Wake Up, Philippines!

BIR hunting season officially open!

Posted in BIR, Governance, Graft and Corruption by Erineus on March 21, 2009

CTALK By Cito Beltran Updated March 13, 2009 12:00 AM

I don’t know how the United States does it, but in the Philippines, it seems that the BIR has already declared their hunting season open! In fact things are so bad that some businessmen are now more afraid of certain BIR personnel than kidnappers.

Participants in a recent tax forum expressed shock when a top official of the BIR casually said that as far as they are concerned, they are willing to turn a blind eye to whatever means BIR agents use as long as the agency meets their revenue targets or collection quotas. In response to the pressure and the desperation to hit targets, the BIR has foregone restraint and accountability among the good and the bad within its ranks.

Is this a confirmation that the Arroyo government is desperate for money and desperate times require desperate measures? If this is the mindset of the BIR commissioners, then they are welcome to use the tag line: “QUOTA AT ANY COST”.

Filipinos traditionally lament during March and April because it’s time to pay income tax, but this year there has been a marked increase in the number of harassed taxpayers who have decided to go to tax lawyers and the media to complain about letters and inquiries from the BIR that have escalated to downright shakedowns.

But more than just complaining, people have started to record letters, meetings and conversations with BIR officers and representatives. It would be interesting to find out whose faces will show up on security tapes in various restaurants, spas, country clubs as well as offices if the Senate investigates the situation.

Unlike in the past where “victims” keep quiet and simply pay the tax and bribe the taxman, the victims are now openly talking about the shakedowns and the price of compromise.

The corrupt are now asking for an average of P350,000 not to do their job and after a couple of weeks, the reported average rate of accepted bribe is P200,000. There are no distinctions made between feast and famine and if the “agent” gets transferred, the thieves have a referral system.

In short, corrupt agents trick the sinner or the ignorant into believing that their problems are solved once they pay. What they did not realize was they simply enrolled themselves as perpetual hostage to corruption.

Clearly, there is a national phobia of the BIR for the longest time they have promoted and enlarged the myth that “You don’t mess with the BIR”. Because of the G-men characterization, it becomes all the more easier to make delinquent taxpayers cower to corrupt arrangements.

In a recent tax seminar conducted by an ex-taxman now working for SGV accountants, the speaker warned his audience: “Whatever you do, don’t antagonize the people from the BIR, because even if you are compliant they will always find some way to get at you”. Can you believe that statement?

Considering the fact that the Filipino taxpayer is the principal partner of the BIR in meeting their revenue targets, shouldn’t we promote an image and a relationship between taxpayer and tax collector that is cooperative and supportive instead of threatening and combative?!

The Filipino taxpayer is entitled to Respect, Compassion and Understanding.

Respect the fact that we all work hard for the money the BIR needs, wants and demands. Be compassionate about the taxpayers’ reluctance to part with money that could spell the difference for a better education, a better house to live in or an opportunity to enlarge their business. Understand that we are not knowledgeable about the tax system and it is the BIR’s obligation to extend the assistance and the courtesy to people as their share in working for the money.

Those who persist in creating the monster and the negative myth to promote their illegal agenda should start realizing that the once untouchable, corrupt civil servants and officials are now targets of exposés, lawsuits, cases with the ombudsman, pursued and arrested in foreign countries and in extreme cases judged and executed right in front of their families.

On the other hand, those who would rather pay ransom have no right to complain unless they are willing to come clean and correct their situation. It is also high time we go after accountants and auditors who sign off the statements as correct and then sell out their clients when they don’t get the rates they want! Imagine telling your client to cheat and then feel offended when you are cheated!

The problem is that the Department of Finance has not put up a “sanctuary system” where the penitent and negligent taxpayer can enroll under the supervision and protection of the DOF as well as the DOJ or the NBI who can then pursue an investigation and the filing of cases against extortionists. Those who have tried to play straight had to deal with threats and harassment! Right now an amnesty program will insure that the government gets the money but we still have to get the crooks out of government.

