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Just privatize PNR

 By Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star)

The current PNR general manager should probably be given a medal for his heroic efforts to make the government-owned railroad company run its trains again all the way to Bicol. He is most probably of my generation, albeit a few years younger, to feel so passionately about the Bicol Express. There is something romantic about the PNR in those days… it wasn’t the Orient Express but it served our needs.

So now we are being told that after years of neglect and abuse, PNR will once again run a Bicol Express service. According to newspaper reports, they apparently conducted the test-run the other weekend and it covered more than 400 kilometers through a newly refurbished locomotive train with several hand-me-down tourist class coaches donated by the Japanese government.

“In my assessment, the Bicol test-run we conducted was 95 percent successful and we are nearing our objective to put back in operation the commercial PNR trips to Bicol region,” said PNR general manager Junio Ragragio Jr. The Manila-Naga trip took nine hours, shorter than the usual 10-hour travel time through bus, Ragragio said. He added that all train coaches for the “Bicol Express” will be air-conditioned.

“We also have two types of sleeper coaches. One is a family suite that is good for a family or barkada of four to six persons. And we also have the executive class for passengers who would like extra privacy and the inclusion of a dining car with the ambiance of a first class restaurant,” he added.

“In the tourist class we have reclining chairs with more leg room compared to commercial buses. This includes a wide screen LCD with state-of-the-art sound system to comfortably watch movies during the long trip,” Ragrario said. We didn’t even have it this good in the good ol’ days.

They will also renovate several train stations traversing along the provinces of Laguna, Quezon, Camarines Sur and Albay. I also heard that they will try to get back the historic Paco Station and restore it to its old grandeur. They are also thinking of putting up railway connections to Batangas, Camarines Norte and Sorsogon. Definitely too good to be true!

Back to reality… the coaches are 30 years old. . . the Japanese gave us train coaches they have already junked. Maintenance costs will be high… for ‘brakepads’. (common source for PNR graft), aircon/engine repairs and extraordinary expenses for regular mishaps and accidents (diskarel) will plague this band-aid solution. . . expect the usual landslides along the old tracks resulting from typhoons and continuous rains during the rainy season.

I e-mailed Ray Altarejos, Ragragio’s high school classmate and fellow Bicolano about this development. Altarejos is a New York-based entrepreneur who is now in Brazil looking for business opportunities. Here is his comment:

“I told Jun Ragragio to focus on changing the narrow-gauge PNR tracks to wide-gauge and make it run freight trains all the way to Sorsogon. In the 1930’s, PNR (then known as the MRR or Manila Rail Road) was extended to Albay to haul abaca to Manila. Manila hemp was a major dollar earner.

“But a PNR for freight has no political constituency. Warren Buffet is now making tons of money with his big bet on Burlington Northern. With the high price of oil, Burlington Northern has stolen the business of long-distance trucks. Brazil has a great train system into the interiors hauling soybeans, corn and iron ore bound for China.

“Bicol despite the usual typhoons could have a dynamic agri sector.”

At least they are doing something to resuscitate the PNR rather than pillage what is left of PNR assets, which politicians in the past apparently did quite well. The next 12 months will show whether the P500M P-Noy gambled on these old coaches running on the old PNR tracks will be worth it. . .

Worthy of praise as these current efforts are, I think there is a better way: privatize PNR. The faster they do this, the better before more of PNR’s assets get dissipated. Somebody in a past administration even sold its air rights over the tracks!

It isn’t as if there isn’t any private sector interest. San Miguel made a proposal to buy 51 percent control of PNR and still have government as a partner in its development. At no further cost to taxpayers, San Miguel offered to develop a national railroad system starting with the Luzon line of PNR that will run slower trains on at-grade level and fast trains on top.

Ramon Ang told The STAR last year that they have commissioned a group that includes international companies with experience in bullet trains to study the possibility of building a bullet train railway that will run from the north to the south end of Luzon. San Miguel proposes to run the bullet train railway on the Laoag-Manila-Bicol route. SMC’s top executive expressed optimism about the possibilities that this venture… a high-speed train service is also expected to help boost the economy in general.

