POSTSCRIPT / December 1, 2005 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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How Garci can handle those Congress probers

GO TO COURT: The handlers of former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano themselves should hurry up and file criminal charges against him — if they want to limit the area of combat and improve their man’s chances of acquitting himself.

Even before Garcillano could formally testify before the congressional committees itching to roast him, he is already being attacked for his still-unstated statements and being threatened with a variety of charges.

That scene is, of course, not unusual in this neck of the political woods, given our propensity to start talking even before our tongue can be engaged to our brain.

To simplify and put more order in the proceedings, I would — if I were the handlers of Garcillano — work out the early filing of formal charges IN COURT against him.

With the charges filed with the proper judicial forum, the rules of engagement are thus made clearer, more predictable, and fair.

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SENSE AND ORDER: What are the possible charges? Based on what has been said in the excitable media, these may include fraud, violations of the election code and immigration laws, perjury, bribery, obstruction of justice, illegal use of alias, conspiracy to commit a crime, leaving the country without permission of senators, and disturbing the peace.

His handlers can get one or several complainants to institute court action on each of these and other charges that may suggest themselves later. Let them throw the book at Garcillano, who I heard is a lawyer anyway.

Then, mercifully, the prosecutor’s office and the courts will help bring sense and order in the debate over the proposed hanging of this man accused of having made a president by the flick of his magic fingers.

If Garcillano has the mountain of money needed for his defense — and it seems from the charges aired in media that he must have amassed a fortune selling elective offices — he can then retain his own battery of lawyers and hunker down to not only defend himself but also to fight back.

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JOIN THE CIRCUS: The scene of battle then shifts to the court. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? We need a little quiet and some order around here while we attend to our earning a living and preparing for Christmas.

But won’t that deprive our senators, congressmen and the assorted jobless politicians a chance to bite a piece of the Garci cake and partake of its attendant publicity? It might, but let us pray they will understand.

Suppose our senators and congressmen insist on summoning Garcillano to join them under the circus tent for some, huh, photo op and sound bytes?

Of course, he can oblige and testify as summoned (actually the correct verb is “invited”). He can show up, but performing according to their script — at his expense — is something else.

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SUB JUDICE: I don’t know Garcillano and have absolutely no idea how his mind works.

But if he decides to be taciturn, like maybe he is tired or something, he could suppress a stage yawn and say he is sorry the question is now before the court and he would not want to offend the judge by discussing the matter just anywhere.

But that august chamber of Congress is not “just anywhere,” an honorable committee member shoots back. (Oh yes, it is, but you do not say that to his honorable face.)

Whatever difference of opinion there may be about a committee hearing room being august or september (hey, we are now in December!), if the man invokes his right against self–incrimination — especially since the subject is now before the court — nobody, august or whatever, can pry open his mouth.

That option to remain silent is a legal bonus for the early filing of all those charges in court.

The charges thrown at Garcillano become sub judice once the cases are taken over by the independent judicial branch of the three-ring government.

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B.I.R. TARGETS: Among the positive items mentioned by President Gloria Arroyo when she told us of the financial picture getting a bit rosy toward yearend is the upturn in the collections of the Bureau of Internal Revenue under Jose Mario Buñag.

As the BIR boss has not been on my radar screen, I did not know much about him. Is he a career man or just some hot shot inserted edgewise to redeem the bureau, I asked the President. She said Buñag is career.

I asked, because it is not always a good idea foisting on the BIR an outsider who is ignorant of or unconcerned with the situation of personnel, especially the key collection officers.

There was once a woman placed on top of the BIR whose only qualification it seemed was her being a topnotch tax lawyer supposedly familiar with all the tricks of the trade. And, of course, she had a big political backer.

This outsider started with the assumption that everybody in the bureau was corrupt. To further roil the delicate situation, she made them feel her distrust of them. End result: the BIR under her was a total failure, as far as meeting revenue goals was concerned.

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COLLECTION SCORES: Now the news is that the BIR under Buñag is overshooting targets.

The bureau had a collection deficit of P11.2 billion for 2005 when Buñag was called last July to take over as officer-in-charge from Guillermo Parayno. Without fanfare, he buckled down to work. He now shows measurable success.

In his first full month, Buñag surpassed the bureau’s revenue target for August by a whopping P3 billion to reduce its eight-month deficit of P11.2 billion to about P8 billion. For October, the BIR collected P47.5 billion to surpass its target by P600 million and more than make up for a slight shortfall of P200 million for September.

From August to October, his first full quarter at the helm, Buñag posted a P2.3-billion surplus. This is expected to swell even more with the projected remittance of P6 billion in non-cash taxes.

He said in a recent interview: “Hopefully, we will be able to meet the target of P547 billion for P2005 without the VAT (Value-Added Tax) coming in later. We are close to P400 billion already. The last quarter should bring in a lot of revenue.”

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BUNAG BIO: But who is Jose Mario Buñag? After President Arroyo mentioned him, I asked around about this man given the tough job minus the corresponding title. (He was made merely OIC, presumably to be given the title of commissioner if he performed well.)

Buñag joined the BIR as deputy commissioner for legal affairs in 2002. He placed second in the 1968 bar examinations and has had extensive practice on tax cases with prestigious law firms.

At the Ateneo Law School, he graduated valedictorian and cum laude. He was class valedictorian in grade school; gold medalist in high school, and cum laude graduate of his Ateneo AB class. He obtained a master’s in comparative jurisprudence from New York University (1973), and completed a graduate course in taxation from the same university in 1985.

An insider told me that a factor to his collection success was his having created a climate of trust and fairness in government and in business circles. Many big corporations, businessmen and plain citizens have responded by paying taxes promptly and correctly.

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SAVE DWBR!: What is this I hear that an entertainment biggie is prodding Malacañang to convert station DWBR (104.3 FM), an institution in Philippine Radio, into an all-OPM “Radio Pinoy” type of station?

Its loyal listeners are aghast! Imagine converting DWBR into a captive outlet for Original Pilipino Music, or a kind of 24-hour payola jukebox for some OPM record producers, mostly this entertainment mogul pushing the switch.

DWBR caters to the A-B-C crowd in general and the business and professional sector in particular. Its music is marked by breaks at 15-minute intervals featuring top news of the hour. Its fare is mostly standard, Broadway, classical, jazz and OPM.

One alarmed listener, Jose Mari Chan, said in a letter to Secretary Cerge Remonde:

“I heard that BR is overhauling its format starting next year and plans to go OPM completely. While this would benefit me directly because of my music that has spanned 38 years and will thus result in a wider exposure of my songs, nevertheless I am compelled to urge you with due respect to reconsider the complete overhaul.

“BR-fm is the only station that caters strictly to the AB market and the Adult Contemporary radio audience. Many of the expats and members of the diplomatic community listen to BR for easy listening standards that the station plays in-between newscasts and stock market coverage. It is far different from other radio stations whose announcers do a great deal of banter and play only Top 40 songs.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 1, 2005)

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