MANILA, APRIL 4, 2007 (STAR) HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes - "Hallucenario" is a recently coined word used to describe a yarn meant to pressure the High Court to act on a temporary restraining order (TRO) and to make a senator dance for joy when the TRO is finally issued. Here is how the word was coined.

A number of readers expressed disbelief regarding observations made by our media colleagues which were mentioned in our column concerning "Passport woes" (March 28). The piece loudly expressed wonder why Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo appears to have opted for a machine-readable project mode which involved spending P2 billion in taxpayer money instead of just allowing a private-sector funded project which was already ongoing.

It was also pointed out that in going for the taxpayer-funded mode, Romulo may have in effect delayed the countryís compliance with the 2010 deadline set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). This fact appears to have been blurred by the news reports on the Supreme Courtís TRO against a lower courtís preliminary injunction against Romuloís taxpayer-funded project. The obfuscation, of course, was aggravated by the Senator Mar Roxas jig after the SC TRO was slapped.

Our media colleagues appear divided on the issue of Romuloís role in the delay of the machine-readable passport project. While one group says Romulo knew entirely the consequences of junking the private sector-funded project in midstream, another group says Romulo is probably just under a lot of internal pressure to do so. And against better judgment, he may have just opted to succumb to the pressure.

More tend to subscribe to the latter view. Romulo, our colleagues say, would not have junked the private sector-funded project on his own. Perhaps he has become too much of a diplomat and merely opted to avoid a frontal collision with the forces that pressured him on the project and which now holds that private sector-funded initiative hostage.

The most glaring evidence that Romulo could have merely been under pressure is the Department of Foreign Affairs memorandum terminating the private sector-funded project. Our colleagues pointed out that Romulo may have refused to sign the termination letter since he was aware of the BOT Center warning that to junk it on midstream will invite legal action and delay the project.

Is it possible that the diplomatic compromise arrived at was for Undersecretary Franklin Ebdalin to sign the termination memorandum? Our colleagues say if Romulo had personally wanted to junk it, he would have signed the memo himself. As it turned out, Ebdalin signed the memo "Upon Instruction of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs".

Our colleagues also pointed out that Romulo has not himself issued the warning on passport shortage. If it is true that there is a looming passport shortage, then the highest-ranking diplomat of the land would have aired the warning himself.

That task, however, appears to have fallen on the lap of one Assistant Secretary Domingo Lucenario. It was the Lucenario warning which caused the Mar Roxas jig and which may have been the strongest argument in favor of the Supreme Court TRO.

A senior media colleague from another paper revealed that some quarters are looking into reports that Lucenario was the main figure in the importation of $2 million worth of passport booklets that are now rotting in the DFA warehouse. This is because the paper used was not compatible with the ink of the passport machines specified by the ICAO.

The media hounds in our coffee shop circle are now trying to find the thread that weaves together the Ebdalin memorandum junking the private sector-funded passport project, the Lucenario warning on passport shortage, and the $2 million worth of incompatible and useless passport booklets rotting at the DFA.

Their hope is that by finding the thread that binds, they will be able to decipher the apparent pressure on Romulo to spend P2 billion in taxpayer money for a machine-readable passport project that the private sector was already doing and funding with its own money. Our colleagues say the smell "supplier interest" behind the puzzling DFA decision. There is a bet as to who would be the first to smoke out that "supplier". Well, good luck, guys.

Frankly, this column does not care. What we are worried about isnít so much the hostaging of a project, but the hostaging of the public mind. That Lucenario "warning" about a passport shortage and the resulting Supreme Court TRO and Roxas jig just looked all too orchestrated. Pardon this columnist, but we just canít buy the line.

Our friends at the DFA say if there indeed was a looming shortage, all the DFA had to do was sign a purchase order. But making a big deal out of a "looming passport shortage" to get a TRO from the High Court and a jig from a senator is just too much.

That was why a term was coined for that yarn Ė "hallucenario". Short, perhaps, for "hallucinating a scenario"?

We would not have cared what game these people play. But maybe we have to. Thereís P2 billion in taxpayer money involved in this game.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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