POSTSCRIPT / August 15, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Afable to rule gov't media; Bunye in as press secretary

EASY BILLIONS: There are around 25 million of us cellular phone users in this texting capital of the world, roughly distributed between the majors: Smart with 15 million and Globe 10 million units.

With each of us 25 million cellphone users sending an average of only five short messages or “text” at one peso each, the daily take of the cellphone companies adds up to about P125 million a day. A DAY!

In one year, or in 365 days, that adds up to P45.625 billion! With Smart enjoying a 3-to-2 lead over Globe in the number of cellphones in operation, it should rake in P27.375 billion with Globe reaping the balance of P18.250 billion.

That is just from short text messages, not counting the other revenue-generating uses of cellphones.

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TEXT TRAFFIC JAM: The actual revenue from short message services or texting may even be higher since the assumed five messages a day for each of us text addict could be an understatement.

Consider the communication traffic jams on Valentine’s Day, Christmas Day, Easter, coup d’etat season and such occasions when the air above the Philippines sizzles with crisscrossing text messages.

Input also the rumors, jokes, biblical passages, daily counsel, games and raffles, et cetera, that are being churned out daily by some shadowy operators to whip up a texting frenzy.

However you juggle the figures, the cellphone companies must be wallowing in windfall profits. Isn’t it fair that they share this fortune with the rest of the community that pumps in those easy billions?

One way of sharing is via taxes.

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DISINFORMATION: But the owners of the cellphone companies must be laughing now at how easily they were able to shoot down proposals to tax their runaway profits.

Nobody seemed to have noticed the sly tactic used, so we invite you to take a second look at how it was done.

With the help of consenting media, scare stories were planted that the cash-strapped government was bent on taxing text messages.

Naturally, texters — 96 percent of whom are small users buying prepaid phone cards because they cannot afford a more expensive line — raised a howl.

A big newspaper helped spread the disinformation by a pretense of rallying cellphone owners to object to the impending tax on texting.

For a more effective campaign, the supposed tax on texting was given a face by the paper by focusing on Speaker Jose de Venecia. Poor JdV was promptly swamped with a tidal wave of protest text from users who bit the bait.

A mob of cellphone users did all the attacking while the owners of the cellphone companies quietly watched them do the job of killing the tax proposal.

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FALSE ARGUMENT: The government should clarify that it does not intend to tax the users or the texters, but the cellphone companies raking in billions without much exertion after the initial startup expense of putting up the communication infrastructure.

Anticipating this, the paper launched a followup mopping up operation using another misleading line that even if the government taxed only the cellphone companies, the firms will just pass on the levy to the users by raising the rates.

The conclusion subliminally suggested was that to protect phone users, cellphone companies themselves must not be touched or taxed further.

That is a false argument, yet the public fell for it! That is how powerful the press is.

If we accept that argument, then we should not raise taxes on utility companies because they will pass on the tax to their clientele. We should not tax oil companies because they will pass on the tax to motorists. We should not tax food processors because they will pass on the tax to consumers. We should not tax this and that industry, et cetera, because the tax will just be passed on to the public.

End result: The idea of taxing the fat cellphone companies was killed. At least for now, the tax measure is no longer moving while cellphone moguls continue to rake in their daily millions.

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MEDIA SUPERSTRUCTURE: Talking of communication, President Arroyo signed last Aug. 11 Executive Order No. 348 revamping the communication infrastructure servicing the Office of the President (OP) and the government in general.

Some of the broader organizational implications of the EO:

  1. A superstructure called Office of the Communications Director will be placed on top of government media, including the Office of the Press Secretary, as well as private print and broadcast media controlled (by sequestration) by Malacanang.
  2. The presidential spokesman, Ignacio Bunye who is reportedly positioning himself to run for the Senate in 2007, will take over concurrently as the Press Secretary, displacing incumbent Milton Alingod.
  3. All government-controlled media will be gathered under a Group Head with a Cabinet rank who shall be elected or appointed to the boards of the Journal Group of publications, RPN-Channel 9, NBN-Channel 4, and IBC-Channel 13.
  4. Silvestre Afable, who heads the OP’s Correspondence Office and the Speech Writers Group, is reportedly the President’s choice to lord it over everybody as the Communications Director mentioned in No. 1 above. As media czar with a Cabinet rank, he will have under him the Office of the Press Secretary and the agencies under it, the Philippine Information Agency and agencies attached to it, the OP’s Correspondence Office and the Speech Writers Group, the Communications Research Group, and the Government-owned Media Group.
  5. Cerge Remonde, Channel 9 chairman who headed the K-4 media bureau in the last presidential election, is being eyed for the post of Group Head for Government Mass Media mentioned in No. 3 above. However, there are protest rumblings in the broadcast industry against his appointment.
  6. Milton Alingod, who is Press Secretary concurrently with his old position as Director-General of Radio-TV Malacanang, may have to slide down as a good soldier to his old RTVM post or given a more substantial assignment.
  7. What happens to Rigoberto “Bobi” Tiglao, a media veteran who is now OP chief of staff? He might replace Afable as head of the Presidential Management Staff. Or, if Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo decides to leave the Malacanang snake pit for the more sedate world of diplomacy, Tiglao might end up being Executive Secretary.

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IMPOSSIBLE DEMAND: It is preposterous for the National Democratic Front to foist as a negotiating condition for the Philippines to persuade the US to remove the Communist Party-New People’s Army from its hit list of terrorist groups.

As our government correctly said, the drawing up of its own security precautions is an internal matter of a sovereign state.

In fact, even in the minor matter of the Philippines being tagged by the US as not a good travel destination for Americans, we seem to be helpless. What more of something pertaining to the internal security of the US?

As we see it, the NDF-CPP-NPA just took the US listing as a chance to add to the negotiating pressure on the Philippine government.

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SYMBIOTIC RELATIONS: Does the Philippine government honestly think that the NDF is serious and sincere in negotiating peace, if peace means their laying down their arms and joining mainstream Philippine society work for the reforms they profess to want?

This remote-controlled “rebellion” they are waging from the comforts of Europe is actually a way of life, almost akin to a livelihood, for the ageing leaders of the movement. Taking the rebellion away from them is much like pulling off the life-support of a terminal patient.

The rebels-in-exile also need the rebellion to justify their cozy status in their host country as political refugees.

In fairness to them, however, they are just keeping alive a symbiotic relationship. Can you imagine how the armed forces would stagger around aimlessly if there were no rebels to kunwari fight every now and then?

And how else can our, huh, peace negotiators see the world and travel at taxpayers’ expense if their accommodating NDF counterparts in Europe do not demand that they meet in various places outside the home country?

Kung sabagay, funding these so-called peace talks in various tourist spots abroad may be less expensive — for both sides — than fighting a real revolution.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 15, 2004)

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