POSTSCRIPT / January 20, 2005 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Build now-pay later plan for calamity area bridges

BUILDING BRIDGES: Without having to pay for them right away, the government can rapidly build first class steel bridges in calamity areas in Aurora, Quezon, Nueva Ecija and Bicol under an ongoing program supported by Austria.

The modular spans are already in the country, brought in under phase II of President Arroyo’s bridges program being carried out by the Department of Interior and Local Government with the help of Austria.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Angelo T. Reyes said that 53 of those Austrian-designed steel bridges were completed last year in 30 provinces and four cities at a total cost of P596.88 million.

Enough materials for some 100 more bridges are already here, according to Helmut Wuzela, president/CEO of the Austrian firm Wagner Biro that has been building the bridges, usually with the employment of local labor.

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53 SPANS IN 2004: Around 15 of the 53 bridges were built on a turn-key basis by Wagner Biro, but the rest of the spans were constructed with counterpart support from the DILG and the beneficiary local governments.

Reyes said the 30 provinces that had received bridges are Abra, Benguet, La Union, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Marinduque, Oriental Mindoro, Palawan, Albay, Camarines Sur, Aklan, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Bohol, Cebu, Northern Samar, Samar, Southern Leyte, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga, Sibugay, Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Davao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat and Agusan del Sur.

The four city-recipients are Pagadian, Zamboanga, Cotabato and Butuan.

The latest steel bridge completed is in Sibagat, Agusan del Sur. It was inaugurated last Dec. 15.

Can we now turn our attention to the calamity areas where life has been disrupted by natural and man-made disasters?

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AUSTRIAN HELP: All bridge components are manufactured from high steel and fully galvanized to internationally recognized standards to give a long maintenance-free life. They last longer than the rickety Bailey-type spans used in some places.

The Wagner Biro bridges are either single span measuring from 20 to 60 meters, or multi-span bridges measuring up to 110 linear meters. Three of the bridges built so far are multi-span.

Austrian assistance comes through a Euro 76-million (P5.7 billion) soft loan with a repayment period of 12 years and a grace period of 8.5 years. It provides for 306 bridges (100 of which are still to be built) whose combined length is 112,250 lineal meters.

Wuzela said that since the materials for 10 new bridges are already in the country, it would be easy, fast and less expensive to build the spans in calamity areas now. They will accelerate rehabilitation and normalize life and commerce, he added.

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PINOYS PRO-U.S.: A new global survey of 21 countries has shown that only the Philippines, India and Poland saw the reelection of President George W. Bush last November as a positive development for world peace and security.

The respondents in the 18 other countries said Bush’s return to the White House was a negative event. At the same time, the poll showed that more foreigners saw US influence on world affairs as negative.

Not one country among the 21 polled favored sending troops to the war-ravaged “cradle of civilization” at this time.

The findings, culled from the latest global BBC World Service Poll, show that Bush’s reelection was perceived as negative (for world peace and security) by a majority in 16 countries and a plurality in another two.

The countries with the most negative opinion were in western European, Latin American and Muslim regions. The only places where a majority or plurality saw Bush’s election as positive are the Philippines (63 percent), India (62), and Poland (44).

The poll of 21,953 people was conducted by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland.

A summary of the findings was sent to POSTSCRIPT by PIPA.

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DOUBTS GROWING: Among Americans themselves, a growing majority said in new surveys that the invasion of Iraq under the whip of President Bush was a mistake and disapproved of the way he was handling the situation in that suffering country.

The findings ran counter to the apparent presumption by President Bush that his reelection was an endorsement of his Iraqi war policy, which was a central debate issue during the campaign.

A new Washington Post /ABC News poll showed that 55 percent of Americans felt the Iraq war was not worth fighting, against 44 percent who thought it was.

The wires said that respondents disapproved of Bush’s handling by a 58 to 40 percent margin. They added that 57 percent of the 1,007 adults surveyed by telephone Jan. 12-16 were not confident that the upcoming elections in Iraq would lead to a stable government.

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WAR A MISTAKE: The USA Today newspaper reported that a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll showed that Americans believed by a 52-to-47 percent margin that it was a mistake sending troops to Iraq.

Also based on a telephone survey of 1,007 adults, taken Jan. 14-16, the USA Today poll found that respondents were now more or less equally divided as to whether the US should keep, increase, reduce current troops levels in Iraq.

Until September 2004, the prevailing opinion in polls was that troop levels should be maintained.

The margin of error for both polls was plus or minus three percentage points.

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MINIMAL TAX: Here are more horror stories on how those living off the fat of the land seem to be giving back less than they should.

Sen. Ralph Recto gave out data yesterday showing that half of the 18 oil firms have tax burden of, hold your breath!, less than 1 percent of their gross sales in 2003. In fact, one oil firm paid only 1/50th of 1 centavo in tax for every peso of gas it sold.

The oil firm, which Recto did not identify, grossed P8.4 billion in sales but paid a measly P1.7 million in all kinds of national taxes.

“Another company reported gross sales of P13.4 billion but paid P21.1 million in tax, or a sales-to-tax ratio of 0.16 percent, or only one-sixth of one centavo for every one peso sale it made that year was remitted as tax,” the Batangas senator said.

He did not identify the oil firm, but described it as the 4th biggest in the land in terms of sales. “Its claims to good corporate citizenship may have been put in serious doubt by its very own tax return,” he noted.

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BIG THREE: Citing a finance department survey, Recto said 18 oil firms posted combined gross sales of P287.2 billion in 2003, and paid a total P22.7 billion in taxes for that year.

The DoF used official tax returns and financial statements for the study, but did not identify the firms.

But crosschecking the DoF list with SEC records, Recto concluded that the “Big Three” in the oil industry — Petron, Shell, Caltex — made tax payments way above the industry average of 3.36 percent in 2003.

On gross sales of P110.8 billion, industry leader Petron paid P9.8 billion in taxes, or a tax burden of 8.9 percent. Pilipinas Shell paid over P7.5 billion in taxes out of sales of close to P101 billion, or a tax burden of 7.4 percent.

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CALTEX PAYS MORE: But Caltex, who lagged behind the two leaders in sales, posted a double-digit tax burden of 10.6 percent. It paid a tax of P5.24 billion out of gross sales of P58.3 billion.

The data showed also that seven of the eight other firms with sales of more than P1 billion in 2003 had a tax burden of less than one percent.

Under the law, oil companies pay a corporate tax of 32 percent of their net income. They also serve as collecting agents for excise tax on fuel products that are shouldered by consumers.

“Based on their tax records,” Recto said, “it would be safe to say that the owner of a stainless jeep who drives up to their stations for gas actually pays more taxes than them.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 20, 2005)

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