POSTSCRIPT / September 4, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Best move of Arroyo: Confide to the people

HAVE VISA, WILL HELP: Malacanang is sending a 25-member team to the United States to help victims of Katrina, a category-5 hurricane with 225-kph winds and 30 feet wall of water that devastated Mississippi, Louisiana and New Orleans days ago.

Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said the first 10 members of doctors, nurses, and sanitary engineers will leave for the US next week. (Did the US ask for our help or did we just assume they needed us and we volunteered?)

That is the Palace’s own diskarte, but we would have saved time and money if our consulates in the US were instead instructed to form teams of FilAms already in the States who are trained or skilled in the precise areas where they are needed. We would then know that our teams fit in the overall rescue/relief operations.

I should not say this, but by tapping Pinoys already in the US, we also eliminate the anxiety of wondering… or waiting for members of the team to return promptly to Manila after their mission.

Had the plan to send a team from Manila been announced, there would have been a category-10 hurricane of volunteers flooding Malacanang for a chance to go to America.

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GMA DILEMMA: On the expanded Value-Added Tax, poor Gloria Arroyo is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

If she pushes VAT collection, which is what she seems inclined to do, she will continue to provoke resistance among the population reeling from rising prices and being manipulated by the political opposition.

If she waters down VAT, or suspends its collection, or works for its repeal or replacement with a less complicated sales tax, the money-lenders from the North will crack down on her and maul the Philippine economy.

In such dilemma, what can Gloria Arroyo — now on her final term as president and last chance to become a good president — do?

A weary President Arroyo better open up now and confide to the people the pressures being brought to bear on the presidency by foreign interests and their local operators. So the people would at least understand what is going on.

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ASK THE PEOPLE: In a crisis, a leader’s best move is to go back to the people. Sumandal ka lang sa tao, and you would not go wrong.

If she talks or makes sumbong to the people only when her presidency has collapsed and she is left picking the pieces on her way out, her own sympathizers will chide her for opening up too late.

After all, in a republican setup, the people are the source of political power. All government authority emanates from them, and they know it.

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MEND THE TEAR: The President should try mending the tattered tissues of her relationship with her constituency now — before the downtrend becomes irreversible. Polls show that there has developed a gap between her and the people.

Finally leveling with the people, she must tell them the truth about the big things that impinge on the presidency and public welfare. She must expose the pressures, foreign and local, that color official judgment.

These pressures will be revealed later anyway when history is written. So why not tell it now in her own words?

My guess is that when Filipinos find out that their President has been badly mauled by pressure groups, they would sympathize with her and rally around her if she has not maltreated her own people or acted against their welfare.

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TELL THE PEOPLE: It is a big gamble, but if I were a one-termer President Arroyo hanging by a string, I would take the people into my confidence and make sumbong to them.

I would lay out the facts before the public, showing the options, the pros and cons of each and ask the people what they think.

This means of course, that I would have devised alternate mechanisms for consultation. (“Mechanisms” is plural, because I will have at least two of them running parallel to each other.)

We have reached an advanced stage of decay that the present system of representative democracy already stinks.

Congress, for instance, has ceased to be the sounding board for the true representatives of the people. As a rule, lawmakers have become the paid runners of vested interests. Their votes do not reflect always their constituents’ wishes. They no longer talk for the people.

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INCLINED TO LISTEN: The people know in a general way the pressures that, for instance, our foreign creditors have been exerting on the administration to tax the people to the bone to raise funds for debt payments.

They know that EVAT — among other related measures — was passed mainly on the say-so of moneylenders threatening to ruin our credit rating and make life more miserable for us if we do not do their bidding.

Since we are neck-deep in debt, we seem to have no choice but to keep raising taxes. The people know this, but it would be different if the President herself told them this awful truth. My guess is that they would then be more inclined to listen to her.

From the masses will come ideas on how to deal with our debts without having to impose a 10-percent VAT and such unfair levies that inflate prices and deflate real wages without any positive contribution to development.

For a change, let us listen to our people, instead of to congressmen, senators and the usual politicians.

* * *

COLLECTIONS DIVERTED: Zeroing in on the VAT, it is safe to assume that the target revenues that we were told would be collected will not be realized.

We go by the record. Historically, VAT collections that found their way to the government coffers have only been half (around 50 percent) of supposed collections.

The rest of it went the usual way — to corrupt pockets. This means that with all things being the same, which seems to be the case, the VAT rate should have been 20 percent to achieve the targeted 10 percent collection.

This is, of course, absurd and unacceptable.

That 50-percent estimate may even be overstated. I heard Bataan Gov. Enrique “Tet” Garcia on radio saying the government is able to collect only 3 of the 10 percent VAT.

Most of the 10 percent paid by end-consumers goes back to businessmen up the distribution line filing claims to recover their supposed share of the VAT they allegedly paid earlier. The filing of false claims is a big racket. What is being done about it?

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READERS’ SURVEY: If we go by objectives, looking for revenue sources other than VAT might make things easier for everybody.

The objective is to raise enough money, say P80 billion, to plug our fiscal deficit and improve our capacity to pay our debts.

But are imposing a 10-percent VAT and expanding it to cover power and fuel, and then raising the rate to 12 percent in 2006, the only way to raise money for debt service?

As I suggested earlier, people can surprise our officials with practical and less complicated ideas on fiscal management.

So I ask readers to submit specific proposals on how to make big savings. Please send ideas by email, snail mail, text, or by messenger. If emailing, type “COST-CUTTING” as subject and send to fdp333@info.com.ph .

Limit discussion to 80 words and use figures to compute and quantify possible savings. If I decide to print your suggestion, I reserve the right to edit your text to fit space.

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GOV’T CORRUPTION: Two of the more widely discussed money-saving measures are: (1) cut down pork barrel by whatever name it lurks in the national budget, and (2) crack down on overpricing, commissions and corruption in general.

Corruption alone is blamed for around 40 percent of public funds finding themselves into private pockets.

With a P1-trillion budget proposed for next year, you can imagine many officials smacking their lips in anticipation of the usual windfall. Forty percent of P1 trillion is an eye-popping P400 billion!

In the unlikely event that thieves in government have been struck by conscience and reduce their take by half, that would place losses to corruption to just 20 percent or P200 billion, still a pile big enough to cover much of our debts.

With P200 billion in savings from reduced corruption, we may not need a 10-percent VAT to whip our people into crying revolution.

If lawmakers could be embarrassed into cutting their pork barrel availment by 50 percent, that would be another huge savings. Some senators have been able to subsist without their having to draw on their pork barrel, so it can be done.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 4, 2005)

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