Today we clearly have a developing situation where the BIR is under the gun to produce money by any means available to the agency but at the expense of the citizens, both the innocent as well as the guilty. Instead of pushing the people too far or against the wall, Secretary Gary Teves and the BIR should ask the people for better solutions.

Apparently the Arroyo administration has started to believe their own propaganda and refuses to accept the closure of many businesses and ignores the reality of several years of bad business as well as the world wide economic crisis.

Ultimately, “Quota at any cost” may cost this government much more than they bargained for.

View previous articles of this column.


‘Pack of wolves’

A “PACK of wolves” is the apt description, and the crimes of plunder and other criminal acts the proper charges, against those involved in the infamous P728 million fertilizer fund scam.

These are the findings arrived at by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee at the conclusion of its investigation of the infamous case early this week.

That the Senate committee chose the phrase “pack of wolves” to describe the alleged perpetrators of the scam only meant how deeply its members were convinced of the reprehensible guilt of the accused.

Wolves are notoriously known to be ruthless predators that would ravish others’ lives to satisfy their own greed.

“The bigger picture shows us the distressing spectacle of veritable wolf packs preying with impunity on government projects, having access to colossal sums of public money, using power and influence without compunction, and perverting public office into an opportunity for abuse and gain,” part of the committee report said.

What is immediately noticeable in the committee’s harsh words and harsher still decision recommending the filing of plunder and other criminal charges against the personalities it found involved in the case was the total silence, if not the lack of criticisms, over such severe and exacting verdict.

But that may be expected because of the national shame and disgruntlement that such scandal caused the nation.

On the contrary, it could have been met with widespread skepticism and possibly violent street protests if the Senate committee, even just a little, toned down the tenor of its indignation on its findings.

The senators themselves, including some opposition leaders, were reported satisfied with the Blue Ribbon investigation, wishing only that the Arroyo government, in particular the Ombudsman, would act decisively on the committee’s recommendations.

Some of them also favored the committee’s report holding President Arroyo responsible for Bolante’s acts and those of the Agriculture Department officials involved in the fertilizer case, an issue which some House leaders dispute, however.

House Deputy Speaker Simeon Datumanong in a statement has said “the acts of those responsible for the diversion of fertilizer funds are not attributable to the President.”

But just the same, Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, insists that “the President must explain.”

Even so, Congressman Antonio Cuenco of Cebu, chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, has expressed disappointment over the Blue Ribbon Committee’s decision to link President Arroyo to the scam, however indirectly, despite the total absence of evidence.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon for his part said he was satisfied “that all the people involved in the scam were now being held accountable.”

Now the proverbial ball is on the Ombudsman’s court.

With the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendation, the hope is that the Ombudsman would act speedily on it. While it may be true that the fertilizer scam is only one of the few thousand cases now pending in the Office of the Ombudsman, it is now up to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to device means to accommodate it for early resolution.



Manila Bulletin

Beacons of good governance

Posted in Governance by Erineus on February 26, 2009

By Alejandro R. Roces

Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

At a time when we seem to read and hear only news about corruption, poverty and unemployment, our continued existence seemingly threatened by a government suffering from a battered reputation, it is like a refreshing spring to read about something positive for a change. Last Feb.12, ten local government units (LGUs) through their leaders, were cited and conferred with Galing Pook Awards by President Arroyo in ceremonies held at the Malacañang Palace. Galing Pook awards community programs for innovation and excellence in local governance. When duplicated in other communities, positive change is propagated leading to an improved quality of life for all. We are glad to know that the pioneering program established in 1993 by advocates of good governance led by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Ford Foundation and later by the Asian Institute of Management, other representatives from the academe, business, civil society and the government is now institutionalized as a self-sustaining Foundation. Galing Pook to my mind means “best community” or “excellence in the community” (galing ng pook) and I like their slogan “Malikhaing paraan, kasama ang mamamayan, tungo sa pagbabago at tuloy tuloy na pagunlad”, which when translated, goes — “Creative ways, hand in hand with the citizens, towards positive change and continuing progress”. To my mind, these are very simple, yet powerful, life transforming words which were realized in the achievements of the following LGU-awardees.

