POSTSCRIPT / February 20, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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All the President’s men rally for Bong

IF THE SENATE inquiry yesterday on the P15.7-billion frigates deal proved anything, it is not corruption, as wished for by detractors of President Rodrigo Duterte, but that presidential aide Christopher “Bong” Go is probably the man closest to the Chief.

That the appearance of Secretary Bong Go before the Senate committee on national defense drew an overflow of Cabinet men registering their sympathetic presence was proof enough.

This presidential watcher sees as an indication of their closeness the Mayor’s being comfortable enough to occasionally refer to Bong Go in jest as his “bugaw” (pimp) implying his being the keeper of presidential secrets.

In yesterday’s hearing, our last count of the Cabinet men who made their presence felt included Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III, and Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano.

Bong Go, who we sometimes refer to as the official “photo bomber” because of his omnipresence in most photographs of the President, was summoned to the Senate, we suspect, not so much to prove his innocence as to give him a stage for avowing his being blameless.

There was really no need for him to clear his name as he is presumed innocent until his accusers prove their case. We tend to agree with his plaint that he was dragged into the controversy to indirectly link the President to some anomaly.

Even Sen. Antonio Trillanes, who seems to see everything wrong with the President, said in a radio interview that he did not believe Bong Go did any influence peddling to sway the deal.

 Car importer in P1.1-B tax case

THE P1.1-BILLION tax evasion case filed against a giant car importer calls attention to one of the favorite routes of technical smugglers of foreign-made motor vehicles – their misdeclaration under a lower category to evade correct levies.

On the theory that the alleged declaration to a lower category and the resulting tax-evasion would not be possible without official connivance, an anti-crime volunteer group has filed plunder charges against some officials of the Department of Trade and Industry.

The alleged scheme looks simple. Since the importation of Completely Knocked Down (CKD) motor vehicles had an imposable tariff of 1 percent, while that of Completely Built Units (CBU) carried a 30-percent levy, some CBUs are passed off as CKDs by removing easy-to-restore parts such as tires, batteries and bumpers – to gain a hefty savings of 29 percent in taxes.

The Volunteer Against Crime and Corruption under its new chair Manuel Obedoza explained how the tax incentive scheme under the Motor Vehicle Development Program was supposedly used by smugglers to cheat the government of revenue.

One idea behind the MVDP was that importing CKDs will require the hiring of additional workers to assemble the units, and the purchasing of such locally-made supplies as car seats, steering wheels, hoses and belts, lights and mirrors, thus boosting the economy.

One car importer targeted by VACC was described by the group as “without assembly jigs and welding machines, no painting and welding process, and the basic assembly process” after inspection by Board of Investment officials.

The car importer’s accreditation under the MVDP was made by the BOI, whose ex officio chair is Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez.

The VACC noted that BOI inspectors also found in the auto assembly plant some pallets of newly-delivered and fully painted body shells of some car models, with steering wheels, front and back lights, and side mirrors already installed.

Taking this as an indication that the car firm has been importing CBUs in violation of MVDP rules, the BOI canceled its accreditation in May 2017, and ordered it to return more than P1.1 billion in tax incentives.

The importer moved for reconsideration in June 2017, but the VACC said the motion was being “dribbled” while the importer continued to enjoy use of the P1.1 billion it had saved from reduced levies.

There had been similar attempts at tax evasion in the past. Another big importer of SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) got into trouble when it passed off its SUVs as AUVs (Asian Utility Vehicles) with a lower imposable tariff by adding small folding seats on a cramped third row to qualify them as AUVs.

 Why La Viña was kicked out of SSS

FOR THOSE who are still wondering why President Duterte did not extend the tenure of Social Security System Commissioner Jose Gabriel La Viña, who had been serving in a holdover capacity since June 30 — in effect “dismissing” him — presidential spokesman Roque gave these grounds:

“First, former Commissioner La Viña demanded a budget of P26 million to fund his “social media” project with him as TV host. This was denied. He then requested for a budget of P1.6 million per month for a media advertising program which was also denied.

“Second, Mr. La Viña requested for the accreditation of seven brokers to handle SSS investments. The accreditation was denied, because these brokers could not meet the requirements.

“Third, Mr. La Viña embarked on a vilification campaign against four SSS executives who crossed his path. Two of the four executives resigned and one is now a consultant of the Secretary of Finance.

“Fourth, despite an ongoing investigation, Mr. La Viña called a press conference and spoke against these four executives.

“Again, let this be a reminder to all public officials that the President is serious in curbing corruption and has strong resolve to promote good governance.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 20, 2018)

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