Monday, June 9, 2008

Our Only Hope

(Herman Tiu Laurel / Infowars / Tribune column for 6-9-2008 MON)

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," as Henry Thoreau once described. But with murderous price increases in global food and energy, human existence has become one of extreme despair and noisy despondency. The situation is worse in the Philippines. Despite being the only Asean country blessed with abundant natural and agricultural potential, it has become almost totally dependent on rice imports to fulfill its people's needs. And while it has offshore and inshore energy resources, it is ironically energy deficient up to now. Due to the long-dominant Western political and economic influence over the country, our leaders have been stripped of any political will to seize our national wealth for the nation's progress. As a result, Filipinos today live in worse fear and trembling over what the future holds.

Despite Filipino rice productivity being superior to other countries in the region, as certified by the International Rice Research Institute in its report that: "Productivity is quite high.with Filipino farmers producing 3.4 tonnes of rice per hectare as against Thai farmers, who produce only 2.4 tonnes per hectare," the Arroyo regime still insists on allocating 10 percent of our rice need to imports while another 10 percent, quietly, to smuggled rice. Meanwhile, in the energy sector, two examples highlight the Philippines' dilemma--the Philippine geothermal potential and the Malampaya oil reserves beneath the natural gas being tapped today.

The geothermal potential of the country is 5,000 MWe but only 1930 MWe are currently being realized. This potential is being set aside for the current IPPs using natural gas and other Western oil company-controlled resources and the expansion they contemplate. On Malampaya oil, "SPEX and Chevron Texaco put it at 18-32 million barrels while the DOE claims that the Malampaya crude oil reserves range from 28-40 million barrels. On the other hand, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the US Department of Energy, in its online country analysis brief on the Philippines, wrote that Malampaya crude oil could reach as high as 85 million barrels." That represents almost one full year of imports and savings of $11 billion, yet Shell demands a $12-billion payment for anyone else to tap it?!

Truly, control of the geothermal and gas-oil infrastructure--the heavy and large-scale hardware--is control of whatever potential the wealth within Philippine territory may bring. These resources are called strategic because they have long-term impacts on the country's situation--for the better, if they are for the country's benefit, or for the worse, if they are for others' profit. Marcos experienced the same from 1971 to 1979's astronomical oil price hikes and rice supply crises. So he proceeded to implement strategic infrastructure development and energy self-sufficiency with geothermal and dendrothermal, large and mini-hydros, small gasifiers (using rice and coconut husks), and the giant Bataan Nuclear Power Plant projects. He also established the national oil company and our oil transport facilities.

Unfortunately, Marcos' programs were cut short by "people power," and the successors made sure the programs for energy, fuel and food self-sufficiency were cut short as well. The old, traditional elites like the Lopezes, Aboitizes, Alacantaras et al, and the Makati business elite, controlled by the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce (JFC), started appropriating sectors of state assets for themselves. Energy self-sufficency then went kaput as irrigation projects such as Chico, Casecanan, San Roque and Laiban dams for rice got cancelled. Following years of Marcos demonization, what we're left with are infrastructure projects long forgotten, a mothballed Bataan nuclear power plant, and incessant power blackouts that will put any self-proclaimed democracy to shame.

When FVR resurrected some hydro-electric dams, these were quickly privatized, with control given to foreign companies gifted with the "take or pay" terms. Alas, we have not had energy, fuel and food security or stability since then. Strategic infrastructure and their national control is a fundamental concept the Filipino nation and intelligentsia must learn as the country's Holy Grail of hope and progress. This is how powerful countries of the world started--the U.S., with the great infrastructure in railways, oil and hydro-electric dams up to the 1930's; China, with its on-going projects including the Three Gorges Dam; and Vietnam, with its infrastructure campaign and four nuclear power plants on line.

Our national debate suffers from political demagoguery and obeisance to Western disinformation against infrastructure-oriented nation-building, suffused with anti-Marcos and anti-Estrada histrionics. The "rejectionist" Left is stuck in 1980's Luddite rhetoric, like Walden Bello's anti-Marcos and anti-Nuclear line. We debunk these obsolete ideologies and raise the anti-West campaign because it is an indispensable component of the struggle for national, sovereignty collective consciousness. The JFC intervention gave us impetus to call for unity against it and its Epira law. Now, in our focus on strategic infrastructure and leadership, we highlight the next steps to take--we must establish nationally-owned infrastructures for energy, fuel, water, food, telecommunications, as well as, science and technology.

The anti-Gloria rhetoric is fine, but we must seize the broader vision and the marching song toward historic nationalist leadership ; seize the day and launch long-term, strategic national development.
The rewards of victory in infrastructure development can be seen in a number of cases. The Chinese people, though beset by the Sichuan earthquake, do not despair because their State is empowered with hardware and people to take control of crises. Western countries, while facing similar energy price crisis, have alternatives provided by their scientific and technological infrastructure, developing fuel from wind, sun and even algae, or simply expanding their nuclear potential. On food, the U.S., which throws away 96-billion pounds of food a year--enough to feed the Philippine population for one and a half years, has has achieved this by massive farm, irrigation, harvest, and storage infrastructures. China has done the same, turning from a starvation stricken country to a rice exporting one.

The Philippines can find long-term security and hope for its people only when the necessary, massive infrastructures for its growing basic needs are established and placed under its control. For this to happen, we need a leadership that is ready to sweep aside those who would impede the way, like Shell or the JFC, the Big Business local elites, or the muddle-headed civil society (including wayward religious leaders). That leadership must consist of strong, patriotic, civilian and military leaders, and mass people's organizations, all single-mindedly dedicated to achieve national self-sufficiency and sustainability.

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