POSTSCRIPT / April 13, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Robin just a face-saving device for Sayyaf retreat

WE think the Abu Sayyaf was just looking for a face-saving device when it “demanded” that the government send over actor Robin Padilla to “negotiate” with them the release of 31 kidnapped civilians.

Padilla is not necessarily a better negotiator than those already on the job, but the stalemated rebels need an excuse for compromising their hardline and eventually releasing their kidnap victims.

With the other side now also holding and threatening to execute relatives of Abu Sayyaf leaders (if the rebels kill any of their male civilian hostages), the Abu Sayyaf is getting a dose of its own bloody medicine.

* * *

LIKE a deus from the machina, Padilla – who embraced Islam while in prison – would descend on the scene and kunwari convince his Muslim brothers to release their captives in exchange for the rebel leaders’ relatives who are being held by irate citizens.

Relenting and freeing their hostages would detract from the rebels’ fierce inflexible image. But the coming in of Padilla will be a convenient face-saving excuse for retreating from their hitherto unbending warlike position.

Aside from being a face-saving device for the rebels, Padilla could also be paraded as proof that the Abu Sayyaf gets what it wants with the use of naked force.

But never mind if they exploit the willing actor as long as we gain the release of the hostages. Anyway, Padilla will know how to get back to civilization after allowing himself to be used by the bandits.

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UNTIL Monday (the deadline), this week is income tax payment time. This tax-consciousness week jogs certain thoughts having to do with taxes and such.

Some points to ponder while figuring out your income tax puzzle:

  • President Estrada should make public his and his wife’s joint income tax returns for the past five years as well as his statement of assets and liabilities to assure the rest of us taxpayers that our President is a model taxpayer deserving emulation.
  • Presidential friend Fernando Poe Jr., who had been asked to be a role model for honest tax payment, could also make public his own income tax returns for the past five years. Did FPJ pay taxes on those fat fees earned from product endorsements and blockbuster movies?
  • Newly minted Commissioner Dakila Fonacier of the Bureau of Internal Revenue should go out of his way to expedite the immediate release of the long-delayed refund checks for excess withholding taxes.
  • Congress should pass a law imposing a strict deadline for the BIR to refund excess withholding taxes, penalizing failure to pay back on time, and requiring the BIR to pay interest on delayed refunds of taxpayers

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PRESIDENT Estrada’s ITRs of the past five years could help underpaid state workers with hints of how to make megabucks on government starvation wages plus a little sideline.

His ITRs could also give some of the menfolk pointers on how to support multiple families in today’s expensive world, including imposing mansions in exclusive villages.

The President’s financial disclosures would also help incoming Press Secretary Dong Puno belie persistent rumors flying thick in the Internet that Erap Estrada is now worth P40 billion after almost two years in Malacañang.

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THE continued failure of the BIR to pay back excess withholding taxes from wage-earners feeds reports that syndicates with insider connections had hijacked many refund checks. We know that government coffers are routinely raided by crooks, but is it that bad in the BIR?

Another disturbing report is that some checks covering years of refund have not been written because the BIR had used the money for something else. Fund diversion is as old as government?

Are taxpayers who are awaiting their refunds really that helpless? The bureau runs after small wage-earners, but these small taxpayers in turn cannot run after an errant BIR.

We know that President Estrada and the rest of our perfumed officialdom do not have money problems, but wage-earners who are supporting their expensive lifestyle have.

* * *

TALKING of the Internet, reader Pat Sada Kaajo sent us an email noting that the reported Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s donation of P100 million to the private foundation of first lady Loi Ejercito is a legal basis for the impeachment of President Estrada.

He was referring to reports that in 1998, the PCSO approved the release of P100 million to Partnerships for the Poor Foundation Inc., which was registered on Oct. 15. 1998, with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the name of Dr. Loi Ejercito.

He said the foundation’s office address is 1 Polk St., North Greenhills, San Juan, which happens to be also the legal address of President Estrada and his family.

* * *

KAAJO pointed out that the Office of the President approves the distribution of PCSO funds and donations to charitable institutions, and a conflict of interest arises when the President orders fund releases to an organization of his wife.

He said that the Constitution mandates the President to “strictly avoid conflict of interest in the conduct of (his) office.”

He also quoted the anti-graft law as providing that “it shall be unlawful for the spouse (or any member of the family) of the President of the Philippines to intervene, directly or indirectly, in any business, transaction, contract or application with the Government.”

* * *

IS President Estrada gaining or losing in the poll survey game? It depends on which paper you read.

While some dailies that pride themselves as independent report that the President’s net approval rating in the last Pulse Asia survey has gone down to 21 percent, other newspapers reporting on the same survey proclaim that his rating has shot up to 49 percent!

The first group of newspapers took the positive 49 percent approval rating and subtracted from it the 28 percent disapproval rating and came up with a net 21 percent and reported it. The second group would have none of that negative angle and reported with glee the 49 percent approval rating.

* * *

BUT the difference in the President’s reported approval/satisfaction rating does not depend only on which paper you read. It could also depend on which sector or socio-economic class the pollsters chose to ask.

It could also depend partly on how the seemingly neutral questions were asked.

The intriguing part is that some commissioned pollsters apparently angle their methods to what the client wants. In short, some paid surveys have been tailor-made for the person or entity ordering them.

We’re afraid that with the confusion, future reports of survey findings may be rendered incredible and useless. Some pollster may not be aware of it, but they may be slowly killing their own business.

* * *

READ how POSTSCRIPT reader Fred Torres/salvejdm using an epic.net address explains the seeming discrepancies:

“Our compatriots in the D and E income strata, as classified by market research firms and other marketing practitioners, constitute the majority of our population and registered voters.

“So when a telephone survey (which is really a survey of the A, B, & C income classes, especially in traditionally oppositionist Metro Manila) results in even a negative 32 percent for President Estrada, it is not inconceivable that the overwhelming support of the D and E classes would make up for, and even surpass this — resulting in a positive 5 percent overall.

“The reasons for the strong support by the D and E strata for Estrada are:

“1. The media that they patronize are not critical of Erap. Local movies hardly have any political commentary; tabloids are not critical of Erap, perhaps for fear of turning off their market; TV dramas hardly have any political content; even though TV news is in Pilipino, the D and E strata are apparently not interested in the news, preferring drama or melodrama instead.

“2. Our poorer countrymen do not think critically. Our political commentators are fond of writing of the supposed intelligence of the Filipino masa. Undoubtedly, native intelligence is abundant among our poor majority, but the use of such intelligence, critical thinking, is apparently rare among them.

“Apparently, our masa cannot uncritically, or does not want to, distinguish between movies and reality. More and more showbiz personalities will get elected.

“The masa has not been educated to think in terms of cause and effect, like where does the support for Erap’s (six or eight?) families come from, or where did the P250 million for one mistress’ mansion come from?

“Uncritically, they do not think that all this corruption in high places affects them, or makes them poorer or more miserable, nor can they discern how this chain of causes and effects profoundly affects them daily.”

* * *

THE solution? Torres suggests:

  1. Long term — Education. Develop critical thinking in our youth. Get rid of the “mass promotion” or “pasang-awa” system for our public school students.
  2. Short term — The media that serve our D and E kababayan should engage them in critical dialogue.

How? Our reader tosses the question back to media, saying “You’re the experts in that.” We are?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 13, 2000)

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