POSTSCRIPT / February 4, 2010 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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It’s pointless for Villar to dance to foes’ music

FUTILE FLOGGING: It is pointless for Sen. Manny Villar to stand on the Senate floor to try convincing his accusers and his presidential rivals in the chamber that he did not commit any censurable act in the budgetary deliberations on the C-5 road.

Politics and human nature the way they are, his accusers who also sit as jury and judge will never give him a sporting chance, much less a fair hearing.

It is like trying to convince a cobra, poised to strike, to drop its fangs and smile.

For this reason alone, there is sense in Villar’s refusing to bare himself on the floor, dance to his tormentors’ music, then submit to a political flogging.

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IMPASSE: But graft laws have been violated, his accusers scream. If so, the best forum for determining his guilt or innocence is a court of justice — not the Senate committee of the whole as it is now constituted.

And if the issues are political, as even Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile admits, they are best debated before the bar of public opinion, in the media or the campaign trail — not the Senate committee of the whole.

Seeing how the impasse could derail important bills in the final hours of the 14th Congress, the Senate leadership should have put aside the highly politicized and contentious C-5 showdown and buckled down to real work – which is legislation.

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SCANDAL FORMULA: The motive behind the public humiliation of Villar is clear to many of those who have kept their distance from the arena.

His accusers have been telling the media and everybody else to watch the next survey reports. They predicted that the surveys would show a plunge in Villar’s ratings as a result of the C-5 issues they have been kicking around since last year.

Many of his foes bragged that even if Villar did not appear before them, the propaganda effects of his absence would surely be disastrous for the Nacionalista Party standard bearer. They vowed to see to that.

They made no effort to hide their ulterior motive of cutting down Villar by dragging around the C-5 carcass on the Senate floor with media broadcasting all the lurid details that a scandal-oriented public is liable to lap up.

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VIRTUAL TIE: But it seems either the survey people or the people surveyed were not listening to these prophets of Villar’s doom. Contrary to their dire predictions, the NP bet continues to climb in the polls. 

The latest (Jan. 22-26, 2010) survey of Pulse Asia showed Villar having moved closer to Sen. NoynoyAquino, Liberal Party presidential bet, to score a virtual tie! Aquino, who enjoyed commanding leads in earlier polls, took 37 percent of the 1,800 adults polled nationwide while Villar grabbed 35 percent.

With Pulse Asia’s survey having a ± 2-percent error margin at the 95 percent confidence level, that 37-35 was a tie.

The third-placer, former President Erap Estrada, had 12 percent. Only the trio in the lead pack enjoyed two-digit scores. A distant fourth runner is administration bet Gibo Teodoro with 5 percent.

With 6 percent of those polled saying they still had no preferences four months before the May 10 elections, we can expect more shifting as the issues jell in the public mind and the true values of the candidates are brought forward.

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IS IT GASOLINE?: On another topic, what exactly are Light Catalytic Cracked Gasoline (LCCG) and Catalytic Cracked Gasoline (CCG) that Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. imports?

Are they finished products that can be sold and used directly to run motor vehicles? Or are they raw materials used exclusively for refining oil products into unleaded gasoline?

The questions do not cover the entire legal debate on a bid of the Bureau of Customs to collect P7.3 billion from Shell for excise taxes due on its importation of LCCG and CCG from 2004 until August 2009, but they can help clear the way for a resolution.

The question is before the Court of Tax Appeals, where Shell ran when Customs demanded payment. The court issued the usual 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) that will lapse on Feb. 9.

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BLACKMAIL: Customs Commissioner Napoleon L. Morales said if his office is not restrained after Feb. 9, he will seize and sell at public auction Shell importations still with Customs to be able to collect the P7.3 billion. 

Shell has countered that if Customs did that, there would be a shortage of petroleum products as it would be unable to produce its unleaded gasoline that accounts for about 27 percent of the market. 

Morales said Shell should not blackmail the government and instead pay its taxes as a good corporate citizen. Anyway, he added, the other oil companies have enough stock to supply the needs of the motoring public.

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SPECIAL TREATMENT: The Customs chief said Shell itself said in its import declaration that LCCG and CCG are unleaded gasoline, with an octane rating of 94. As such, he pointed out, the products can be sold and used as fuel and are therefore subject to excise tax.

Morales pointed out that another oil company brings in the same materials and pays excise tax. Why should Shell be treated differently, he asked.

He noted that before 2004, Shell was paying excise tax on the same materials but suddenly stopped paying after it found an excuse not to pay by misdeclaring its importation and leaning on an internal revenue memorandum that he said was insufficient basis.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 4, 2010)

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