POSTSCRIPT / January 21, 2003 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Watch out, VAT might prod FPJ to run in 2004!

BIGGER DISASTER: If they know what’s good for them and the country, administration officials should do something quick about the 10-percent Value Added Tax that movie stars are loudly complaining about.

Ignoring their complaint might just provoke action star Fernando Poe Jr. — third biggest taxpayer among showbiz personalities — to run for president in 2004 to get rid of the unfair VAT himself.

And if FPJ gets elected, which is likely to happen if he runs, that would be a bigger disaster!

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VAT FORCED ON US: We’re among those who believe that VAT, which was forced on us by foreign pressure groups concerned only with collecting on our loans, should be replaced by a better engineered tax scheme.

With the tax still in the books, it should be reviewed in earnest and its collection suspended while under review.

But whether suspended or enforced, its suspension or its enforcement should be uniform and not selective as it is now.

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REARING TAX CHEATS: One argument raised against VAT is that it is anti-poor because businessmen and professionals who are required to add it to their charges and to collect it for the government are expected to just pass it on to customers and clients.

But the tax will hit the masses huddled below the poverty line only if businessmen and professionals collect it. Usually, it does not happen that way. Many merchants connive with customers in evading payment of VAT.

Taxes can end up in the government coffers only if BIR-registered receipts or cash registers are used in transactions. In many cases, however, the customer agrees to dispense with the receipt, resulting in lower prices for him through the evading of VAT.

Even assuming that VAT is collected at point of sale, its being remitted to the BIR is another matter.

With government indifference encouraging it, the wholesale evasion of the despised VAT meshes into our informal education as a nation of tax cheats. And then we wonder why we always fall short of our revenue targets.

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BIG LETDOWN: The vow of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to curb official corruption is one aspect of her administration that an expectant public watches with keen interest.

In the case of tax evasion, for instance, the crime cannot rage in the epidemic proportions that we see around us if most revenue bureaucrats and tax court personnel are not corrupt.

Studies have shown that our budget deficit would ease down and money for vital projects finally will become available if only BIR and Customs personnel would share with government even only 20 percent of the taxes that they pocket.

President Arroyo rose with the rising expectation of a people burned by the plunder and corruption of the Estrada team. That was why the public’s biggest disappointment with GMA is the perceived corruption in high places. We thought her tenure would be different.

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SIMPLE LIVING: As a people, we are inured to difficulties. The generally hard times are bearable to most Filipinos.

Most of us would not mind so much the difficulties if we see that our leaders are with us making the same sacrifices and doing their best to steer the ship of state through the choppy waters.

What gets most people is that while they scrimp and see their children deprived of normal amenities and opportunities to assure them a better life, they see corrupt officials and big-time crooks living it up and flaunting their wealth and privilege.

If President Arroyo, her family and her Cabinet could demonstrate the “simple living” as practiced by her late father President Diosdado Macapagal and the leading of “modest lives” as mandated by the Constitution, that would be a big leadership step forward.

For reference, review the opening line of Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers): “Section 1. Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

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FIVE-MONTH FRAME: We suggest that President Arroyo not waste time answering comments that she has an ulterior motive in renouncing her option to run for president in the 2004 election, and that she will find an excuse later to go for it again.

Nothing she says will convince foes and cynics anyway. As for those who grant her good faith, no explanation is necessary.

What lies before her is not 18 months, as is often cited, but just 16 months before the May 2004 elections. The time frame is cramped as it is, so she should not waste time answering deaf critics. Magtrabaho na lang po tayo at huwag nang makinig sa kantiaw.

In fact, she has only the next five months (not 16) to pursue and gain headway in her reform plans.

It is five short months because the open election season usually begins one year before the polls. That means anything she tries projecting to the public mind after May, or only five months from now, will have to contend with the heightened politics in the air.

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POISONED AIR: There is so much coughing, wheezy breathing and upper respiratory ailments among residents of Mabalacat, one of the Pampanga communities still shrouded by microscopic volcanic ash floating in the air.

The ash is one of the residual hazards of the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. While the lahar flows have stopped, partly because of the drastically reduced rainfall in the area, the fine ash is still very much around.

As if that hazard is not enough, a pollutive coal-fired power plant is being built in a paper mill near the end of the North expressway leading to the town. This is expected to shower the community with mercury, soot and other toxic wastes from burned coal.

The paper mill has access to the excess capacity of the National Power Corp. grid. If it needs more electricity, it can just tap Napocor lines, so there is really no need for a coal plant spewing pollution.

We were told that then Natural Resources Secretary Heherson Alvarez, obviously ill advised, approved the plant’s certificate. We hope Secretary Elisea G. Gozun will correct the error of her predecessor.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 21, 2003)

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