The Children of Peace Program in the Cotabato Province spearheaded by Governor Jesus N. Sacdalan, counters the increasing trend of youth becoming soldiers and victims of conflict. The youth from various sectors and groups are brought together in a learning, sharing and living environment to make them understand and appreciate each other’s culture and belief systems; those of the indigenous people, the Moro people and the Christian settlers. We commend Governor Sacdalan’s peaceful strategy involving the youth. His program not only protects the youth from violence and abuse; he also ensures their development as productive citizens.

Avante Sanito! (“Forward Sanito!”) represents the battlecry of a local community in Ipil, Zamboanga. Led by Punong Barangay Jose Cabaral Tiu, the area was successfully transformed from a notorious place of rampant lawlessness, poor sanitation and utter disorderliness to a model community worth emulating by other barangays. Through a series of consultative meetings and workshops, Tiu elicited the awareness of the local folks on the barangay code, focusing on the importance of strong interoffice linkages and partnerships with the private sector as prime catalysts in realizing positive change for the benefit of the whole community.

The mountain of garbage in Payatas, Quezon City that previously drew the concern from many human rights advocates and other governments abroad is now a grass-covered mountain, thanks to Mayor Sonny Belmonte. He implemented a Payatas dumpsite rehabilitation program which remarkably improved the dumpsite’s operational efficiency, cut down operating costs and at the same time, made the facility safer and more environment-friendly. Quezon City has successfully created a model for a well-managed solid waste facility, giving new life to its residents, who were also given various livelihood opportunities.

Allah Valley in South Cotabato figured in the list of awardees because of the successful partnership forged among the local, regional and national government leaders who composed the Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance (AVLDA). Resources were focused on solving the intermittent flooding and siltation eroding the soil of 30,000 hectares of irrigated rice fields and affecting 65 barangays along the Allah and Banga rivers. 15,000 bamboo trees were planted along banks to serve as flood buttresses and dikes were constructed along critical sections of the river to re-channel water flow, thus saving prime lands. Again, partnership among the community members and the private sector was the major factor in the successful transformation of the Allah Valley. Governor Daisy P. Avance-Fuentes certainly did a good job of rallying the people in her province to work for environment protection and improved public service for the benefit of the local communities.

In Marikina City, the establishment of a Central Warehouse has led to the effective and efficient distribution and utilization of supplies and materials by the City Government, thereby saving on costs. We commend the achievement of Mayor Marides Fernando that provides a good model of efficiency in handling precious government resources for other local government units to follow.

Five more awardees shall be featured in our next column. Hand in hand with the citizens, through creative governance, our national government, through these empowered LGUs, can institute positive change and continuing progress for the whole nation despite the seemingly insurmountable odds.

View previous articles of this column.


Philippines: a jueting Republic soon

Posted in DILG, Election, Gambling, Governance, PNP by Erineus on February 25, 2009

By Harvey S. Keh

LAST week, Pampanga Governor Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio again made the headlines and even the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) when he broke the news that the reason why he wants his Police Provincial Director relieved from his position is due to the latter’s refusal to cooperate with him in his fight against illegal gambling particularly jueteng in his province.

What even made the news even more alarming was the fact that there are allegations that it was First Son and Pampanga Congressman Mikey Arroyo who was exerting pressure on the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to ensure that the demands of Gov. Panlilio will not be given. If we will recall, in the last 2007 elections, one of Gov. Panlilio’s main opponents was Lilia Pineda who was then a Provincial Board Member and wife of alleged jueteng lord, Bong Pineda.

We all know that despite meager resources and limited amount of time to prepare, Gov. Panlilio through the support of the civil society and church groups was able to win and one of main thrust of his administration was to put an end to jueteng in Pampanga thus, ridding his province of the label, “the Vatican of Jueteng in the Philippines”. Barely a year in office, Gov. Panlilio filed a plunder case against Bong Pineda for his alleged involvement in jueteng operations all over the country.

