask me, it smacks of harassment by some psy-war experts.

To begin, there’s a so-called "memo" being given publicity supposedly with the name of National Power Corp. (NAPOCOR) President Cyril del Callar as being the "source" of the "memo" and La Presidenta GMA as being the recipient. The memo published in one daily was entitled "Way Forward with Meralco" and mentioned some kind of "innovative approach" on the settlement of Meralco’s alleged outstanding accounts with the NPC, to "improve not only NPC’s and Meralco’s financial standing but also the substantial benefit to all Meralco customers."

Is there such a P42-billion "liability" as alleged by the still mysterious "memo"? In reality, it seems there is none. (Why then is such a "scare" story being circulated? Don’t tell us it’s revenge for the attacks continually being made by you-know-what television network).

My sources tell me that the dispute arising from the 10-year contract signed in late 1994 between the NPC and Meralco was already laid to rest when the parties signed a Settlement Agreement in July 2003. Subject to approval by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for its collection from customers, the net settlement amount had been trimmed from P20 billion to P14.3 billion, a gain for the consumer. The P14.3 billion is supposedly for generation cost which is pass-through for Meralco as it is just the collecting agent for these costs.

The "memo," in contrast, claims that the debt is a whopping P42 billion, and that the debt "converted into equity" would enable the government to take over control of Meralco! Sanamagan. How did this hocus-pocus come about?

Whatever the case, the business community is in a state of alarm over the alleged take-over threat. Clearly, big talk about a government seizure ("takeover" is too polite and wimpish a term) of public utilities, scares off investors. Not too long ago, the government itself pronounced the fear that there could be a power supply crisis sometime in 2009 or 2010 if no new investments in power generation come in. Well, scaring off investors by a government threat of confiscation won’t solve the power supply problem.

Perhaps the real scenario, created by a shadowy "NAPOCOR Mafia", is for the National Power Corporation not to be sold, so the NPC can continue its dominance despite the fact the NPC is hemorrhaging the government budget by scores of billions of pesos a year. But I’m not about to try to make sense of this bizarre and Byzantine situation.

The P42 billion "take-over" memo sounds like phoney-baloney. That’s what I believe.

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