I asked Ramon how he expects to make money considering the large amount of capex he must invest on it upfront. He said he is looking at PNR not only as a train company but a general logistics company. Consumer goods marketers will find the railroad the more efficient way to do Luzon wide distribution of their products… exactly what Altarejos was suggesting. San Miguel will run telecom, water, electricity lines along the right of way. He will develop the adjacent real estate and make money on malls and other property ventures near train stations.

Ramon said he has made a pitch to Secretary Ping de Jesus who just gave him a polite “we will study” kind of reply. But from the discussions, it was clear that the bureaucrats, specially the powerful usec that Ping depends on, do not want anything that does not require ODA financing. They also want to keep government control over PNR even if the past decades have shown government is totally incapable of running it, except to run it to the ground.

It is stupid to ignore a proposal like this. What is there is lose with taking Ramon Ang on his word? PNR isn’t exactly the epitome of operational efficiency and profitability. If Ramon Ang fails, the attempt would still have generated economic activity and the failure will cost PNR and the taxpayers nothing. But if the venture succeeds, the government and the people benefit tremendously.

ODA will only get us so far in rehabilitating PNR. In fact, ODA has failed to do anything for PNR for years now. If San Miguel is willing to stake its money and its reputation on reviving a dead duck like PNR, they should be given the chance to do so. We need bold measures like what San Miguel has proposed.

San Miguel would not give me a copy of their proposal out of respect for Secretary Ping who promised to study it. But such proposals should be made public if only to put pressure on unimaginative bureaucrats that they have to think boldly to move this country onward. Or could it be that the bureaucrats are afraid of losing lucrative rackets imbedded in ODA-financed projects? Secretary Ping should not forget how to think like a private sector manager. Right now, he is allowing his usec to repeat proven failures… the old bureaucratic way.

We are spending money on international road shows supposedly to entice foreign investors to invest on our PPP initiatives. But here, we have a local investor ready and willing to invest big bucks on a major infrastructure program and all our government could tell them is that they “will study it”. This is absolutely ridiculous. The earlier P-Noy cracks the whip to get his people moving and thinking boldly, the better for his credibility rating and for our country’s future.

Filed under: Government, Information, Innovation, Invest in Sorsogon, Sorsogon News Updates, Technology, , , ,

Sorsogon nat’l high school offers open secondary school program this year

by Irma a. Guhit/PIA Sorsogon

SORSOGON CITY , May 30 (PIA) — Sorsogon National High School is offering the Open High School Program (OHSP) that will allow students who graduated from the elementary and who were not given the chance to proceed and finish secondary education due to some reasons or circumstances

“The new learning program is very different from the Alternative Learning System (ALS) since this will be more of a structured learning program and students will be in a modular system, home-based but is also more patterned on the basic education scheme or principles “, Dr. Blanca Rempillo, principal of the SNHS explained during the interview in the radio program, Sararo Sarabay this morning.

SNHS is inviting students who graduated from the elementary and who would like to finish their secondary level education but can not go to a regular class yet still wish to graduate by just reporting once a week and can study by bringing home structured modules that will provide them a comparative education same as that of a regular class but will be more flexible and home-based.

According to Joan Lagata, OHSP program coordinator, announced that those who would like to enroll will undergo examination and pass the test that will show that they are independent learners and are independent readers and has the capacity to study on their own.

Lagata said that in the OHSP, the student who passes the examination will be enrolled in a modular class equivalent to the regular 8 subjects offered in the basic education scheme. The student will bring home these modules, study and answer the questions and will report once a week or may schedule a meeting with teachers who are handling the subject.

A student may finish the module depending on his capacity to pass the given module. They will also be given summative test and other needed tests required as a requirement to pass aside from the 8 modules equivalent to the eight subjects offered equivalent to a year level.

According to Lagata one can finish within 6 months the first year of high school depending on the student’s capacity to pass the modules and examinations given. If the student pass the 8 modules within the six months period, the student will be promoted to the next year level just like being promoted in a regular class.

