Split is the bill
Only one congressman voted against the bill splitting the province of Camarines Sur to create a new province, Nueva Camarines.
According to the camp of Deputy Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella, now in his final term as representative of the province, the lone vote against the split came from Rep. Salvio Fortuno.
Fortuno is the other congressman from the same province, who was once the vice governor, serving then as an ally of the current Gov. Luis Ray Villafuerte.
The Fuentebella camp has been pushing for the division of the province, and they garnered 22 “yes” votes (versus six “no”) in the local government committee, plus the overwhelming victory of 266 “yes” versus one “no” in Congress.
It has been claiming that the split was needed to draw away some neglected towns (specifically those in the 4th and 5th districts) from the political patronage practiced by the young Villafuerte.
In their press campaign, the Fuentebella camp has been hammering on the poverty issue in those two districts, which have a combined population of about 800,000 people.
For instance, an earlier statement from the Fuentebella camp lambasted the claim of the Villafuerte camp that CamSur had solved the problem of malnutrition in the province.
The National Nutrition Council, in fact, reported that among the six provinces in the Bicol region, CamSur had the most number of undernourished babies below 17 months old, using the standard set by the WHO.
Other statements from the Fuentebella camp targeted the claim of the other camp regarding the phenomenal growth of tourism in the province.
It is true that the province has marketed itself as a tourism spot from out of nowhere. Today, it is the site of the qualifying round for the international triathlon event called “Iron Man.”
The Villafuerte camp has been saying that CamSur last year became the country’s top tourist draw with its about 1.8 million visitors.
To counter such a claim, the Fuentebella camp cited actual tourism income. In this category, CamSur apparently fared poorly.
Boracay island was estimated to have garnered tourism receipt of roughly P14 billion last year. In comparison, CamSur posted less than P1 billion.
To explain such a low figure, the Fuentebella camp has been hammering on alleged graft and corruption in the provincial administration of the young Villafuerte.
Press statements from the Fuentebella camp, for instance, cited a report by the Commission on Audit that questioned certain practices in the provincial government.
For instance, the CoA noted “non-issuance of receipts” at the CamSur main tourist attractions, the ones called CamSur Watersports Complex and the Caramoan island resorts.
Now, let us try to make sense out of this word war between the two political camps in the province.
Fuentebella already won in the House, but he needs to get the approval of the Senate. This is one reason for the media campaign.
From what I heard, some senators are still not convinced regarding the economics behind the proposed split. It is estimated to cost more than P1 billion.
The last word of course belongs to the people of the province. After Congress passes the split bill into law, the people will have to reject or approve it in a plebiscite.
That, I think, promises to be a more expensive exercise for the two camps.
* * *
The big story in business last week was the discovery of a smuggling modus operandi at the Bureau of Customs called “transshipment.”
It turned out that, as Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez explained it upon his own discovery of the scheme, importers could cheat on duties and taxes through such a scheme.
For instance, an import shipment first goes to the Port of Manila, but its eventual destination is the Port of Batangas. The actual assessment of duties and taxes is made in the port of destination in Batangas.
It so happens the BoC already discovered that, so far, more than 2,000 containers using the “transshipment” scheme were unaccounted for, meaning that the duties and taxes were not paid.
Alvarez himself estimated the possible revenue loss at about P240 million, which was the same figure cited by Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, who chairs the House subcommittee on customs and tariff, which is investigating the racket.
As a solution, Alvarez wants to ban the practice of transit cargo.
That, or the importer pays the duties and taxes on “transshipment” at the first port (or the port of discharge), as against the present practice of assessing the shipments at the port of destination.
The question is this: Are his proposed moves legal?
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