POSTSCRIPT / July 23, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Massive dollar needs of US trip hurting peso?

IF you intend to buy a really good cellphone, a laptop, a digital camera, or some fancy infotech gadget, don’t. Not yet.

Wait till the hordes of hangers-on in President Estrada’s pilgrimage to Washington, DC, return with their boxes of duty-free goodies that will find their usual way into the market.

But we can’t assure you of bargain prices just because the bulging boxes will be brought in without inspection and without paying duties. Even the rich and powerful also have to make (more) money, you know.

In any case, if you’re not in a hurry, better wait and see what new items will surface in the black market after the shopping spree in the States.

* * *

WE refused to believe it, but some businessmen friends told us that one of the factors contributing to the unusual dip in the value of the peso in relation to the US dollar is the mad scramble for greenbacks for the US trip.

Maybe some research house could quantify the massive dollar outflow occasioned by the US tour of President Estrada and his excited troupe. That would be interesting, especially to the housewife who must grapple with rising prices.

Another item we picked up, this time from friends in the travel racket, is that the number of TNTs (tago nang tago) in America would swell after the visit to the land of milk and honey.

Our immigration bureau can do a tracking operation in cooperation with the US Immigration and Naturalization Service to check who among those who had left did not return. But no Filipino bureaucrat would court disaster by releasing such figures on the presidential pilgrimage.

* * *

REMINDS us of the case of singer Regine Velasquez, whose US visa was cancelled on suspicion that she was party to some “human smuggling” allegedly rampant among showbiz personalities going to the US.

It’s common knowledge in the industry that when some actresses, singers or dancers go to the US for performances, a variety of characters latch on to them pretending to be technical staff, production assistants, media specialists, et cetera, although they are not.

As soon as they hit American soil, some of them head for the nearest exit and disappear. Others complete their assignments, collect their pay, then pull a vanishing act.

* * *

IN the case of Regine, somebody she certified as a wardrobe assistant of hers broke down when interrogated by a US consul. The poor girl admitted that she was actually going to work as a maid of Regine’s friend in the States.

Lying is a virtual capital offense in America. This misrepresentation, plus an old case that was raked up wherein Regine also brought along an intending TNT disguised as a staff, prompted the US embassy not only to deny her application for a working visa but to also cancel her existing temporary visitor’s visa.

* * *

EVERYBODY is now keenly watching if Regine would be able to leave with the attached group of President Estrada. Malacañang has been tweaking protocol and delicadeza to get Regine to the US, sources said.

Accreditation with the presidential party is the key to a US port of entry (and full courtesy of the port upon return to Manila). For the chosen few, anote verbale is sent by the Philippine government to the US embassy formally asking that the appropriate visas be issued to them. Such official requests are generally granted.

Regine has fully-booked concerts scheduled in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York for which advance payments have been made. It is easy to imagine that a number of people would sue if she did not show up.

Will Erap be able to rescue the damsel in distress?

* * *

HUMAN smuggling takes us to the next item, in case you want to solve a “Name-that-Man” puzzle.

Identify this very rich and very influential crony of President Marcos who is now also a buddy of President Estrada. He was almost a brother of Mr. Marcos, who gave him the credentials of an ambassador.

Despite his billions, his businesses in America, and his diplomatic immunity during the Marcos years, this crony has not set foot in the US for the past two decades or so. But he has been elsewhere all over the globe.

Getting wind of his being “wanted” in the US for alleged “human smuggling” and other serious offenses, this powerful politician-businessman has deemed it prudent to stay away from the US. He knows that the US Department of Justice (mother unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the INS) is waiting to pick him up if he shows up.

Who do you think is this man? Tell us, and why you suspect it is him.

* * *

WE throw this suggestion to the US consul-general, if he is willing to listen. I have broached this also with some INS friends in San Francisco, but they are not of policy level:

It does not make sense to give a suspected TNT a one-entry visa good for only a few months if the intention is to prevent his going into hiding. An intending TNT needs only one day to melt into nowhere once he gets to the US.

The sad part is that many Filipinos who want to stick to the rules are sometimes forced to go TNT precisely because the embassy in Manila gave them only a one-entry short-stay temporary visitor’s visa.

Afraid that this one trip may be their only chance to visit, they overstay and look for other means to prolong and regularize their stay. But given a multiple-entry visa good for, say, 10 years, a Filipino is less inclined to overstay.

When his stay expires, he would be more inclined to fly back to the Philippines – instead of going TNT – because he has a multiple-entry visa good for the next 10 years anyway.

* * *

AMERICAN consuls would reduce TNT cases if they issued more of the multiple-entry, 10-year visas.

Filipinos with long-term visas would be shuttling back and forth with less pressure to hide from the authorities. That would be a boon to the travel and airline industries.

The US embassy itself would be relieved of much administrative work since there would be fewer applicants lining up for new visas and renewals.

Filipinos in the States (and elsewhere abroad) easily get homesick. They pine for home. If assured that they could still go back to the US, more Filipinos would be flying back home more often.

* * *

THE expected deluge of boxes of IT items (among other things) upon the return of business-minded travelers taking advantage of the US trip of the President reminds us of some observations of an IT man made some months back.

Roy Cruz, who described himself as a small entrepreneur in the software business, told us in an email:

“My lawyer applied for a business name at the Department of Trade and Industry and the people at DTI didn’t allow me to use the word “software” for my software company. I ended up with the name Home Grown Computer Center instead of Home Grown Software even though I am neither a seller of computers nor a center for computers.

“Makes me wonder how they can support the local software industry when they don’t even know how to call them.

“The problem also exists at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Someone I know tried to register a company that will offer eCommerce and he was asked to apply as an ISP (Internet Service Provider)! He had to argue before they understood him.

“If the main government offices (DTI and SEC) have no idea about new IT businesses, how can we expect them to help us?”

* * *

CRUZ said he wished for an office where anyone who wants to put up an IT business can drop by and ask for information from knowledgeable people. “People,” he said, “who will explain everything we would need – from business name registration to mayor’s permit and BIR obligations.”

“Better yet,” he continued, “why not have the government publish a book on everything we need to know to set up an IT business?”

He said: “Another thing is incentives. I read some months back about tax incentives given to foreign IT companies, but what about small IT businesses like us? City Hall taxes us based on sales and not on income, even if we didn’t earn.

“Then I have to pay 10 percent VAT and up to 32 percent income tax. I still have to give commissions to my distributor so what is left to me is less than 50 percent of the selling price after I add my expenses. Makes working for the underground economy more enticing, don’t you think?”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 23, 2000)

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