Tooth or consequenceBy Conrado Banal
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Now, the struggle really begins for the Palace and our leader Benigno Simeon, aka BS.
With their canine tooth showing in media attacks over the contentious “sin” tax bill, officials of the Aquino (Part II) administration recently criticized one Palace ally in the Senate, Sen. Ralph Recto, ways and means committee chair.
The senator, according to reports, promptly resigned his position, and his surprise move may bear unwanted consequences for our leader Benigno Simeon, aka BS, who wants to raise billions of pesos in revenue through the “six” tax bill.
In fact, our leader, BS, certified it as a priority urgent measure—which he did not do, by the way, for the new money-sharing scheme between mining companies and the government.
In effect, because of Recto’s resignation, his committee’s version of the bill—much criticized by the boys and the girls of our leader, BS—may soon find its way to the trash bin.
Without Recto, the “sin” tax measure may now need a new sponsoring senator, possibly the new chair of the ways and means committee. His replacement may have to start anew—back to square one, so to speak—because, in the first place, it was Recto who presided in all the Senate hearings on the bill.
Thus, the committee may have to conduct new hearings to come up with a version more acceptable to the boys and girls of our leader, BS, which may not even sit well with the affected sectors: the tobacco and alcohol industries. Remember, they are multibillion-peso businesses.
We all know that, with the 2013 congressional elections only a few months ahead, Congress hardly has the time for the hearings, meaning, the “sin” tax bill may now be doomed.
That, in a way, is the unexpected consequence of those attacks in media.
But then, again, the Aquino (Part II) administration has the displeasure of a number of unwanted consequences from its own measures, such as the executive orders on its new mining policy and the total logging ban.
As I said, the new mining policy in EO 79 wants a new revenue sharing formula between the mining companies and the government, aiming for a higher share going to the government than the present 2 percent.
Again, this will have to be worked out in the legislature. From what I gathered, the Palace does not consider the new scheme as top priority. Our leader, BS, has yet to certify the new sharing scheme as a priority bill.
The existing mines then will enjoy the low 2-percent sharing scheme—perhaps indefinitely. There is no urgent bill. Meanwhile, all other new mining ventures are left hanging. In effect, the new mining policy only serves to favor the existing mines.
Whether it was an intended or an unwanted consequence is hard to say, but another policy, the one on total logging ban under EO 23, yields obviously unwanted results, i.e. the loss of government revenue from legitimate organized logging companies.
Yet, there is ample supply of wood in the market, as evident from the stable prices of lumber despite the huge demand from the construction boom. The steady supply only shows that illegal logging is rampant—despite the total ban.
And so in this country, as a consequence of the total ban policy, the necessary activity called logging becomes similar to jueteng: both illegal but prospering. The government does not get any revenue out of them. Its share simply goes to corruption.
To think, illegal logging goes under the nose of the DENR throughout the watch of its head, Secretary Ramon Paje, who, during the cute administration of Gloriaetta, was said to have been the sidekick of two successive DENR secretaries, former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and former Congressman Mike Defensor.
But then in this administration, he aligned himself with the “Samar” group to land the temporary albeit plum post at the DENR, which was supposedly intended for losing senatorial bet Neric Acosta, now settling for the fancy title “presidential adviser for environmental protection.”
Anyway, up to now, Paje is among four Cabinet members struggling in the hearings conducted by the Commission on Appointments, together with Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.
According to reports, various sectors are questioning Paje’s competence and integrity, as seen in a letter to CA members, purportedly from “concerned officers and members of the DENR Employees Union,” containing an itemized countdown of his alleged illegal acts, even mentioning the issue over possible connivance between DENR officials and illegal loggers, or the suspicious sale and lease of government properties.
From what I gathered, the group already wrote Sen. Serge Osmeña III and Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, urging them to question Paje in the CA hearings on the much publicized illegal logging and mining in Bukidnon and the Lanao provinces, citing Paje’s possible ties with a former senator as his “protector.”
Now, Paje single handedly led the Aquino (Part II) administration to the total log ban policy, promising to end all illegal logging once and for all. Surely, he is at odds with the legitimate logging companies, not to mention his continuing battle against the mining industry.
From my end, however, it looked like the letter came from disgruntled employees of the DENR, since it detailed Paje’s alleged favoritism by promoting only the people close to him, even revealing alleged foreign trips of undersecretaries using DENR funds.
One item noted that Paje even created a new position for a relative of Gloriaetta, who was hired by the DENR during the cute administration. The position is now known as “assistant secretary for anti-corruption and internal audit.” The group noted that the position was not specified in DENR Reorganization Law.
The group urged the CA members to also look into the pending cases against Paje that were filed, separately, by various groups in the Office of the Ombudsman. They even attached copies of the complaints in the letters to CA members.
Among the charges were the alleged “gross undervaluation” of the Fort Bonifacio property of the DENR agency called the National Mapping and Resources Information Authority (NAMRIA), the lease of 12 parcels of 2,000-hectare land in Busuanga Island that has been declared a conservation area, and the sale of DENR properties in Manila and Cebu.
Really, it is all up to the CA, and it bears watching.
Short URL: http://business.inquirer.net/?p=87898