I was in Pampanga over the weekend and I was listening to a local radio station wherein two radio commentators were saying that instead of focusing on the eradication of jueteng, Gov. Panlilio should just let the issue go and focus his efforts elsewhere.

I was disturbed by those comments since if we recall, wasn’t jueteng one of the major reasons why many of us went to the streets leading to the ouster of President Joseph Estrada? How many families have been destroyed by this prevailing addiction to illegal gambling?

It is a grim reality that many politicians in our country from the local government units up to our national government continue to allow jueteng operations to run since they also benefit from it. The money that is earned by taking advantage of the hopelessness of the poor is then used to buy votes during elections or even influence the results thereby perpetuating themselves in power.

For a country that is run by a few selfish interests while millions continue to live with less than 100 pesos a day, the upcoming 2010 National Elections again present an opportunity for us to elect the right leaders for our country.

Yet, this may only remain an elusive dream if we continue to allow jueteng lords to influence the results of the elections thus, making our political leaders beholden to them. Gov. Panlilio is right in fighting jueteng because by doing so, he is not only fighting one of the causes of poverty in our country but he is also fighting to preserve the integrity of one of the most important rights that we have in a democracy, our right to freely choose effective and ethical leaders for our country.

However, we all have to realize that this fight against jueteng will not be won overnight given that this is also a source of livelihood for many Filipinos. The challenge for Gov. Panlilio is to ensure that he is able to stimulate enough economic activity and employment in his province so that Kapampangans will have opportunities to earn a decent living and they will no longer have to pin their hopes for a better life on this gamble of numbers.

The experience of other countries like Mexico and Colombia wherein money from illegal drugs has been used to elect the highest officials in their respective countries is something that we can all learn from. Drug lords continue to reign in these countries and it won’t be long that jueteng lords will also be our country’s rulers if we don’t do anything about it now. Do we want our country to be known not only as the Sick Man of Asia but also as the Jueteng Republic of Asia? I certainly hope not.

Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government. Comments are welcome at harveykeh@gmail.com


Zero Tolerance

Posted in Governance, Government, Graft and Corruption, Social Issues/Concerns by Erineus on February 17, 2009

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The right noises are being made. Now if only there could be leadership by example. The administration that has been hounded by the worst corruption scandals since the Marcos regime has just launched a moral renewal program, advocating “zero tolerance” for corruption.

In Administrative Order 255 dated Jan. 30, President Arroyo ordered all Cabinet officials and agency heads to implement the moral renewal program with the participation of religious and civic groups. Moral renewal, the order explained, “refers to values formation and ethical behavior for government officers and employees.” The President also referred to Filipino values embodied in the Constitution that must be strengthened, among them respect for the law, justice, truth, freedom, equality, peace and faith in God.

Against the backdrop of events in the past eight years, anyone reading the administrative order will wince. The Cabinet members and agency heads with the longest staying power in this administration are those who have been implicated in corruption scandals, those who signed anomalous deals or who know how to invoke executive privilege to suppress information about official wrongdoing.

The administrative order might have some use in slapping sanctions on the small fry who are foolish enough to think that, like the big fish, they can get away with graft. The government needs to trot out statistics in its efforts to fight corruption, and who cares if only the anchovy gets caught while the whale gets away?

AO 255 can have some use in the bottom rungs of the bureaucracy where fixers and penny-ante extortionists operate. This administrative order will be added to the list of measures undertaken by the government to address corruption. Who knows, it might help persuade Washington that Manila is sincere in its efforts to fight corruption and the Philippines therefore qualifies for bigger aid from the Millennium Challenge Corp.

The Department of Finance received the World Bank report on bidding anomalies in a WB-funded road project. What was the government’s response? It sat on the report for a year. Where is the zero tolerance for corruption? Considering the fate of people like Rodolfo Lozada Jr., this administration has zero tolerance only for those who blow the whistle on corrupt acts.

Philippine Star
Updated February 17, 2009 12:00 AM

Executive privilege: SSS after ZTE-NBN

There was public outrage when Mr. Romulo Neri, of the ZTE-NBN notoriety, was named by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to head the Social Security System (SSS). The appointment was seen as Neri’s reward for his silence on the ZTE-NBN deal and blind loyalty to Ms Arroyo. It was feared that Neri would also play deaf and dumb should the Arroyo administration decide to raid the pension funds, for political purposes.