The OHSP has a maximum of six years to finish and should the student needs more time.Students who are more advanced and can really prove that they are able to do the modular system of learning may finish it on a four year schedule.

“This scheme that the SNHS is offering is really part of the academe’s thrust to provide everyone, specially those who needs a high school diploma to pursue college education and will be provided the chance to finish their secondary level education and go to a university and have a degree”, according to Lagata.

“What is very important here is the attitude of the student enrolling to really be an independent learner. The OHSP will ensure less expense on students specially if they are having families and if they really can not attend a regular class because of other constraints, usually because of age too or other circumstance. This program of the SNHS willl give them the chance to finish their secondary education aside from the ALS “, according to Rempillo.(MAL/IAG, PIA Sorsogon)

Filed under: Education, Sorsogon News Updates, , , , , , , , , , ,

Mount Bulusan spews ash anew

By Danica Marie Hermogenes, Mar S. Arguelles
Source: INQUIRER.net, Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – (UPDATE) Mount Bulusan in Sorsogon spewed ash accompanied by rumbling sounds heard up to five kilometers away at 12:25 a.m. Friday, a state volcanologist said.

The height of the ash colum could not be observed, however, due to a thick cloud cover, said Crispulo Diolata, resident volcanologist of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) in Sorsogon.

He described the event “as an explosion” that lasted for around 10 minutes.

He said the explosion indicated that steam pressure was building up at the volcano’s vent. Seismic instruments detected at least 10 volcanic quakes, six of them short-duration harmonic tremors, during the past 24-hour observation period, he added.

Initial field investigation showed that ash deposits up to 2.5 millimeters deep blanketed a dozen villages in the municipalities of Juban and Irosin on the northwest and southwest flanks of the volcano.

Eight villages in Juban were affected, namely, Calaadgaw, Rangas, Puting-Sapa, Sangkayon, Bacolod, Buranburan, Gurayan and Aniog. The affected villages in Irosin were Cogon, Bolos, Umagom and Gulang-gulang.

Alert Level 1 remained hoisted over Bulusan, according to Phivolcs.

Residents have been warned not to enter the four-kilometer Permanent Danger Zone around the volcano.

Bulusan is among 23 active volcanoes in the Philippines, which is located in the so-called Ring of Fire of volcanic activity around the Pacific.
Bulusan last erupted between March and June of 2006.

Filed under: Sorsogon News Updates, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Organ Donor Card ipamamahagi sa May 6

Ni: Bennie A. Recebido

Sorsogon City, May 10 (PIA) – Nakatakdang mamahagi ng Organ Donor Card ang National Kidney and Transplant Institute – Human Organ Preservation Effort (NKTI – HOPE) dito sa Sorsogon sa May 6, 2011.

Sa impormasyon na ipinaabot sa PIA Sorsogon ng NKTI, itataon ang pamamahagi sa isasagawang Advocacy on Organ Donation Program kung saan ilang mga kinatawan ng NKTI ang darating dito.

Ipamamahagi ang organ donor card upang makahikayat ng mga Sorsoganon na nagnanais na makatulong na mapahaba pa ang buhay ng ibang tao sa pamamagitan ng kusang pagbibigay ng bahagi ng kanyang katawan.

Ang organ donor card ay kulay yellow na may blue border line at may nakasaad na “I would like to help someone to live after my death”.

Makikita sa likuran nito ang ilang bahagi ng katawan ng tao na maaaring mai-donate tulad ng kidney, mata, puso at baga, atay, pancreas at iba pang mahahalagang bahaging maaaring kailanganin para sa transplantation, pananaliksik at mga pag-aaral.

Maaari anilang maging donor ang kahit na sinong may edad 18 pataas. Maging ang mga menor de edad ay maaari ding maging donor, kakailanganin lamang nito a ng pahintulot ng magulang o guardian nito. (PIA Sorsogon)

Filed under: Sorsogon News Updates, , , ,

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