By Digoy Fernandez FIRST of all, we must make one thing clear. We support and believe in the right of the state of impose just taxes that are to be used for the maintenance and development of a country and its people. Unfortunately, this principle works well in theory only in a few cases. Because of very poor tax administration(i.e., the inability or unwillingness of our revenue collectors to properly enforce tax regulations) the government finance team is often pressed to make up for deficits that crop up because of the larger amount of expenditures over receipts. So, what does the typical government bureaucrat do when tasked with thinking about ways to bridge the gap between expenses and revenues? The knee-jerk response would be to simply impose a new slew of taxes, the more the better. Perish the thought that revenue agents should soil their hands with attempts to impose a more efficient regime to tax collection or administration on existing taxes! And yet, our country’s multilateral and bilateral creditors and donors have long said that our revenue people have to tighten the ship and undertake a more efficient collection machinery. What seems to be the problem, then, in simply enforcing better tax and revenue collections? It is an open secret that the two or three main revenue generation agencies are plum posts sought by those seeking to increase their respective net worths. I recall an instance when a supporter of Ka Jaime Ferrer visited the old man when I happened to be in his residence. When Ka Jaime asked the man what he wanted, he simply requested that he be given a position in either Customs or the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Ka Jaime--a paragon for honesty in government--shouted at the hapless man: “What? I will assign you there just so you can steal or make money illegally? No!!!” This is why the onerous book tax contemplated by the brain-dead Espele Sales of the Finance department was pounced upon by book lovers and right thinking people both here and abroad. First of all, it was a clear violation of an international convention, and no amount of stretching of semantics could or would justify such a stupid tax, all to raise a few bucks for the government. Unfortunately for Ms Sales, just when the campaign against her and her tax scheme was escalating, the two Davids (Cook and Archuleta) visited the country. Their arrival, stay, and performances here resulted in the Philippines coming up in the top ten places being followed in Twitter. Well, to make a long story short, local cyberspace mavens twittered Espele Sales and her ill-contrived tax scheme resulting in a rapidly mushrooming viral anti-Sales/anti-tax campaign that was likely to drag President into the more negative aspects of the fray. Whatever her motivations, she most likely saw the light and rescinded the stupid book tax. End of problem. Once again, people in government were put on notice that they cannot assume a “business as usual” with respect to their shenanigans, because all it takes is a small band of intrepid cyberspace jockeys to put out the dirty laundry of these malefactors for all to see…and get very angry at.
May 2009 Archives
ONE of the stories related to me by my late father about his friends’ exploits while they were still students at the Ateneo (before the War), were the times they played hookey and swam across the Pasig River. Needless to say, they would often get caught and earned the ire of the Jesuit prefects of discipline. But the point being made here is that, in those days, the Pasig was clean enough to attract people to jump in for a relaxing swim. Many years later, I found myself helping the late Roberto T. Villanueva, a good friend of my late father, as a consultant in the newly established office euphemistically referred to as the Coordinating Council for Philippine Assistance Program (CCPAP). The CCPAP was charged with overseeing the inflow and expenditure of bilateral and multilateral funds meant to help spur or maintain economic and social development. One time, it was suggested that I look into the cleaning of both the Pasig River and Laguna de Bay. As a committed environmentalist, this was the sort of project that got me excited, until I made a series of phone calls to development agencies and donor institutions. In short, they said that there were dozens of clean-up studies floating around, and that only political will was needed to get the project off the ground. The problems of the Pasig and Laguna de Bay are numerous, and some of the proposed solutions only serve to exacerbate rather than alleviate the problems concerned. First, and most obvious, is the amount of garbage together with human and industrial waste being dumped into the two water systems daily. So, cleaning up the river and the lake would have to go beyond carting off the garbage and waste on a one-time basis, or, even on a regular basis. More important would be to attack the core of the problem and stop the people and institutions from dumping waste into the two systems. And this is where political will comes in. For example, in countries like Korea and Taiwan that had similar problems, they tackled the problems with gusto and hacked away at the sources of pollutants until, to a large extent, their riverine and lake systems were cleansed. I saw this in various trips to Korea over decades where the Korean authorities literally created a buffer of land between the roads & human habitats and the rivers. In the case of the Han River, for example, one sees parks and playgrounds right beside the riverbanks, and no one is allowed to simply dump garbage or waste directly into the river. I would also venture a guess that they make extensive use of waste treatment plants before any of the waste water is reintroduced into the water systems. In the case of the Pasig, therefore, one would have to literally move the illegal human structures away from riverbanks and into new habitats further inland. The vacated areas must then be quickly converted into parks or playgrounds before new sets of squatters move in. This is where political will comes in because the rights of the people soon to be dispossessed must be respected, but their eviction also pursued. Industrial polluters must also be “convinced” to invest in waste treatment plants so that whatever is treated is recycled or pumped into the river in a literally drinkable state. Anyone who is familiar with the Pasig River and Laguna de Bay knows that both are heavily silted. Instead of the former depths of about 5 meters, we now have average depths of only 2 to 3 meters. A top view of the lake on Google Maps will show not only the proliferation of fishpens, but also the extent of the siltation. Most of the silt emanates from the nearby Sierra Madre range and the foothills that abound in Rizal and Laguna provinces. The wanton destruction of forest cover and nature habitats has resulted in the loss not only of precious topsoil, but any other kind of soil, leaving these areas previously rich in tropical growth now relatively barren. Talk of dredging the river must consider that the Pasig is a relatively short waterway. Its mouth in Manila Bay is not too far from the other end, Laguna de Bay. The water flows back and forth depending on the tides, making it difficult to consider bringing in large dredgers to do said work. The problem is compounded by the very low overhangs of many of the bridges that span the river, a prime example of which is Jones Bridge. Dredging the river cannot be done in isolation of the wave action at its mouth in Manila Bay and the silted area that is Laguna de Bay. Then, there is also the problem of what to do first: Clean up or Dredge or Aerate, etc. Those of us who are topical fish hobbyists laugh at the fears expressed by many on the presence of the so-called Janitor Fish, which is more properly called Plecostomus. A computer search of the species will make one realize that what they accuse the fish of being is not really correct. I have had this species of armored catfish in my aquarium tanks and in the relatively large fishpond I have at home, and have yet to see signs of the behavior they are accused of. The Pleco subsists on a diet of algae and small crustaceans, and maybe the small occasional fish that wanders into its mouth while it is feeding in its typical upside-down position. Myth busted! The task is a Herculean one, and I salute Ms Gina Lopez and her Bantay Kalikasan Foundation, together with the government agencies that have finally bit the bullet and started on this interesting exercise. This will not succeed overnight, and will probably be a 10- to 20-year project. Then, just maybe, my generation may be able to jump into the Pasig to take the proverbial swim without gagging on the refuse and detritus that plagues the river just now.
