Monday, August 29, 2005

PPI Blues

Besieged pre-need firm blames clients

Alcuin Papa
Inquirer News Service

BESIEGED pre-need firm Pacific Plans Inc. (PPI) has fired back at its plan holders blaming them for the failure of negotiations.

In a statement to the Inquirer, PPI said the "hardline stand" taken by the plan holders who had organized themselves into the Parents Enabling Parents Coalition (PEP-Coalition) was the reason the talks bogged down.

But Philip Piccio, president of PEP Coalition, denied they took a hardline stance and insisted it was the coalition which bent over backwards to accommodate PPI and come up with an amicable settlement.

The two sides have been at loggerheads since April after PPI filed for rehabilitation in a Makati court, saying it could no longer service its traditional or open-ended plan holders.

According to new PPI president Alfredo Non, PEP Coalition wanted all assets and fixed trust funds of Lifetime Plans Inc., a company spun from PPI, reconsolidated back to PPI and that the funding of the open-ended plans "should not be restricted to its corresponding trust fund assets."

"This is contrary to all existing regulations and will be detrimental to all fixed value plan holders. [It] would have the effect of dipping into the separate funds of other plan holders," Non said.

Non also said the coalition disowned a joint statement by the two sides that was presented to media at the onset of the negotiations. He added that the plan holders refused to enter a joint manifestation with the Makati court hearing the rehabilitation case.

In response, Piccio said assets of PPI should never have been spun out to Lifetime. "They (PPI) should have never taken (PPI assets) out in the first place because it was a fraudulent scheme to escape their obligations. Even courts and the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) see it that way."

Piccio also denied PPI's claim that they disowned the joint statement and refuted Non's claim that they refused to file a joint manifestation before the Makati court informing it of the negotiations.

"That is an outright lie. The joint manifestation was never filed because they never filed it. They never wanted it filed," Piccio said.

Energy Conservation

Save on gas, electricity
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc
The Philippine Star

Don't expect crude oil prices to drop back to last year's $35 a barrel, after surging to $58 in recent weeks. OPEC is at peak production, but world demand for fuel is so steep and refining capacities are too low. Your only remedy is to change lifestyles towards conserving gasoline, diesel and LPG.

Start with changing your motoring habits. The Department of Energy suggests these:

Regularly tune up your vehicle engine. Misfiring wastes fuel. Check your tire pressure too. Soft tires put more pressure on engines and thus use up more fuel. And check your fuel tank and lines for leaks. Clean the air filter and change oil regularly.

Plan your trips. Take the shortest route and the best time, with the least traffic. Before driving off, take out unnecessary loads that only burden your vehicle.

You do not need to warm up your engine. Just start it, then drive slow until the temperature rises. The most fuel-efficient speed is between 75 and 90 kph; maintain that cruising speed on the highway. In cities, try as much as possible to maintain an even cruise. Flooring your engine and then frequently braking only wastes fuel. Avoid jackrabbit starts; you don't have to mimic that crazy jeepney driver. Accelerate steadily to the highest gear, and stay there as long as possible. Coast your vehicle to a stop when you see a yellow or red light.

Weaving in and out of lanes, erratic speeds, pumping the pedal are sure ways to increase fuel consumption. Good driving is the surest way to reduce it.

Electricity rates will surely rise because half of mainland power plants and most island barges run on bunker oil or diesel. The single biggest operating expense in factories is electricity or fuel. Operations managers should seek advice from the Energy Management Association on how to conserve these. For instance, by checking boilers for leaks and factory machines for creaks that mean it's time for some oiling. Plan also the best time to run those machines outside the peak load.

In offices, turn off unnecessary lights. Use light-colored paint on walls and ceilings to increase illumination. Design light wells to maximize entry of sunlight. Keep air conditioners clean and in good running condition. Set the thermostat at economic temperature, not too cold that you have to wear a jacket.

Meralco suggests these for homes:

Your flat iron is one of your highest electricity user. Do all ironing at one time, preferably in the morning when the air is not yet hot, so you won't need an electric fan, and there's still natural light. Dampen clothes moderately; excessively moistened fabric takes longer to iron. Switch off the iron in the last few minutes. The remaining heat will be enough to press smaller items. For uniforms, choose wash-and-wear fabric.

The refrigerator is your second biggest power user. Give it room to breathe. Set it four inches from the wall so the heated condenser coil at the back does not send heat back to the unit. Check door gaskets for leaks of cold air. Defrost regularly; avoid letting the freezer ice build up to one-fourth inch, which forces the motor to work harder. Set the thermostat at the lowest possible without spoiling the food.

For lights, use natural lighting as much as possible. Turn off unnecessary lights. Replace incandescent with fluorescent bulbs; 11 watts of the latter gives the same illumination as 40 watts of the former. Use low wattage bulbs in areas that do not need strong lighting. Clean bulbs regularly; dust and dirt lessen illumination by as much as 50 percent. Use lamps that provide direct lighting on beds, desks or work areas.

In cooking, plan ahead to avoid wasting LPG or electricity. Prepare all ingredients before turning on the stove. Thaw frozen food thoroughly before cooking. Match pots and pans with the size of stove heating elements. Avoid using big burners for small pans. Cover pots and pans to prevent heat loss. Use flat-bottom pans on electric stoves for faster heat transfer. Switch off the stove in the last few minutes of cooking. The remaining heat will simmer the food.

