Manila, March 24, 2003 -- The Tribune discovered the existence of
gas-rationing coupons already printed and ready for distribution to the
public, belying the government's claim of having sufficient fuel stocks to
tide the country over in the event of a longer crisis in the Middle East.

A sample of the gas coupons was provided by Tribune sources inside the
National Printing Office (NPO). The coupons were the products of a "secret"
printing job placed by the Department of Energy (DoE).

According to the Tribune's sources, the DoE's order for five million pieces
of "Energy Coupons" under the Energy Contingency Task Force was given to
the NPO early this month and they began the initial run last March 9.

To ensure secrecy and prevent possible leak, the sources said a 12-man
contingent from the Philippine National Police (PNP), DoE personnel and a
private security agency was hired by the department to monitor the work in
progress 24 hours a day.

The group is now based inside the NPO compound in Quezon City, guarding all
the six entry and exit points of the government's printing office and
monitoring the movement of office and plant personnel.

Two of the policemen in the daytime shift were identified as SPO1 Cortez
and Mercado, while the private security agency was identified as the
National Security Agency.

''We finished the actual printing last Saturday and the coupons are now in
the bindery section. We expect to deliver them to the DoE even before our
March 29 deadline after a final check (on the coupons) has been made by the
DoE,'' the sources, speaking in the vernacular, told the Tribune.

When asked to comment on why the printing was ordered, the sources said
their first reaction was to conclude that there is not enough supply in the
country and that rationing is imminent.

"We all thought: If there is ample (gas) supply, then why are we printing
these 'Energy Coupons,'" they added.

If the plan pushes through, it would only be the second time since the
1970s that the government is forced to resort to gas rationing.

The first instance occurred in 1974 after members of the Organization of
Petroleum-Exporting Countries (Opec) declared an oil embargo in protest of
Western support for Israel in the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Opec
embargo immediately jacked up oil prices and impacted on the whole world
with many countries forced to resort to gas rationing and other forms of

Both President Arroyo and DoE Secretary Vincent Perez have been assuring
the public that there is no cause for alarm over a possible shortage of
gasoline and other essential oil products.

Last March 17, however, Mrs. Arroyo hinted about the true state of the
country's oil supply when she declared that she is considering a temporary
suspension of the Oil Deregulation Law to allow the government to take a
firmer hand to prevent possible hoarding and prevent oil companies from
taking advantage of the unstable gas supply in the event of an American
attack on Iraq.

Before the US attack, Perez had assured that the country had a buffer for
60 to 65 days.

DoE Undersecretary Jose Victor Emmanuel de Dios officially denied to the
Tribune that gas rationing is among the options under consideration by the

"I don't know anything about fuel purchase coupons at this time but
certainly, there's no gas coupons for rationing because we have, so far, 62
days' inventory, which is the highest in ten years," De Dios said.

But Angelito Banayo, political adviser to detained president Joseph Estrada
and secretary general of the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino, doubted the
government's position.

The coupon given to the Tribune did not bear any control number, which the
sources attributed to the strict guarding being imposed by the PNP and the
DoE personnel assigned at the NPO while the work is in progress.

"The numbering of the 'Energy coupons' is being made at a separate
Heidelberg machine and the (DoE) lookouts there are very strict," the
sources said.

For the printing, according to them, the NPO's Web machine and four of its
seven Heidelberg machines are being used.

The 4 inches by seven inches gas coupon bears the DoE logo.

Below the heading "Energy Contingency Task Force" are blank spaces on the
details of the holder's vehicle that include the plate, fuel type and
classification, the place of the coupon's issuance and the issuing authority.

Right below are the date when the coupon was used, the number of liters
consumed, the station where the gas (or diesel) was procured and a blank
space for the signature of the person who most likely approved the

The coupon could be used 10 times.

A source said the government through Perez had ordered the NPO to print
five million coupons called "Fuel Purchase Record" for the plan.

He added some 500,000 copies of the coupon had been printed as of last
week. (By Paul M. Gutierrez, Tribune)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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