WE are about to end the year and here’s a broad perspective from your letter writer from the boondocks of Mindanao. This is strictly personal and I will not begrudge anyone from flagellating me should they disagree. After all, contrary to the martyr of the western press, Maria Ressa, anywhere in the country … and I mean Philippines, you can browbeat even the President, lie about death statistics and attribute it to extra-judicial killings and you can fly to New York and get a prestigious award as among the persons of the year. Yet more than that, you can come home free as a bird because, unlike in the United States where tax evaders are jailed, fined or both, in the Philippines it will take a President to warn you to settle your tax obligations or else.
Hah, on a personal note, once in the past, because of my passionate support for Mayor Digong Duterte, his political adversary ordered the Regional BIR office to examine my tax returns. I was summoned to appear for investigation. I asked the Assistant Regional Director of the BIR to be present while the revenue examiner did his task as ordered by the politician. On record, I paid a total of PHP32,000. The good ARD then ordered the examiner to get the copy of the ITR of the owner of the biggest mall in Davao City then. It turned out I paid more taxes than the bloke. That is clear harassment. Add to that the libel cases but all those never gagged me from writing the truth.
But Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte, is not keen to give Maria Ressa a stern warning like what he did with Lucio Tan, Manny Pangilinan, and Mighty Corporation for tax evasion. But I really admire Ressa for tweaking her tax dues into a threat of her press freedom and then ran away with a coveted award.
The good thing is that MC settled its case for PHP30-billion, Tan for PHP7-billion and Pangilinan peed on his pants and hurriedly returned the Cure (telecom) frequencies for free when Duterte promised to send BIR examiners the morning after his warning if Manny continue with his demand that government should refund him PHP3-billion for the spectrums. As Finance, Sec. Sonny Dominguez would put it, “nobody messes up with his top tax collector – President Duterte”.
The other good thing is that the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion was passed. This should bring in more revenues for the government BUILD BUILD BUILD program and ease the tax burden of 85 percent of wage earners. The bad thing was that with so much extra money to spend, those who benefited from it started buying more than they did before and we have a situation where more than PHP140-billion are in circulation. I do not know the ABC of economy but my hunch is that prices of prime commodities increased for lack of supply especially rice. Sonny did his homework but Sec. Manny Pinol and the National Food Authority (or whoever was in-charged of it) cannot command typhoons to stop flooding rice fields while nobody in the NFA was minding the dwindling supplies of rice. Worse, some rice traders were hoarding rice and up to this time had eluded the law with their shenanigans. Add to that the runaway prices of gas and we are mired in a condition where the purchasing power of the poor which had increased was taken over by inflation. Aye there’s the rub.
“BUILD BUILD BUILD” has to be pursued and good that the President as well as his economic team are not badgered by threats of strikes and destabilization. In time, the market was flooded with rice while fuel and oil crashed from a high of USD86 per barrel to just a little above USD50. The bad thing is that manufacturers of canned goods were as silent as they were so demanding for price adjustment before. The same is true with electric and water utilities in Metro Manila who, at the nudge of a dollar cent, would automatically adjust water rates. And because it is December and the Christmas bells are jingling, MWSS justified the rate increase without even being asked.
The other good thing is the visit of China Pres. Xi Jinping which was highlighted with the signing of scores of Memo Agreements and commitments. President XI also brought a gift of two bridges that would cross the Pasig River. Of course the banks of China are now opened to extend dollar or Renminbi at very cheap rates. But my barber asked me an intriguing question. “The Philippine banks and other financial institutions are awash with cash, so why not borrow from local funds”. Makes sense. Come to think of it, when you borrow Philippine Peso currency this is not subject to currency adjustment. So eureka, why not indeed!
A spectacular development that shocked the halls of Congress was the sudden ouster of Speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez. The coup, as everybody believed, was engineered by Davao City Mayor Inday Sara, the President’s daughter. He was jettisoned from the totem pole of power and was replaced by former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in a fashion that boggles the mind until now. It is a bad if not ugly omen for Bebot who was lording it over in the Lower House, but a celebration of many legislators, among them his intimate friend Rep. Tonyboy Floirendo, who were deprived of their District funds and committee chairmanships during Bebot’s incumbency.
But the ugly development that is rearing its head at present is the quarrel of Congress and the Executive Department on the alleged budget insertions by the Secretary of Budget and Management Ben Diokno. House Majority Leader Rolando Andaya made some dramatics over adjustments of what to Sen. Panfilo Lacson looked like the return of PDAF. What triggered the controversy was the discovery of a lopsided allocation of funds of P5-billion + for erstwhile Speaker Alvarez, P3-billion + for then Minority Leader Rodolfo Farinas and PHP2-billion + for ex-Congressman now Cabinet Sec. Karlo Nograles. And then later, there were new allocations ‘discovered’ for various projects which mysteriously were to be awarded to an unlicensed contractor. It was getting more curious.
The House summoned Secretary Diokno to shed light but he was treated with indignity by the legislators for what I think is more of the love of television klieg lights than fixing the budget. The problem with the House of Gloria is that they were sleeping on the budget and took the easy and lazy course of reenacting the 2018 budget. Given the list of projects for 2019, there is a dire need to revalidate the 2018 budget. Andaya and Arroyo should bear in mind that not a few congressmen were deprived of budget for their respective projects when Alvarez was Speaker. The Executive Department, thru DBM and Congress, could have easily facilitated the adjustments that would make up for a rational 2019 budget but the penchant for dramatics and one-upping have to satisfy their hubris. President Duterte was prepared to call for a special session for this but it looks like Andaya and Arroyo have become so stubborn they took any suggestion from the Palace as an affront to their authority.
If that is not ugly enough, what could be uglier than the search for the 3rd Telco. From a high of about 15 local and foreign telecom operators who were interested to vie for the 3rd Telco, on bidding date only three participated. Of the three, two were outright disqualified. A case that questions the validity of the franchise of Mislatel and the sudden changes in the interpretation of the term “regional operations” in the Term of Reference on the bid is now with the Supreme Court. Being sub judice, I will not comment any further. I surely hope that the Department of Information and Communications Technology stops issuing statements like it is lawyering for Mislatel until the case is decided by the High Court. Again, back to the Lower House, the Committee on Franchises pre-empted the High Court and subsumed the House in plenary by validating Mislatel’s franchise. But then again, that is the way with the lower Chamber. Let’s wait for judgment day.
Unless anything earthshaking develops between now until New Year’s eve, I’d say 2018 has been a very good year. The Balangiga bells are back, thank you for the “unrefined” diplomacy of President Duterte; and the Miss Universe crown is back in the Philippines the fourth time! Thank you to the intelligent and beautiful Catriona Gray.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!