Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reflections in an unexpected holiday

While the great outpouring of solidarity for Cory Aquino was being covered nonstop in Metro Manila, a great outpouring of torrential rains devastated Mindanao . With the great suffering brought about by the deluge, I wonder how many felt as deeply about this tragedy. The floods, destroyed farms, and bald mountains are all a testament to the continuing failure of government to control the greed of logging companies, the ignorance of “kaingineros,” and the incompetence or complete lack of concern of government to protect our forests and reforest them where desperately needed.

On the economic front, Gloria’s much ballyhooed Sona boast of a Moody’s ratings upgrade for the Philippines, said to be a sign that the country has escaped the worst of the recession, which is also based on earlier data that are invariably fudged, was belied by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ assessment of our 2009 second quarter prospects. But even as this sobering view was tempered by some optimism, my friends in the Divisoria retail and food distribution trade narrate the drastic 20-percent decline in their sales. And when you add the rampant extortion by anti-smuggling authorities that shake down and padlock retailers instead of stop the release of smuggled goods from the source, then you have a perfect storm.

Retailers have no defense against these predatory “enforcers.” Even when they show proper documentation, they are still made to undergo verification, with inventory checks delayed by authorities for months on end, leading to the release of goods only after the customary payoffs.

And with 70 percent of tax collections going to debt amortization to the IMF-WB, and some more going to corruption, it would be better for Filipino consumers to save themselves from being bilked through the best tax revolt strategy, which is to look for goods and services from the underground economy. Better still, they can go into the underground economy and avoid paying taxes altogether--like the extortionist ones in Belmonte’s Quezon City where there is even an “employment tax” that treats work not as a constitutional right but a privilege.

Speaking of Belmonte’s thirst for funds, I caught a few portions of his self-serving eulogy and immediately remembered the Marcos buildings which he was in charge of recovering but did not earn for the government any substantial amount due to what he claimed were “lawyers’ fees” that gobbled up their worth upon liquidation. And can he answer why he was banned from the customs bureau during Marcos’ time for being “notoriously undesirable?” Moreover, who was the payroll master that got the Epira fast-tracked through Congress five months after Edsa II? And who got Meralco without reimbursing the state, given Belmonte’s added claim that there were no cronies after Marcos?

Cronyism has always been part of politics; it exists even in much admired economic powerhouses like Japan and South Korea . In the US , Bush has the Halliburton and Carlyle groups while Obama has Goldman Sachs et al. Truth is, the issue is not cronyism but economic policy. What is clear is that after Edsa II, the country became poorer in terms of expanding development and ownership of state resources to more people. Since Marcos’ development plans were aborted by the economic sabotage between 1983 and 1986, and since the misdirection of national economic policy after Edsa I, we have essentially been re-colonized economically, with public assets and our national patrimony turned over to foreign and local corporations that extract profit and leave very little behind for the people.

Fortunately, two good things came up during the week of mourning. The railroading of the Comelec’s automated system made me fear that the 2010 elections would be totally lost, with cheating virtually undetectable and proclamation so swift that there will be no more time to zero in on the sources of fraud. But after consulting with several top-notch lawyers, which view Archbishop Oscar Cruz shares, I became convinced that Atty. Harry Roque’s arguments before the Supreme Court will succeed due to the automation deal’s many violations. If they are proven right, this would move the filing of candidacy back to the original February date and pave the way for true elections with verifiable ballots.

The other good news is the “passing of the torch” to the new Aquino generation. Hopefully, Kris will supersede Noynoy in carrying this since she is more in touch with the masses and owes much to them. She could, like Erap, finally learn to be “para sa masa,” utterly convinced that raising the masses from poverty would also raise all the boats on our lake.

(Tune in to 1098AM, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m; Global News Network, Destiny Cable Channel 7, Tuesday, August 11, 8:15 p.m. to 9 p.m. and on the TVU Internet Channel 61713 on “Presidential, Parliamentary or Authoritarianism” with Bono Adaza and Eric Espina; also visit