POSTSCRIPT / March 14, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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No need for PMA honorary ‘mistahs’

THE MAIN issue in the case of Mighty Corp., which has been accused of using at least P2 billion worth of fake tax stamps on its cigarette packs, is alleged tax-evasion and economic sabotage. That is already in the hands of the proper government agencies.

On a side issue, additionally, we wonder at the wisdom of Philippine Military Academy classes adopting rank outsiders as honorary “mistahs” or classmates in a manner that could affect their performance in the service and when they move to the private sector.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself had disclosed that he knew well Alexander Wong Chu King, the owner of Mighty Corp., because he is a fellow “mistah” of PMA Class 1967 of which they are both honorary members.

We note also that retired Lt. Gen. Edilberto Pardo Adan (PMA ’72), who served as PMA superintendent (2002-2004) and deputy chief of staff (2004-2005), became Mighty Corp. president in 2014. His last military assignment was as chief of the AFP Southern Command.

Lest we be misunderstood, we stress that the Academy and its impressive roster of alumni are not being denigrated or their integrity questioned. It is precisely to protect their name and that of the service that we here suggest a review of their “mistah” adoption practice.

The adoption of presidents and other high or promising officials, as well as powerful persons in civil society, enhances the political and business connections of class members without benefiting public interest. We dare not speculate on ulterior motives, if any.

The lassoing of influential or powerful figures as honorary “mistahs” could degenerate into a mere variation, or a refinement, of the discredited “padrino system” that has abetted corruption in government.

This is not to say that the disposition of the Mighty Corp. case will be influenced by its “mistah” entanglements – in the same way that we prefer not to prejudge the integrity and competence of government officials on the basis of their alma mater or fraternity ties.

Somebody should defend the “mistah” adoption practice and highlight its redeeming social benefits.

Before the Martial Law years, PMA alumni were not concerned with cornering honorary “mistah” figures to help them along, but the officers and gentlemen generally performed with integrity and loyalty.

What happens to bribery attempt?

ONE ASPECT of the Mighty case that jolted us was the revelation of President Duterte of an attempt to bribe him when he was still Davao mayor.

STAR reporter Alexis Romero said that Duterte narrated the other night in Pasay City two incidents where Mighty owner Wong Chu King gave him cash (when he was still mayor) and a gun (only last December). He said he returned the items promptly.

Duterte has ordered the arrest of Wong Chu King, but when he presented himself to the National Bureau of Investigation days ago, he was not detained.

The President previously said the businessman could settle his tax deficiencies by paying P3 billion, or double the P1.5 billion that he had offered, and build three hospitals in Basilan, Jolo, and Tondo.

But Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez interposed that Mighty’s owner should pay not P3 billion but as much as P15 billion. Until this writing, it is not clear who between the two officials will be followed – the President or his finance secretary.

We expect that neither the wishes of Duterte nor of Domiguez will be controlling. From where we sit, it looks like the tax imbroglio will be resolved by the high-flying lawyers and the judges manning the courts and issuing TROs (temporary restraining orders).

Those are on the tax issues. The bribery and the economic sabotage cases are something else. The crowd keenly watching the President they had elected into office are praying that the Lord will not allow him to be led into temptation, amen.

Duterte recalled in his speech that when he was mayor, Wong Chu King approached him regarding his case, but that he brushed him off. The businessman left a bag, but when the mayor saw the money in it he said he had it returned.

In his speech at the PDP-Laban meeting, Duterte reiterated that he was ready to go to jail for the killings in his drug war, but not for corruption. He added that he would not tolerate corruption among his friends.

• Phl rights over Benham Rise explained

WE ARE amazed that not many Filipinos, including those in government, are alarmed by revelations that the Chinese have expanded their trespassing from the West Philippine Sea to the country’s Benham Rise continental shelf facing the Pacific Ocean.

Benham Rise is a 13-million-hectare area extending some 250 kilometers eastward from the coast of Isabela and Aurora. In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf recognized Philippine exclusive sovereign rights over that shelf. There are no other claimants.

Under Section 77 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines as the coastal State adjoining Benham Rise enjoys sovereign rights over the continental shelf:

> The coastal State exercises sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural resources.

> The rights referred to above are exclusive in the sense that if the coastal State does not explore the continental shelf or exploit its natural resources, no one may undertake these activities without its express consent.

> The rights of the Philippines over the continental shelf do not depend on occupation, effective or notional, or on any express proclamation.

> The natural resources referred to here consist of the mineral and other non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil together with living organisms belonging to sedentary species, that is to say, organisms which, at the harvestable stage, either are immobile on or under the seabed or are unable to move except in constant physical contact with the seabed or the subsoil.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 14, 2017)

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