LAST week’s story about a suspicious substance concealed amongst 77,000 sacks of rice in a Vietnamese-registered vessel, the MV Trai Thien 66 from Ho Chi Minh City at Bredco port is intriguing.

As my journalist friends told me: “this story has legs.” I understand this to mean that “we ain’t heard nothing yet.”

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It is a cause for concern that two publicly-funded laboratories differ substantially as to the chemical composition of the white crystalline substance that was secreted amongst the NFA rice shipment.

CSI Bacolod tells us that the substance is N-Methylephedrine whereas PDEA Manila reportedly states that it is ammonium sulfate. This disparity is disturbing. It is not at the cutting edge of analytical chemistry to be able to identify the difference between ammonium sulfate and N-Methylephedrine. Ammonium sulfate is used mainly as fertilizer and in water purification. N-Methylephidrine is an alkaloid which can be used for treating asthma and hay fever. Also, as PDEA Region 6 legal officer Ronnie Delicana correctly stated last week, it can be used to facilitate the production of methylamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu).

It should not be possible for a sophisticated or even a basic laboratory to confuse the two compounds since ammonium sulfate is soluble in water whereas N-Methylephedrine is not.

Given that the questionable substance was, apparently, secreted amongst 77,000 sacks of rice, it is difficult to understand why this should be done in the case of ammonium sulphate – a prosaic, inexpensive substance.

There are unwanted consequences if it transpires that PNP and/or PDEA laboratories are unreliable. It means that those caught in breach of RA9165 will, in future, be more likely to challenge the accuracy of the evidence presented. Hence it becomes more difficult to obtain convictions. PDEA morale cannot be particularly high when arrogant yuppies from Alabang and, more recently, Taguig manage to escape conviction in cases where evidence of guilt appears to be compelling.

Earlier in the week PDEA Region 6 Director Paul Ledesma raised the disagreeable specter of narco-politics being a feature of the coming elections. Mr. Ledesma stated that PDEA will be intensifying its monitoring on those candidates believe to be propagating narco-politics. We trust that this increased surveillance will lead to arrests and, ultimately, convictions.

More than anything else, we need to destroy the culture of impunity that prevails in the Philippines. Powerful individuals and large organizations believe that they call all the shots and that they are untouchable. We need Elliot Ness-type investigators, underpinned by an ethical judiciary, who are able to bring down the nefarious ones. Until we can facilitate this, many of our brightest students emigrate, the social divide will widen, disharmony will prevail and the downtrodden will become more resentful.

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Convergys, the American customer support service provider, announced last week that it intends to hire 6,000 more employees nationwide this year. This is good news. It is also gratifying to know that Convergys’ clients are specifying that their accounts be handled by Philippine sites. Since Bacolod is one of 12 sites operated by Convergys in the Philippines, it seems reasonable that Convergys’ expansion will include our city. The only fly in the ointment is from President Obama who stated that his top priority is to generate more jobs in the United States. This means that American firms will be discouraged, perhaps via taxation, from outsourcing work to other countries, including the Philippines.

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Irrespective of the ideology of the Nacionalista Party, it is disappointing that Senator Villar is not answering his critics on the C-5 project. It is more disappointing that his allies seem to be supporting his refusal to answer the serious allegations made against him.

Last week, Britain’s former Prime Minister, Tony Blair was grilled for six hours about his actions prior to the Iraq war of 2003. His interrogators, especially Sir Roderic Lyne and Baroness Usha Prashar, were exquisitely polite but relentlessly persistent in their enquiries. Blair answered the questions articulately and substantively. We would like to see this happen here. There are too many evasions and prevarications at our public hearings which have increasingly become a waste of time. Our governance is now horrendously dysfunctional. We do not see this changing with the new set of elected officials.

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Although the elections are only three months away, it is noticeable that candidates are pacing themselves carefully. Generally, candidates’ flaws are becoming more obvious. One exception is Gibo. We salute his courage in talking with students who are not slow to express their views. A key criterion to be faced by all candidates is whether they are able to implement the necessary reforms. More than any other candidate, Gilbert Teodoro is facing this issue.

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Disclaimer: An Independent View is genuinely independent. We are not affiliated with any candidate whether local, provincial or national.

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To paraphrase Edmund Burke.

“Evil flourishes when good men are non-confrontational.”