POSTSCRIPT / June 28, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Sneaking into Congress via Party-List backdoor

REFERENCE POINT: A debate is raging over Section 8 of the Party-List System Act (RA 7941) which bars certain candidates being nominated by Party-List groups for sectoral congressional seats.

Section 8 says: “xxx Only persons who have given their consent in writing may be named in the (nomination) list. The list shall not include any candidate for any elective office or person who has lost his bid for an elective office in the immediately preceding election . xxx”

One school of thought (School A) says that the “immediately preceding election” is that one held in 2004, which preceded the 2007 elections where a number of Party-List groups had won congressional seats.

On the other hand, a School B says the phrase refers to the May 2007 elections since Party-List groups may still submit nominees anytime before 2010. Any nomination now must refer to the 2007 polls as the “immediately preceding election.”

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NOMINEES WAITING: If School A (2004 as basis) is right, Chavit Singson, Prospero Pichay, Manny Pacquiao and other candidates who lost in the May 2007 election can still grab a seat in Congress by “convincing” a qualified Party-List group to nominate them.

The above scenario seems illogical, unfair and contrary to the intent of the Party-List law, but there is a strong lobby to adopt this interpretation.

However, if School B (2007 as basis) is right, candidates who lost way back in 2004 can still be nominated by Party-List groups because the prohibition does not apply to them.

Among the possible beneficiaries of School B’s interpretation are lawyer Mel “Batas” Mauricio and broadcaster Jay Sonza, who both lost in 2004 and had been nominated by the Batas Party-List group for the incoming Congress.

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ILLOGICAL: The minutes of both chambers of Congress show the legislative intent. Legislators did not want losers in the 2007 elections to enter the House of Representatives through the backdoor — the Party-List system.

Party-List nomination is a continuing process. Under the law, qualified Party-List groups can change their representatives until May 2010.

Hence, School B contends that the phrase “immediately preceding election” must refer to the just concluded May 2007 elections, not the 2004 polls.

If not, imagine a loser in the congressional elections last May dusting himself and emerging just the same as a congressman under the Party-List system.

Also, it looks illogical for losers in the 2004 congressional elections to have been allowed to run again for the same positions in 2007 but barred from holding congressional seats as Party-List nominees.

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PICKING ON BUNAG: A review of internal revenue collections shows that BIR Commissioner Jose Mario Buñag was removed not for falling short of revenue targets, but for something else.

Buñag was appointed BIR boss in June 2005. Immediately, in 2005 and in 2006, collection recorded double-digit growth rates (15.92 percent in 2005 and 20.28 percent in 2006).

The BIR last achieved a double-digit jump in collection way back in 1997, during the last year of Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons-Chato.

During Buñag’s watch, collection tended to pick up during the second semester. When he came in, collection was lower than that in 2004. Yet, he was able to achieve almost 16-percent growth rate for 2005 when the second semester collection came in.

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ONLY BUNAG?: Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said the reason why Buñag was removed was his failure to meet the target due to inefficiency.

Teves was referring to the collection from January to May 2007 only. He did not care to wait out the second semester’s usual upsurge in collection. Why was he in a hurry to remove Buñag?

Insiders said that there was a good chance the BIR could hit the target during the remaining seven months of 2007. In fact, they added, the January-May collection already showed an increase of about 8 percent over the 2006 collection.

Btw, Customs revenue in the same January-May 2007 period actually dropped, compared with the same period in 2006. But not a word was heard from Teves. Only Buñag was being set up for replacement?

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UNREALISTIC GOALS: The Buñag episode revealed that the finance department, or the entire government for that matter, has no established rating system for the “performance” of heads of agencies like the BIR.

What does an agency head do when suddenly thrown unrealistic collection targets? Teves raised the goal by almost 15 percent in 2005, by 23.49 percent in 2006, and by almost 13.27 percent in 2007.

Insiders said that the double-digit increases were “unrealistic,” if the recent history of the BIR is considered.

In 2001, the BIR collection target (P388 billion) was even lowered by 2 percent, compared to the P397-billion target in 2000. In 2003, the target was also lowered to P424 billion from theP447 billion of 2002.

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AUDIT REPORT: A Finance tax audit team pointed at BIR “inefficiencies.” One “inefficiency” cited was the bureau’s lack of collection of “capital gains tax” despite the growth in the real estate sector.

Veterans at BIR had a good laugh. Real estate developers, who provided the growth in the sector, do not pay “capital gains tax.” They pay ordinary income tax.

The audit report also said the insurance industry has “unpaid” taxes of about P8 billion. The figure, which came from financial statements of insurance companies, actually referred to “payables” and are tax “liabilities” that must be reported.

But as payables, they were still not due. Yet Buñag was being asked how come he had not collected them!

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 28, 2007)

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