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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Low-salaried gov't employees ask SC to stop BIR taxes on their fringe benefits, but SC itself under the gun as CJ Sereno asserts SC's independence vs.House move to abolish Marcos-era JDF and impeachment threat vs. magistrates. BIR squeeze of lowly bureaucrats stark contrast to fabled lifestyle of Congress members who are now fighting to retain DAP. House moves imperil constitutional freedoms, but where are the defenders?

               "Pork Pig" diagram lifted from paper recently read
        by Prof. Jose Enrique Africa, CenPeg Fellow, with IBON data
                           


Government workers in Metro Manila were up in arms yesterday against the BIR for new taxations, including on their bonuses and fiscal incentives. Dressed in red and sporting black arm-bands, they were joined by their co-workers in various other cities, as well as by colleagues in the Supreme Court who are protesting its continued harassment by thugs from the House of Representatives---because of the SC’s July 1 ruling declaring unconstitutional certain portions of the DAP funding. 

Recall that over a week earlier, in time for the President’s SONA, public school teachers in various parts of the country also held rallies to protest the snatching of their incentive bonuses and the disappearance of these funds into the black infinity hole of “savings” for the DAP.

The government workers have brought their complaint directly to the SC, seeking to stop the BIR’s move for new taxes which is certainly very ill-timed and unfeeling---as if it has no idea how the low-paid bureaucrats are having such a tough time eking out a living to answer their basic needs---with the rise in prices of basic commodities and expected increase in their electricity bill this month.

As quoted in the newspapers, the 28,000 judiciary employees across the land are on loans of all sorts in trying to make ends meet.  This is doubtless true for most bureaucratic offices.

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But what makes the BIR's move to slap new taxes on low-salaried government employees' fringe benefits seem intolerable and unconscionable is that these folk's plight is in stark contrast to the fabled lifestyle, wanton access to public funds and lack of accountability of legislators that lowly employees elected to represent them. 

As Prof. Jose Enrique Africa's paper, read at the recent CenPeg-sponsored "alternative SONA" forum, pointed out in the "porky pig" diagram (above) of where the President's P150 billion DAP was spent, next to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and payment backlogs of P40 billion and the Executive's P35 billion, the Legislative availed of third biggest DAP with P17 billion. This, in addition to the now unconstitutional PDAF of P70 million for most of the 280 House members and P200 million each for 24 senators, plus  many other perks in the Congressional budget that ordinary mortals can neither see nor comprehend.

This fabled lifestyle of some Congress members was driven home during the SONA when some spouses went pabonggahan before TV cameras and candidly revealed in news interviews how much their couturiers charged for their gowns. Given the poverty of the times especially after major devastations hit our country, it was just incredibly poor taste and poorer politics.

Now some solons cannot contain their greed and grief at losing their P17 billion DAP and in retaliation for the SC’s ruling portions of DAP unconstitutional. Allies of P-Noy have been harassing the High Court--- obviously to pressure the magistrates to reverse their 13-0 vote in the pending House’s motion for reconsideration on DAP. No effort even to be a bit subtle about it.

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I don't always agree with Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, but she was right to boycott  hearings of the House Committee on Justice, chaired by Iloilo Rep. Neil Tupas, on investigations into the Judicial Development Fund (JDF) and how it's spent. Sereno termed the "invitation" "premature and inappropriate" as she argued that the reports on JDF expenditures and fund balances are regularly submitted to the House Committee on Appropriations and the Senate Finance Committee. 

But what rankled Sereno, more than anything perhaps, is that while the invitation to appear before the committee was extended to her, two of her subordinates were also summoned to attend---an absolute insult to her. With Sereno's snub of the Tupas committee's invitation, the House thugs are threatening her and other magistrates with impeachment.


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Since the time of President Marcos, never have we seen such head-on collision between two co-equal branches of government as we have now---with the thugs in Congress wanting to cripple the judiciary's independence by abolish the JDF, which was created by Marcos' PD 1949 in July 1984. This Marcos PD is indication that the late dictator, more than P-Noy and his allies, somehow knew how to value and respect the independence of the judiciary, or make a show of it. 

It is inconceivable that Tupas, Justice committee senior vice-chair Rodolfo Farinas (of "palusot" fame during the Corona impeachment trial in 2012) and their fellow legislators would not have checked out their moves vs. the Supreme Court with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and other House leaders. Thus, the fact that harassment of the Supreme Court is taking place at the House portends real dangers to our democratic system---Malacanang and its cohorts in Congress could conceivably be preparing to declare a dictatorship soon---unless civil forces stop them first. 

Frankly, