FILIPINOS burn about 7 billion liters of diesel fuel oil a year, mainly in motor vehicles and power plants, all of it imported. In the age of $100 Oil, finding alternatives is urgent. But after triumphantly enacting the Biofuels Law last year along with Miriam Defensor Santiago, (who seems to be having second thoughts) Sen. Miguel Zubiri has been besieged by questions about the viability of his proposal to go into large scale cultivation of jatropha. For one thing, would not precious agricultural resources now devoted to growing food crops for human beings be diverted to what would essentially be food production for the motor vehicle population? MIGZ counters that he does not plan to use valuable agricultural lands now used for rice, corn and other staple grains and vegetables. Rather he claims, there are ONE MILLION hectares of fallow or waste land not suitable for food crop cultivation available for his jatropha plantations.
HMM...How big an area of land is a million hectares anyway? Since a square kilometer equals 100 hectares (or hectometer) Zubiri's million hectares works out neatly to 10,000 square kilometers. Wow! That's a lotta jatropha! And it's not supposed to interfere with food crop production, sez Migz.
The GEOGRAPHY of the Philippines is well known and we find that:
Total Area: 300,000 km² = 30 million hectares
Land: 298,170 km² = 29.8 million hectares
Water: 1,830 km² = 1.83 million hectares
Arable land: 19% or 6 million hectares
Permanent crops: 12% or 3.6 million hectares
Permanent pastures: 4%
Forests and woodland: 46%
Other: 19% (1993 est.)
We see that the total arable land area of the Philippines is about 60,000 square kilometers (19% of 298,000 sq km) or 6 million hectares of which 3.6 million hectares are planted to permanent crops like rice, vegetables and corn, leaving 24,000 sq km or 2.4 million hectares. These figures were as of 1993, so I am sure that a lot more of the unused 2.4 million hectares has already been converted to crop cultivation under strong population pressures, perhaps along with a good bit of that forest and woodland, with any luck, though gravity and biology might not allow it.
Maybe Migz Zubiri got his Big Idea from India because jatropha is BIG in India, and it looks like they may have a serious shot at actually making it work there, though that remains to be seen. However, consider the following points made in a comparison between India and China by Bhanoji Rao riting for the Hindu Business Line:
China has 933 million hectares of total land, a little over three times of the Indian land area of 297 million ha. Yet, the Chinese are constrained by an arable land area of 124 million ha, which is three quarters of the Indian endowment of 162 million ha. Put differently, China's arable land is just about 13 per cent of its total land, in contrast to the much better 54 per cent in the case of India.India has 162 million hectares of arable land, of which they are committing some 14 million hectares to jatropha production.
THE GLORIETTA BLAST I really can't blame Ayala for turning the Malaysian forensic expert AINI LING loose, (followed by Australian terrorism expert Kit Collier.) The Glorietta Blast could rock the Ayala empire with serious civil and criminal litigations for years if negligence is found and prosecuted. That's not to say she would lie, but I think it's deceptive to bill her as a pure "scientific expert" since the work that she does for her company, Forensic Services (M) Bhd. of Malaysia is mainly handling the legal and insurance problems of their clients that arise from major fires and explosions in the oil and gas industry. Aini Ling is more like a high powered lawyer with a Ph.D in chemistry.
She is retained to make any prosecution difficult or easy depending on the client. Nothing unethical about that. But when she talks to Ricky Carandang on camera and says, with a grave demeanor and meaningful tone that, "I am certain that in this particular explosion, the ignition of explosive was involved..." Huh? So, we suddenly get it in the Prime Time News that an explosions expert doubts the official investigation and that the Glorietta Blast was caused by a bomb with a high explosive like RDX.
Likewise, when Kit Collier, a researcher mainly into the communist insurgency in the Philippines from the Australian National University, parachutes into town and lands in front of Twink Macaraeg to opine that Glorietta might've been a terrorist attack, we suddenly get headlines screaming that TWO scientific experts, one forensic, one anti-terrorist, doubt the finding that Glorietta was a methane gas explosion (such as happens with greater or lesser devastation all around the world every year under quite similar physical circumstances).
I must admit, I was livid for months over the 2004 Super Ferry 14 Bombing which President Arroyo dismissed as the work of pranksters. No question that this administration's record against terrorism has been spotty and inconsistent.
But there are significant differences between Super Ferry 14 and Glorietta that Mr. Collier might not have noticed on the way down as his parachute opened. First of all, there was never a credible claim by any terrorist organization for the blast, although a great deal of mystery still enwraps that cell phone call from a Fake Sheik of the Rajah Sulaiman Movement about 48 hours after the blast. But Mr. Collier himself was never involved in the investigation and has never been to Glorietta, as far as I know. Yet he magically pops out of thin air and suddenly his opinion is called "expert" and gets aired on tv and headlined by the newspapers.
For whatever it's worth, I am personally convinced that this was not a terrorist bombing and a methane gas explanation fits the known facts best. The EXPERTS from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Australian National Police, the PNP Crime Lab and National Bureau of Investigation seem to agree on this. That's good enough for me, even if it ain't for Aini Ling and Kit Collier.
By the way, the traces of RDX originally reported by the head of the PNP Crime Lab, a certain Col. Ramos, a day or so after the blast, was revealed today by General Ticman, talking to Pinky Webb on ANC, to have have been collected not in the basement where the blast originated, but in a plastic bag on the floor of the outside delivery bay of the Glorietta Mall! No further RDX samples have been found except for those that Aini Ling claims to have collected in the early morning of November 2, two weeks after the blast!
Now if they could only show me a crater...