POSTSCRIPT / August 29, 2006 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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110 years after Bonifacio tore it, the 'cedula' is back

SELF FLAGELLATION: Why are we unnecessarily punishing ourselves?

We have been battered by crises and calamities, high prices and low wages, a spate of extrajudicial executions, corruption in high places, et cetera… and here we are compounding the problem by insisting on Charter Change — just to deliver a point.

The point — an excuse actually — being dramatized by the Arroyo administration is that the present system is preventing it from living up to the expectations of the masses who had adulated the immediate past president.

When a point moves or is moved, it generates a line.

The administration line being reeled out is that the system is fatally flawed, that whoever sits as president is sure to fail because of the system. Hence the supposed need to amend or revise the Constitution.

System, system… the administration wants us to heap all the blame on the system and none on the system administrator, the leadership.

* * *

INSANITY: We would not be saddled by this expensive diversion of revising the Constitution if Malacanang did not have to contend with a stubborn Senate and an opposition endlessly questioning the legitimacy of the Arroyo presidency.

The idea seems to be: To dampen the noise over the President’s legitimacy, junk the presidential setup and thus end the debate. And to get rid of the obstinate Senate, replace it with a more manageable unicameral legislature (the parliament).

Just to make that point for the administration, this impoverished country will have to borrow billions from external sources so we can set aside extra billions in internal revenue to defray the cost of changing the system.

But look, if and when we revamp the setup after a costly Cha-cha, we will still be stuck with the same corrupt politicians to run the new system. Isn’t this insanity?

Let us drop the idea of convening Congress into a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass), or of pushing that fake People’s Initiative (PI, or Palace Initiative). Whether Con-Ass or PI, the distraction is actually one grand deception.

* * *

CEDULA RUSH: Has the Army operating in Central Luzon been deputized by the Department of Finance to help raise funds by scaring village folk into buying cedulas or residence certificates from the nearest town hall?

In many places where the dreaded 7th Infantry Division of the Army operates, residents had been reported flocking to the municipio to buy cedulas, many of them for the first time in their shattered lives in the Strong Republic.

A grownup caught in a barrio who cannot produce a cedula when troopers come checking reportedly runs the risk of being tagged as a non-resident, and suspected of being a communist rebel or courier passing through the village.

The military labels as rebel propaganda stories that those who cannot show acedula are manhandled or hauled off for detention. But the stories persist.

* * *

SIGN OF DEFIANCE: History books tell us that 110 years ago this August, the plebian Andres Bonifacio and his rebel band of katipuneros tore their cedulas at Pugad Lawin (in one version) in what is now Quezon City or at Balintawak in Caloocan (another version).

Their protest rally dramatized their defiance of the Spanish government as they saw the cedula as a badge of subservience to the colonial government. The “cry,” as the event is also called, was one of the highlights of the 1896-1898 Revolution.

More than one century later, the cedula is back, this time being forced on the rural population as prima facie proof of a citizen’s allegiance to the Republic. That is ridiculous, since that flimsy piece of paper cannot even be a reliable proof of identity.

Will some lawyer please tell us curious non-members of the bar if there is a law requiring certain persons to possess and show a cedula as proof of citizenship, residence, loyalty or good conduct?

Also, what is legally wrong with being in a village where one is not a registered, cedula-bearing resident?

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EXTORTION: This non-lawyer thinks that a cedula (officially known as a Community Tax Certificate), which has to be secured and renewed for a variable price every year, is ILLEGAL.

Why should a true-blue Filipino be taxed for residing in his chosen community? This exaction is not only capricious, but also oppressive.

The government should try other reasonable and decent ways of extorting money from the overtaxed population.

If the intention is to properly identify community residents, the cedula is inadequate. There are more reliable ways of ascertaining or affirming the identities of individuals.

In the proposed use of one national photo ID to absorb all existing government-issued identification cards, the payment for it is fixed or uniform for all holders, unlike for the cedula whose tax payment pertaining to it has to be computed individually.

* * *

DOUBLE TAXATION: The cedula tax is also objectionable, and should be scrapped, because it is a blatant case of double taxation.

The variable tax collected is based on the citizen’s REAL PROPERTY and INCOME, at the rate of one peso for every P1,000 worth of property owned and another one peso for every P1,000 income earned in the previous year.

If you own a house and/or lot worth P700,000 and have an annual income of P240,000 (or P20,000 monthly), your one-year cedula or community tax should be P700 (for your real property) plus P240 (for your annual income) – or a total of P940.

But, mark this, your real property and your income had been taxed separately already. Taxing them again under the community tax is DOUBLE TAXATION — which is contrary to law. I think.

Perhaps a lawyer can help us out of this legal thicket or, better still, maybe file a test case in court.

* * *

MAGIC SEVEN: The Marcosian magic number “7” has crept into the verbal jousting between First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano over alleged hidden wealth.

Cayetano has claimed that a member of the First Family whom he did not identify was hiding hundreds of millions of dollars in a secret account at the HypoVereinsbank in Munich, Germany. He said the account number was 87-570-23030-32100-6271-571.

Arroyo rushed to Munich — no, not to close it — and came back with a bank certification saying there was no account numbered 87-570-23030-32100-62771571 in the name of Jose Miguel Arroyo. Cayetano was lying, he said.

Note two important details that stick out in their exchange:

  1. The account numbers they cite are entirely different. The longer number used by Arroyo has an extra “7” inserted and a missing hyphen toward the end.
  2. Arroyo said he did not have such an account in the Munich bank. But Cayetano never said he had one. The First Gentleman was denying something that the congressman never said.

* * *

NO LIBEL: Arroyo said he would file libel charges against Cayetano. The complaint is not likely to prosper, because one element of libel is identification. The congressman never identified the First Gentleman as the account owner or beneficiary.

Another elusive element is malice. Although malice is presumed in a case like this, it can be argued that Arroyo, although not a public official, is a public figure. Being the spouse of the President, he could be the subject of fair comment and his only consolation is the balm of a clear conscience.

But threatening to sue is, from the public relations point of view, one way of possibly giving the impression to the watching public that one has been unjustly maligned.

If Arroyo makes good his threat to file charges, the sure winners (plural) will be the lawyers of the protagonists.

I would not be surprised if Arroyo’s lawyer (whose Bulakenyo tagalog I envy) eggs his client to sue.

* * *

MGCC ROW: Over at the exclusive Manila Golf and Country Club, businessman and sportsman Rod V. Feliciano, who brought DHL to the Philippines in the late 70’s, has found himself embroiled in a different game.

He is smarting from his one-year suspension from using the MGCC facilities as a bona fide member entitled to rights and privileges for which he has invested no less than P14.5 million. The board also banned him from three succeeding Golden Tee tournaments.

He was strongly reprimanded for alleged ungentlemanly behavior during the 38 th GT tournament. What triggered the row, I was told, was a simple mix-up of score cards during the last GT tournament, and his exchange of heated words with some tournament officials.

Some members speak of an “unseen force, a virtual God at MGCC” who allegedly maneuvered the meting out of the severe punishment. He is the same character, they said, who boasts that he can fix any case even at the Supreme Court.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 29, 2006)

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