POSTSCRIPT / December 9, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Try our compromise:  Selective total log ban

MIDDLE GROUND: Before they utter another word on logging, President Arroyo and Gen. Victor Corpuz better sit down and decide if they would enforce a Total Ban on logging (Arroyo order) or just a Selective Ban (Corpuz’s idea).

While at it, they might want to also involve Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Michael Defensor, whose role in the anti-illegal logging campaign has been muddled with the entry of Corpuz as the President’s enforcer.

At the same time, Malacanang better rush that all-important Executive Order on curbing illegal logging. Ordering a total logging ban by mere press release is bad form.

As footnote to the seeping confusion, I overheard Corpuz saying on radio that he would reject the job of anti-logging czar if the President insisted on a total ban.

It need not come to that early parting of ways. Actually there is room for a middle ground, a compromise formula.

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COMPROMISE: Let us not look at the problem of vanishing forests in terms of black and white — like a George W. Bush dividing the world into Good and Evil with nothing in-between.

Even the satellite photos of the country’s forest cover do not come out in solid green (forested) and solid brown (barren). The pictures are in varying shades or combinations of greens, browns and other colors indicating the degree of denudation or reforestation.

Our compromise formula is a SELECTIVE TOTAL BAN on logging.

Ms Arroyo and her enforcer Corpuz can live with that compromise. They need not worry about the formula diluting the crusading image that both of them are trying to project.

They can adopt the compromise, proceed to hit both illegal loggers and legal loggers who overdid it, and thus be able to reap pogi points for their efforts to rehabilitate forests and crack down on those who abuse the environment.

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SELECTIVE HARVEST: For instance, in the devastated Aurora-Quezon area, we could, or should, have a total logging ban, as originally announced by President Arroyo trying to make up for the neglect of the past.

A total ban in that calamity area, as espoused by the President, will be welcomed with overwhelming approval from the public, I would dare say even among loggers in the area (because they have no choice anyway).

When the time comes years later that the ravaged forests have recovered enough to tolerate the cutting of some of the trees, selective logging can be resumed in that area.

In a few other places where there are already successful reforestation programs and community tree farms that have rehabilitated the logged areas, selective logging of mature trees may be allowed as advocated by Corpuz.

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DIE OF OLD AGE: Like in fisheries conservation, we do not stop fishing altogether in all waters just because we want to stop overfishing and prevent the extinction of aquatic resources.

Can you imagine a total ban wherein nobody is allowed to catch or touch any fish anywhere? Do we just allow the fish to die of old age instead of some of them ending up in the kitchen or in a tin can to help feed the population?

It is the same thing with trees. If our recollection of our catechism does not fail us, trees and such flora were created ahead of man and were placed in Eden for mankind’s use and enjoyment, except for one forbidden tree.

Provided we do not abuse this valuable God-given resource and we use it according to His will and our own moral code, a tree is supposed to help fill our legitimate needs.

Forests were not made to grow around us just for us to look at, di po ba ?

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NAME THE LOGGERS: To summarize, where it is needed, let us impose a total logging ban. Where all the indicators say puede na, let us have selective logging.

With this SELECTIVE TOTAL LOG BAN, President Arroyo can continue to gain pogi points with her projection as a protector of our dwindling forest cover.

At the same time, General Corpuz will be able to say the President listened to his tested idea of selective logging in forested areas where some of the trees planted by the community itself are ripe for harvest.

Together, the President and the general can then focus their common attention on the loggers whose indiscriminate cutting caused the flash floods and mudslides that claimed lives and property in Eastern Luzon.

But, have you noticed, the DENR and Malacanang have been avoiding the suggestion that they publish the names of all loggers in the Aurora-Quezon area. Our perception is that are they covering up.

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TAX IMBALANCE: Talking of perception, Danding Cojuangco and Lucio Tan, makers of alcoholic drinks and cigarettes, respectively, are probably two of the most controversial, and sometimes misunderstood, businessmen in the country.

While some interests are frothing in the mouth demanding higher “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco, there is a disturbing silence all around when it comes to taxing the windfall earnings of the telephone companies, particularly cellphone networks.

It is hard to say if the brickbats aimed at Cojuangco and Tan are thrown in envy — you know, the old established rich not being able to stand people outside their privileged circle somehow being able to sprint ahead of them.

Whatever it is, there is an apparent imbalance when it comes to big businessmen’s contributing to a rescue fund to pull us from a fiscal crisis.

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RULING ELITE: The old names in the elitist Makati Business Club are often projected as responsible, hard-nosed corporate giants and intellectuals. Looking closely, you will note that their families have often dictated the course of the country’s socio-economic and political history.

The populist President Erap Estrada ran smack into this social force and learned his lesson a bit too late. That was partly because he failed (or refused?) to play ball with them.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, who is not one of “them” (the Makati elite), is in the same situation. But having seen it all at close range, he is still able to navigate more adroitly the treacherous waters of his city that the elite is trying to rule.

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UNTOUCHABLE?: While Cojuangco and Tan accepted the administration’s suggestion that their products be subjected to higher taxes and thus be able to contribute to recharging the faltering engines of the economy, there is resistance in the case of phone companies.

What is going on? Hindi kaya ng Arroyo administration ang mga cellphone companies? The administration is afraid of the telecoms?

Despite their fabled wealth, power and influence, it is ironic that Makati’s elite “have not stepped up to the plate,” so to speak, in these times of financial crisis. It is even more ironic that those who are sneered upon by their snooty colleagues appear to be the unlikely heroes in the government’s hour of greatest need.

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MEANINGLESS VAT: Meeting recently with some of the country’s leading telecoms players, President Arroyo failed to convince them to pay more taxes to help stave off a full-blown economic crisis.

The best that the telecoms can offer is a measly 2-percent increase in their VAT (value added tax) payments. But considering the billions of dollars in equipment they import, the input VAT of these firms are even bigger than their output VAT.

In short, a 2-percent increase will do nothing more than just bridge their VAT gap, with government earning nothing extra in the process.

A franchise tax should have been the best option for the simple reason that giant cellphone companies — who rake in billions from texting (short messages) and voice calls — are doing so through their use of state-owned frequencies.

The nation’s airwaves, after all, are part of the national patrimony and use of the same entitles the state to some form of levy or compensation.

It is not surprising that the mouthpieces of elitist business groups — like former finance ministers and a former economic planning secretary — are now busy pushing more taxes on poor consumers while keeping quiet about taxing the windfall profits of telecoms.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 9, 2004)

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