POSTSCRIPT / October 28, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who’ll give Erap money to buy back poll standing?

THIRD CALL: Why is Daniel D. Dingel afraid to submit his hydrocar to a 1,000-km supervised test run if his claim is true that he has no hidden gasoline tank and that the vehicle runs on nothing but plain water?

Never mind testing whatever comes out of his exhaust to determine what fuel he uses. Even if he had a secret fuel tank, it would dry up in 1,000 kms without refueling.

Dingel has to face this public challenge if only to be fair to the institutions and the individuals offering assistance, including vast sums, to help him develop the Dingelizer and refine it for commercial production.

* * *

ELSEWHERE, there is a sly attempt to pass on to some low-key Cabinet members the blame for the alarming drop in the popularity and satisfaction ratings of President Estrada.

To further mislead the people, it seems Mr. Estrada wants to make a big show of firing some of his less popular Cabinet members.

The parts cannot be greater than the whole. This does not apply strictly, but it can be modified to mean that some Cabinet members cannot be more responsible than the President for this leadership crisis.

Cabinet members are mere extensions of the President. Whatever is the (non)performance of his Cabinet and/or his advisers, the President should get (the blame) the credit.

A good leader does not blame his men. He takes full responsibility.

* * *

EVEN then, it makes sense to remove the NPAs (non-performing assets) and the NATO (no action, talk only), to burn the driftwood and deadwood, jettison those who just clambered up the jeepney for the funds of it, and send to the moon the countless kamaganak and kaibigan out to make quick millions.

The thing to watch in Malacañang in the next weeks is the siege behavior of some Cabinet members who will have to decide fast whether to resign or be eased out.

The jeepney, with Erap at the wheel, is obviously not running well and may just fall off the cliff. Do the captive passengers cling on or leap out?

Cabinet officials with ready-made excuses, like having heart problems, and who want to quit can resubmit their resignation and get off without much damage to their professional reputation.

Erap is not likely to be able to salvage his rating in the near future and might bring down with him his coterie. The more astute Cabinet officials, especially those who have no personal loyalty to him, may opt to cut clean this early and escape the big crash.

* * *

POLITICAL alliances also will have to be reviewed. In view of the dramatic shift in popular perception, is it politically expedient to stay with Erap and his party until the next election?

Political butterflies who are not so sure about Erap’s being able to mollify the disgruntled population and regain his popularity rating, can be expected to flit around to look for other flowers from which to sip nectar.

Whatever is left of the political opposition, it should massage itself back to life and bounce back pronto. Life is becoming curiouser after every survey.

With Pulse Asia, HB&A Research, and even the friendly Social Weather Stations unanimously reporting drastic downward trends in the popularity and satisfaction charts of Erap, there must be some truth to their reading of the public pulse.

Note that even Erap is not disputing his bad rating. He is just blaming everybody except himself, and promising to defy gravity and reverse the downtrend.

* * *

MONEY is not everything, but all of Erap’s problems actually have money tags on them.

Take each problem (jobs, prices, housing, cronyism, corruption, traffic, etc.) and quantify its peso value. Add it all up and you have the Total Problem in pesos. Produce the pesos and you have the promise of a solution or a near solution.

If Erap has the Pesos – and no sticky finger is allowed to touch them — he can then match the funds with his Management acumen, and he is even nearer the Solution.

The crucial question is: Does Erap have both Pesos and Management?

If he does not have both elements or has only one of them, his administration is doomed — and we better start scurrying around for our respective means of survival!

* * *

SINCE the government is cash-strapped, we fear that his alarming drop in the polls may force Erap to run into the waiting arms of the Marcoses and foreign businessmen who dangle promises of massive funding for the priority projects crucial to his political salvation.

The President is desperately looking for big bucks, and he might just succumb to the temptation – even to the extent of selling the big cases pending against the Marcoses and/or selling the national patrimony in exchange for major foreign investments.

This public funding requirement is aside from his own needs for huge sums for his personal and family upkeep.

In addition to offering unsolicited counsel, we think the Church and columnists should offer Masses and prayers for Erap. Lead him not to temptation….

* * *

MABUTI na lang, the Filipino has learned through harsh experience to fend for himself.

Juan Pasang Krus, the resilient common tao, has learned to work around the government, which he often sees as a hindrance instead of assistance to his making a living.

With the corruption and incompetence in the bureaucracy, the people simply plod on like ants in the underground. They just keep working, occasionally paying tong but not taxes, managing their basic business to grow big but not too big.

This is one reason why some Pinoys deliberately do not excel even if they have the capacity to do so.

Like trees struggling in the dark forest to get their fair share of sunlight, they just keep going up. But they know they should not stick out at the top or else lightning or some high wind would strike them down.

* * *

THE best government is the least government, so goes the laissez-faire line of advocates of the underground economy that accounts for at least 40 percent of the economic activity in our midst.

The small businesses in the underground have proved satisfactory to many consumers. Nobody seems to care if these backyard industries, the hole-in-the-wall shops, the sub-professional service providers, or even the black market, do not pay taxes.

Some crook will pocket the taxes anyway, goes the popular thinking. Many people pay taxes only because they cannot evade them. Taxes are deducted automatically from their wages or tacked on to the prices of the goods they buy.

Some small earners even regret having felt somewhat patriotic when they first filed their income taxes. Having filed their ITRs and with computers now able to track them down, they are caught in the tax net and must file every year and contribute to feeding the crocodiles in government.

* * *

SOME years back, a congressman filed an elaborate measure for the recognition and protection of the underground economy. He sought to make it easier for home and small businesses to operate with the least government impositions.

It did not work, because most people that it sought to help did not trust the government enough. The question was why they should go to City Hall to file self-incriminating documents and facilitate their own harassment by government agents.

This is the same attitude that explains partly why the tax collectors – the bureaus of internal revenue and customs – have been always falling short of collection targets.

We said “explains partly,” because another part of the explanation is that money that should be collected as taxes is handed over instead as bribes for tax compromises worked out by corrupt officials.

* * *

WE have said it before and will again shout it into the deaf ears of the government.

When we fail to pay taxes on time, we are slapped with penalties and interest charges. But when the BIR fails to pay us our refunds for excess or unwarranted taxes, it does not pay us interest on our money that it continues to hold against our will.

Congress should pass a law imposing a strict deadline for tax refunds. Beyond the deadline, the BIR must be required by law and under pain of penal sanctions to pay interest to the taxpayer.

It’s been more than a semester since we filed our ITR for 1998 and for which we are entitled to a refund. It takes the BIR that long to write a check and send it?

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 28, 1999)

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