HAVING graduated from grade school in 1962, high school in 1966, and college in 1971 (all from La Salle-Taft) plus two years in graduate school (AIM in 1973), I have come to realize that my compatriots and I are part of the leading edge in the Boomer generation. Since the Boomer generation embraces those born after the great War (WWII) up until the hated war (Vietnam in the 60s), my bunch is pretty much in our early 60s and feeling the heavy hand of gravity–--falling hair and drooping stomachs on our physiques. In addition, we now have to contend with more senior moments as we tend to be more forgetful in both big and little things. My La Salle classmates continue to whoop it up every quarter or so with a class party featuring the music of the 60s and 70s. Fortunately, we have sort of an in-house band composed of many who played the music of the 60s back then, the GGBB. What does that name mean? Anything from Great Green Boogie Band to "Gago Gago Bobo Band," depending on how many bottles of wine find their way into my classmates’ constitutions. The GGBB has played in many revival concerts and its leaders are part of the online group Pinoy Classic Rockers, a group that promotes the musical genre of our generation. As a result, we have had very nice class parties with wives and lady friends from our generation who share a common love for the music and light company akin to what we used to have in our erstwhile jam sessions way back when. The other evening, My AIM classmates met--once again--in the penthouse residence of Mon Abad and Lenny de Jesus. A common love for music has resulted in many talented and accomplished artists finding their way into the equivalent of a musical atelier, one that has seen classical artists, chorales and choirs, and yes, the inevitable classic rock groups gather to entertain or to jam. The evening in question found Lenny’s prize group, the Electromaniacs, playing back up to wannabe singers from my class as they waded through a collection of Beatles songs and even a credible incarnation of a Credence Clearwater Revival piece. Many in my class who idolized the Electromaniacs for their incredibly complex and accomplished music during the 60s were struck by the irony of having one of the greatest music icons providing back up for our motley bunch of, singers. How lucky could we get? Finding solace and comfort in something like the music of our generation is not limited to a few groups alone, as we find more and more Boomers letting what is left of their hair down in order to play both the instrumental and vocal hits of our time. Lenny finds pleasure in supporting musical causes and musicians through activities like the Electromaniacs concert that saw the launch of their revival CD, the proceeds of which had been earmarked for a music foundation. That same evening, we were talking about the different perspectives of the Pacquiao fight and also the man himself. We whipped out a sample computation of what we thought would be the net earnings of Manny after at least two more good fights--assuming he wins both and gets the guaranteed amounts and share of PPV for TV--and came up with a net amount of only about P2 billion. This is less local and US taxes, managers’ and promoters’ shares, trainer’s share, and so forth, leaving only about 35% of the gross as his take home. We figured that his earnings from endorsements and other activities would be needed just to maintain his lifestyle and the upkeep of the barangay of followers who hold court with him wherever he goes. But we came to one inevitable conclusion: Manny P may have enough to run for Congress but not enough for a stab at the Presidency. So, whoever is thinking of making him run and hold on to his fame, would also have to be excellent fundraisers. Furthermore, he is not guaranteed a win because he has possible determined opponents who will not give up their seats without a fight. Some of us who are in Facebook elicited interest from those who are not. I think that enough was learned by some classmates present to get them to try this social networking medium. And this is the surprising thing about networking sites like Facebook. Among the largest increases in users now being recorded by Facebook belong to the Boomer generation. At first, many moms and dads opened Facebook accounts in order to keep track of their kids. But after finding many fellow Boomers signed up, their average usage goes up dramatically from about 30 minutes per day to an hour or two, especially since many in our generation have more time for themselves now. It is indeed rewarding to be able to hook up with old friends not seen since graduation. Internet marketing mavens have taken note of this increased usage by Boomers and have began to target them through the various media available on the web. To find out how this can be done, you may have to attend the new course offered at AIM that my son Jayvee will be handling (see my last post on the new media and how it can be harnessed for marketing and business purposes). During these, our sunset years, it is pleasant to be able to get together with old friends to talk about nothing significant in particular, and just enjoy each other’s company with the music of the 60s playing in the background.