In machine washing, wash and dry full loads to maximize electricity use. Do not over-wash clothes or overload the dryer. Hang clothes to dry on sunny days.

Unplug television sets, stereos, electric fans and computers when not in use. Whenever possible fix the fan directly at you instead of rotating it. Encourage the family to watch TV together instead of individually in separate rooms. The bigger your TV set, the higher the wattage – 12-1nch screen means 65 watts, 20" means 110, 42" means 210 – and thus more electricity used. And that doesn't include yet your VHS-VCD-DVD player, your precious karaoke, and your kids' videogame machine.

Bernas' Column

Sounding Board : Too late the hero

Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Inquirer News Service

I HAVE not been an avid fan of the hearings on impeachment, but friends do entertain me with highlights. One such highlight is the debate among members of the pro-impeachment group on when to sign up in support of impeachment. Those in the up-front group have already signed and they are inching toward the magic 79. Another group, I understand, plans to show their hand only during the roll-call vote in plenary.

I tend to agree with those who say that, if the number 79 is not reached before the plenary vote, their cause will have been lost. The history of past impeachments shows that there is little interest in coming to the plenary session when the vote has been lost in the Committee. Absences then abound. Therefore, whatever noble reason the second group might have, they may be headed toward a case of "too late the hero."

Another update I got is that there's a claim that my column last Monday contradicted what I said when I appeared as amicus curiae during the hearing of the Davide impeachment. At that time I said, and the Court agreed, that an impeachment proceeding is deemed initiated when a complaint has been filed and transmitted to the Committee on Justice and that, therefore, another complaint after that would violate the one-year ban.

Indeed, that is what I said. But let us look at the context of that statement. There was a first complaint. This first complaint was held to be sufficient in form on Oct. 13, 2003, but it was dismissed for insufficiency of substance on Oct. 22, 2003; it was then awaiting referral to the plenary. The second complaint, however, was filed on Oct. 23, 2003, or the day after the first had been dismissed for insufficiency of substance. In other words, the first "proceeding" was already well on the way when the second complaint came. Clearly, therefore, the second complaint could not ride on the first proceeding because the first proceeding had already gone too far. Malayo na ang tren. (The train has left.) Thus, the second complaint would have required a new and second prohibited proceeding. So, indeed, the Court held.

The situation in the current controversy is different. On different days, the Lozano complaint, the "amended complaint" and the Lopez complaint were filed. The substance of all three complaints came under the umbrella of "betrayal of public trust." As I indicated last Monday, the phrase betrayal of public trust was meant by the Constitutional Commission to be a catch-all phrase that could encompass many elements. All three were referred to the Justice Committee on the same day. Since they all involved betrayal of public trust, they could be combined as one to be tackled in the same proceeding. Thus, only one proceeding was initiated when the three were referred to the Committee.

I was also told of the warm eloquence displayed in attacking my use of the phrase "bill of particulars." If I had not used that phrase but had simply said that the amended complaint was nothing more than a specification of "betrayal of public trust," would eloquence also have been vented on me? Of course, because specifics were the dreaded monster!

I grant that the phrase "bill of particulars" is normally used only in civil or administrative cases. A respondent in a civil or administrative case asks for a "bill of particulars" or specifics in order to be able to prepare a proper response to a complaint. A defendant in a criminal case, of course, would not ask for a bill of particulars. He would rather ask for dismissal on the ground of defective information. An impeachment case, however, cannot easily be categorized as civil, criminal, or administrative. It is sui generis. But what is to prevent people involved in an impeachment debate from borrowing the phrase "bill of particulars" to communicate what they mean? It means details, specifics, chapter and verse, and other synonyms which can be found in Roget's Thesaurus. But then, as I said, this is precisely what the defenders of the President dread. It is not the phrase "bill of particulars" they are objecting to but the complaint's content.

Again, I must say that this is not at all surprising. Impeachment is a political process. For that reason the responsibility for it has not been given to a court characterized by cold neutrality but to a political body. A political body can be intensely partisan. This fact explains 95 percent of what has been happening in the Committee hearings.

Along every step in an impeachment process, a president and his or her men get to work. The president's power of persuasion is not inconsiderable. The essence of the president's persuasive task is to convince the object of his or her courtship that what he or she wants is what they too should choose for their own sake. Political animals always consider what is good for their own sake. I am, therefore, not surprised that the opposition is waging an uphill battle.

The presence of an impeachment process in our and in the American Constitution is symbolic of the commitment to the rule of law. It is the consensus of most historians that the attempted impeachment of Richard Nixon was a shining moment in the nation's history. In the final analysis, the process that forced Nixon to resign from the presidency was a bi-partisan effort. (And Nixon could obtain pardon because, under the American system, pardon can be given before conviction. Not so in our system!)

Unfortunately, impeachment as a symbol of the rule of law does not always manage to reflect what it symbolizes. What is going on now in the justice committee definitely does not.

(P.S. Is the surprise declaration of a Monday holiday a ploy to prevent the collection of more signatures in a Monday session?)