POSTSCRIPT / February 9, 2006 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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ABS-CBN's vow tosses Ultra ball to gov't court

DEVALUED REPORT: The much-awaited interagency report on the Feb. 4 stampede at the PhilSports Arena (formerly Ultra) in Pasig that resulted in the death of more than 70 persons has been devalued by the insertion of uncalled-for judgmental opinion.

The report put together in a hurry by a team led by the Department of Interior and Local Government will have to be reviewed, stripped of opinion, and fleshed out with hard evidence by the regular prosecutors of the Department of Justice.

A glaring judgmental declaration was that one made by DILG Undersecretary Marius Corpus, who pictured the show organizers as having dangled a piece of meat to a hungry pack of wolves — referring to their campaign for a big crowd for their “Wowowee” show.

Some people love picturesque language, but Corpus has to be reminded that this is no time for literary flair. A report on the tragic incident should be packed with straight facts, backed by evidence and not decorated with judgmental metaphors.

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METAPHOR: There was negligence all over the Ultra stampede, including on the part of ABS-CBN and its staff, but this has to be documented, and not merely presumed from a reading of media reports and a compilation of comments from witnesses.

The investigation will lead to the filing of charges. But the prosecutors who will handle the hard preliminaries will be more interested in the facts and evidence than in the metaphorical comments of earlier investigators.

It may be smart-alecky to ask where is it in the law that it says that it is a crime to dangle a piece of meat to hungry dogs? But this is just to highlight the fact that the report should have focused on the facts without diluting them with uncalled-for opinion.

The judgment part will be handled by the prosecutors when they do their preliminary investigation, the justice secretary if such report and recommendations are referred to him, and to the judge(s) who will eventually hear the case(s).

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LOPEZ COMMITMENT: Being the organizers, the TV network and its executives cannot escape responsibility, whose extent will be measured in the coming investigation and hearings.

In fairness to ABS-CBN officials, they have made it clear that they are not running away from their responsibility. The declaration of the network’s chairman Eugenio Lopez III to that effect is clear and unequivocal.

I am sure the Ultra incident will force the Lopezes to review and reprogram their media operations, as well as their other enterprises impressed with public welfare.

One thing going for ABS-CBN is its record of doing advocacy and charity work in the past 30 years or so. In fact, the anniversary show of “Wowowee” hosted by Willie Revillame was in pursuit of that corporate mission.

No wonder, an obviously hurt Lopez reacted to the unfortunate “dangling a piece of meat” judgmental statement of Corpus.

Lopez’s response is a refreshing departure from the finger-pointing, confusion and foot-dragging in other tragedies in the past — including that of the mv Dona Paz sinking, Ozone disco stampede, Paco orphanage fire, Quezon floods, and Marcopper mining incidents.

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WHAT ABOUT GOV’T?: With the TV network, through its chairman, having vowed to honor fully its commitments and responsibility, the ball has been tossed to the government.

The tragedy whose victims were mostly from the lower economic strata has exposed the soft belly of an administration claiming to have done plenty for the poor, trotting out in the process statistics on poverty alleviation.

The people need jobs, not handouts. They prefer to work for their survival. So let us give them jobs, not doles or pieces of paper. Handouts fill hungry stomachs for a short while, but they strip people of self-respect.

Handouts introduce people to a culture of mendicancy. In time, they would get so used to stretching out their palms whenever in need. Then they would rather beg than work for a living.

That is exactly what is happening now — many people surviving from one handout to another. That, more than the Ultra tragedy, should alarm all of us.

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REVIEW VAT: In the context of the hard times, a review of the newly imposed 12-percent Value-Added Tax is in order — whatever our foreign creditors and the IMF-World Bank say.

We have not recovered from the unkind blow on our guts of the 10-percent VAT, and here comes the bigger wallop of a 12-percent imposition.

It would be all right if the proceeds from the 10 percent consumption tax and the additional 2 percent are seen and felt in the essential social services areas such as health, education and environment-protection.

Malacanang and the chorus have said again and again that the VAT would go to these concerns, but that is just the usual saliva of officials justifying an unpopular imposition.

The fact is that the people, even our officials, have no way of knowing where VAT goes. The more generous estimates have it that only 55 percent of the tax finds its way into the government coffers.

Much of the prospective tax is evaded. And then, part of whatever is collected is kept by businessmen who act as collection agents of the government. Many of them keep part of the tax collected or delay its remittance to the government.

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VANISHING VAT: How much of VAT leaks out or ends up on the sticky palms of corrupt officials? Nobody knows for sure, because controls are not working.

Now, with that glaring failure, the administration presumes to compound the problem by imposing a 12-percent VAT?

Remember that VAT, once collected, loses its identity as it is funneled into the national treasury. The collection is not a trust fund earmarked specially for specific programs or projects.

The claim that the tax would go to education, health, blah blah blah is nothing but empty talk. There is nothing in the law that binds officials to do that.

Even assuming that VAT goes into a trust fund for this and that program, we have no guarantee that that would happen. We have seen just too many such trust funds being used for something else, or totally vanishing.

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POOR HIT HARD: No wonder we have this survey report of a British market research firm that high prices have altered the consuming behavior of Filipinos, that their overall spending on beverages and personal care items has shrunk.

(By the way, why does it take foreigners to tell us about ourselves?)

The 2005 TNS Worldpanel survey says that to survive, poor families have been scrimping on food, snacks, soft drinks and cooking oil. They reportedly no longer use mineral water and deodorants.

While Filipino households were generally found to have increased their spending last year, Class E (families living on an income of P7,500 a month or less) households did not.

Overall spending grew by an average of 10 percent for all households, but Class E spending dropped 9.9 percent from figures tallied for 24 weeks ending last Dec. 4 compared to a similar period ending June 19 last year.

Most Class E households live in shanties in the slums. Adult family members claim only elementary education and work as manual laborers if they are employed at all.

They represent one out of every three Filipinos, but they account for only a fifth of the total spending for food, personal care, household products and beverages by all households.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 9, 2006)

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