POSTSCRIPT / March 7, 1999 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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New taxes? Collect P23B from Marcoses instead

UNDER normal conditions, the Supreme Court’s final decision ordering the Marcos estate to pay its accumulated P23.5 billion tax debt should be welcome news for the government.

But these seem to be abnormal times. The Estrada administration is acting like another big problem has been thrown its way. Is it looking for a win-win compromise with the Marcoses again?

President Estrada announced on his inauguration in June last year that the government was bankrupt (however he understood that term then). Now that a source for P23.5 billion suddenly materialized, with a Supreme Court ruling to boot, he should be jumping with joy.

Instead, he goes into a huddle with his friends the Marcoses.

* * *

INSTEAD of making more pahirap to the mahihirap, Erap Estrada should withdraw his certification for that package of tax measures he had sent to Congress for passage.

The reason given for those new Erap taxes is that the government needs money. Why doesn’t Mr. Estrada just speed up collection of the P23.5 billion from the Marcoses and spare harassed taxpayers the burden of paying new and additional taxes?

The Marcoses amassed wealth to last them several lifetimes with practically no out-of-pocket investment. Justice says it’s time they paid back the people.

Mr. Estrada is in a unique position to make that happen. He should act quickly only with public interest in mind.

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ANOTHER thing Mr. Estrada can do is tell the boys that commissions from deals that they fix should not go beyond 10 percent. Hopefully this slash would lower the cost of government-sponsored deals and contracts, including build-operate-transfer projects.

We understand Mr. Estrada is not running for a second term nor is he interested in staying on under a new form of government, so there should be no need to put together another war chest for him.

As everybody knows, the high cost of graft, including commissions for middlemen and the rest on the gravy train, is added to the cost of the contract and is then passed on to the consuming public.

We thought the going rate for commissions is a minimum of 40 percent, but word just out from an investigative report says that it could go as high as 65 percent in some cases.

We checked with a few acquaintances who deal with government and they confirmed that it could go that high if the smaller SOPs (standard operating procedure, the term sometimes used for bribes) are added up.

* * *

WE also thought that the Department of Education is the molder of our youth, the hope of the fatherland kuno. With our youth passing through the tutelage of one of the most corrupt departments in the entire bureaucracy, what hope are we talking about?

We can probably understand (but not necessarily condone) corruption in the bureaus of internal revenue and customs, but certainly not in the education department.

If I were the education secretary, I would quit. Like Health Secretary Felipe Estrella recently did when he found himself surrounded by an entrenched syndicate.

We remember then Public Works Secretary Vicente Paterno. One of his friends said that Paterno never signed a major contract because he was fearful that the staff work was not enough to weed out crooked contracts.

So rather than sign a contract that would later turn out to be anomalous, Paterno held back even at the risk of not having a major infrastructure built during his term.

* * *

TAKE the case of the toll on the South Luzon Expressway that had just gone up more than 400 percent.

Most motorists would probably be resigned to paying toll representing actual expenses of the builder/operator plus reasonable profit. After all, the contractor advanced the money that the government did not have in the first place.

But the problem is that the expenses have been bloated, some say by as much as 40 percent, by the addition of the commissions presumably given to officials and runners having to do with the approval of the project.

The angry question is why we the end-users have to pay for the cost of graft. Why should the oppressed public subsidize the greed of people in power?

We think the correct toll rates for toll roads is whatever the operators claim it is MINUS 30-40 percent representing graft.

* * *

FRIENDS in the coffee shop point out that the South Luzon Expressway was built during the Ramos administration, Do you mean, they ask, that President Ramos “got something” from the project?

We can only say that it would be naive of us to assume that billions passed under his very nose without his being aware of it. Others who are wise to the ways of government would add that Mr. Ramos would have been “tanga” not to have earned something from that $515-million project.

In the same way, it would have been too naive of him not to have profited when he approved the sale of Petron and other government blue chips to private concerns without his benefiting from the transaction some way or another.

After all, that is what being in power means n this country. Alas.

* * *

THE Skyway above the South Expressway project appears to be in trouble. After the opening of the five-kilometer stretch from Villamor (Nichols) to Bicutan, the rest of the elevated road to Alabang has been suspended.

Delays in such projects could be costly.

The traffic volume on the Skyway, which should be a third of the 230,000 vehicles using the South Expressway daily, has not been as big as projected. The P30-P60-P90 toll, considered to be too high by most motorists, is one of the culprits.

Having been overtaken by a new administration, its main proponent Citra, the firm working with the PNCC (Philippine National Construction Corp.), now has to negotiate details with the Estrada administration.

Such negotiations could be costly.

Citra, which is 12 percent owned by another Citra firm in Indonesia controlled by the eldest daughter of fallen dictator Suharto, has to ascertain first the thinking of the Estrada administration on such matters as toll rates before it can proceed as originally planned.

Citra cannot presume that the terms approved by former President Ramos will stick under the new dispensation.

Such uncertainty could be costly.

* * *

IMAGINE this scenario: A beige colored L-300 van bumps you and, while writhing on the ground, you catch the license plate number of the speeding vehicle. It says “Mayor.”

How do you trace a vehicle with such a license plate? Who is the alleged mayor whose car just bumped you?

That is the folly of all those vanity plates that have mushroomed on the road.

By the way, that L-300 van had a small line at the bottom of the plate saying “Prov. of Sorsogon.” Assuming you can read the small type in the frenzy of the moment, the question remains as to the identity of that mayor of one of the towns in the province Sorsogon.

If a gleaming Pajero with an “Erap” plate rams your car and vanishes in the confusion, where do you start to trace the hit-and-run driver? You can’t go to Malacañang.

* * *

IF our vain officials would die without their passage being proclaimed through a license plate indicating their high position in government, there are other ways of giving rein to their ego.

We remember how top US Air Force brass on Clark Air Base used to do it.

All Clark vehicles, including those used by generals, carried regular plates. But they have a smaller plate attached to the main plate indicating their star rank. The secondary plate is displayed only when the officer is on board. Otherwise, the driver keeps it covered.

It’s the same practice with official cars of ambassadors. When the diplomat is on board, the small flag of the country he represents is unfurled up front. But when it’s only his driver going down the road, the flag is missing or is covered.

In our case, even when it’s only the driver of the official taking the maid to market, the special plate, say “Mayor,” is displayed to make their marketing more comfortable. (But don’t trifle with the maid, as most likely she is on the official’s payroll, like the family driver beside her.)

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 7, 1999)

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