It has been reported that P12.5 billion (yes, billion!) of SSS funds is being eyed “for infrastructure,” as part of the “stimulus package” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2/3/09; read story) which would be placed at the disposal of Ms Arroyo.

Given Malacañang’s track record in misspending tax money with shameless abandon and buying loyalties with generous “cash gifts” and other perks, we shudder at the thought that all this SSS money could end up being used (read: diverted) to ensure Ms Arroyo’s continued stay in Malacañang beyond 2010 — as earnestly, if shamelessly, prayed for by her trusted drumbeater Jesus Dureza.

And the worst part is, she may not have to account for all that profligacy in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling on “executive privilege,” which virtually strikes down any attempt to hold her and her underlings accountable for any act of malversation and corruption. God help the Philippines!

STEVE Y. VESPERA, Esq. (via email)
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:23:00 02/12/2009

Resolution in Governance

Posted in Governance by Erineus on February 11, 2009

IN the end, a governance scorecard, as a tool for performance monitoring and as a prod for making necessary adjustments, is mainly about taking the next necessary steps. It is about making resolutions and then carrying them out as quickly and as effectively as possible. It is about keeping our commitments fresh and operative. It is about producing breakthrough results.

This has been our bane. We start with grandiose hopes. We make splashy announcements about the programs of action we aim to undertake. We meet obstacles along the way. We lose heart. We let slip from our radar screens the commitments we made to produce results. We end up with very little positive results from the programs of action we had announced. They end up, with no fanfare whatsoever, in the dustbin of history.

For our nation’s sake, we have to do everything possible to do things differently. Based on regular performance reports, we need to determine what we did badly, what we left undone, and what we could have done much better. The first two of these are straightforward: We make a checklist of the corrective actions we must take and then make sure someone is responsible for doing them. The third requires a bit more thinking: There can be a thousand and one ways of doing things better. Are we getting stuck in routine? Have we allowed ourselves to fall into a rut? Are we getting so thick in the head that we are failing to take advantage of opportunities opened up for us? Are we spending too much time on matters that have little relevance to the strategic priorities already laid out? The questions are endless. They can go on and on. However, we should quickly get the drift of these questions and start making fresh resolutions.

Experience has shown, however, that resolutions are broken almost as soon as they are made. The trick, then, lies in the frequency with which we do reviews, which are the occasions for making a fresh determination and renewed commitment to action. Strategic reviews are long and detailed once a year. A shorter, more sharply focused version is best once a quarter. Performance reviews are de rigueur once a month. However, the closer we are to home, the more frequent are the performance reviews. At the unit level, ideally they are done weekly. At the personal level, ideally they are done daily. All these need not take too much time. For instance, the daily performance review at the personal level should take no more than three minutes, preferably towards the end of the day.

Who among those running for president in 2010 would have the ability, willingness, and determination to take on such a systematic approach towards undertaking performance reviews, which are the occasions for making resolutions and then acting on them? Who would have the patience to use the governance scorecards as tools for acting on the resolutions made? Who would have the character and stamina for rallying the people working at different levels of government as well as the different citizens’ groups so they do their utmost best to keep their resolutions and act effectively on them? Who would punish those who constantly fail? Who would reward those who turn in sterling performance habitually?

We need to put in place an accountability system, which rewards and punishes fairly and positively. This is necessary for governance scorecards to help us achieve breakthrough results. We also need a system to help us keep our resolutions and act on them. This is essential for us to get out of the bane that has been bringing us down perennially, and for us to achieve the boon that can bring us up at last.

Who among those running for president is most likely to put in place such an accountability system? Who would be the most committed to put in place a system to help us all to carry out our resolutions?

Author: Dr. Jesus P. Estanislao
Source: http://www.mb.com.ph/archive_pages.php?url=http://www.mb.com.ph/issues/2009/02/07/OPED20090207147528.html