POSTSCRIPT / July 4, 1999 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Will Imelda please tell us how much taxes she’s paid?

OKAY, the Imeldific revelry is over, or almost.

Will the nation’s Ulirang Ina Imelda R. Marcos now please tell the nation if she is poor, as she once claimed in tears, or actually one of the world’s richest women with $800 million in gold stashed away as she had also claimed some time back.

While on the subject, will Imelda please also tell us toiling wage earners how much in income taxes she had paid each year since she became first lady?

But the basic question still is: With their declared joint income as President (Ferdinand) and partner (Imelda) and other legitimate assets, how did they amass that mind-boggling pile of gold and those bulging secret accounts?

Finally, and this is for the government to answer, how come the Marcoses have been allowed to keep that part of their wealth that is manifestly out of proportion to their legitimate income and which the law (Rep. Act 1379) therefore presumes to be ill-gotten?

That law, we will never tire repeating, says: “(W)henever any public officer or employee has acquired during his incumbency an amount of property which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer or employee and to his other lawful income from legitimately acquired property, such property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired.”

* * *

WE referred earlier to the income taxes paid by the Marcos couple. Internal revenue records show that their combined income from 1949 to 1984 amounted to only P16.4 million.

With this combined legitimate income as puhunan, how could the Marcos couple have amassed corporate assets worth some P500 billion? This is the value of the blue chips that, Mrs. Marcos claims, unfaithful cronies are merely holding for the Marcoses.

These stock holdings are apart from the $580 million in Marcos assets held in an escrow (pronounced “screw”) account at the Philippine National Bank.

Rep. Act 1379 is clear that that portion of the Marcos wealth that is manifestly out of proportion to their legitimate income is presumed to have been illegally acquired.

* * *

MR. Estrada’s solemn oath is to enforce the law, but is he ready and willing to go after his friend and ally Imelda? He needs a lot of money to pursue his projects for the poor and there’s money waiting to be collected.

The Supreme Court has ruled with finality that the Marcos estate must pay its accumulated P23.5-billion tax obligation to the government. What is Mr. Estrada waiting for? We thought he needed the money.

Then there is the P8 billion that the government should collect from First Pacific as the last installment for their purchase of prime property Fort Bonifacio in what was billed as the real estate deal of the century.

First Pacific has a good reason for not paying the balance: The government is unable to deliver the remaining corner of the Fort because the squatters there have refused to leave.

* * *

IF criminal minds are not running this government, what Malacañang should have done is to spend money to pay off and relocate the squatters and thus be able to collect the P8-billion balance.

The government could spend even P1 billion, which is too much, to relocate the squatters and still have P7 billion left.

Instead, the story going the rounds is that some fast operators in the Palace have worked out a deal for the government to forego the collection of the P8 billion and just keep the area with squatters.

Doesn’t Mr. Estrada need the money? We mean the money due the government.

* * *

BUT people are not puzzled by this strange behavior of our officials. People actually know what’s going on, except that they seem to be helpless.

Aside from reorienting our officials, maybe we should also reinvent the government? Listen to these observations of Postscript reader Rico Xeres of Greenhills, San Juan:

“Our Department of Public Highways has 46,000 employees, including 30,000 engineers though most projects are undertaken by private contractors. What is ironic is that we have such a huge DPWH, but have no highways. What we have crisscrossing the country are two-lane roads that are not highways in the modern sense of the word.

“Modern highways are at least 8 to 12 lanes or even more. Our only highways are the North and the South expressways that only stretch to Laguna in the south and Pampanga in the north. During rush hours, these so-called expressways turn into giant parking lots and it sometimes takes three hours to get from Makati to Alabang, a distance of 15 kilometers.

“In contrast in South Korea, their counterpart of our DPWH has only 5,000 employees, but has 20 times the budget of our DPWH.”

* * *

READER Xeres continues “We pay all sorts of taxes, income tax, VAT, fuel tax, registration taxes, etc., but many of our people have to get up at 4 a.m. just to get to the office at 8 a.m. because of heavy traffic due to the fact that we have no new roads. During the last 30 years, the only new road in Metro Manila is theC-5 that is not yet finished.

“Where are all our taxes going, why do we keep paying taxes and getting nothing in return?

“New roads as well as the Light Rail Transit (LRT) have to be on Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis, because the government claims it has no money. Then what are our taxes for? Are these taxes solely for junkets and subsidizing mistresses of our government officials?

“Perhaps it would be better if we abolished and privatized the DPWH. We could assign its task to companies like Bechtel, one of the world’s biggest engineering firms. Perhaps for the same amount of money we spend for the DPWH, we could get five to 10 times more roads and other infrastructures. Only then will our taxes be well spent.”

* * *

ON another point, Xeres notes: “Some 80 to 90 percent of our officials are lawyers and have no idea on how we can create a progressive country. They are forever engaged in debates and arguments about the legality of this and the illegality of that, the constitutionality of this or that.

“Our Congress investigates everything under the sun, including Brunei beauties. However, during the last few weeks several multinational companies have closed their factories, throwing thousands of workers out of work and yet not a peep could be heard from both houses of the legislature. Nobody is investigating why these companies are closing.

“Our officials cannot understand that one way a country can progress is to keep on attracting investors who can provide jobs. A country whose main occupation is to export its people, we are the equivalent of ancient slave traders and many of our people will remain the new coolies of Asia in the 21st Century.”

* * *

BUT not all lawyers are in the same mold, especially some outside the government. We have as example our own Jose C. Sison, whose STAR column A Law Each Day (Keeps Trouble Away) and his “Ipaglaban Mo” TV program on legal questions have become as some sort of legal Bible for many.

Another private lawyer, broadcast journalist Mel Mauricio of Double B Batas ng Bayan fields questions of DZBB (594 Khz) listeners who cannot afford the services of a lawyer and turn to his radio program for free legal advice.

From Monday through Friday, Mauricio goes on the air at 4:45 a.m. to catch listeners before they start their day’s grind and answer live their diverse questions on legal matters. On Saturdays, he is on the air at 7:30 a.m. A seasoned newspaperman, Mauricio translates the law into clear, simple language.

No wonder, the yard of his house at 44 Maginhawa St. at the UP Village in Diliman is packed on Friday and Saturday afternoons with plain folk who want to consult him in person. Now on its fourth year, his radio program is a joint project of DZBB and the Buklod ng mga Abogadong Tagapagtaguyod ng Adhikaing Sambayanan (BATAS).

* * *

ONE thing a president should learn to do is to listen. It’s easy. He does not need a college degree, a gargantuan budget or an army of advisers to do it. All that a well-meaning leader needs to do is pause, pay attention and ponder.

A high office is a trap to those who don’t know how to handle power and adulation. The smart official is one who can screen out the noise bombarding him every minute from all directions and be alone, like on a quiet Sunday, with his own introspection.

But this assumes two things: That the official is intellectually and morally equipped to function on his own, and that there is a mechanism for feedback.

At the crossroads, when in doubt, a safe rule for a President is to go and ask the people. Not his people, but the people. After all, the job description of the presidency is that of an office created to serve the people.

In this regard, the press performs that vital function as the medium between government and people. As such, the press should be regarded by the President as an ally, not an adversary. This, even when the press takes an adversarial position.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 4, 1999)

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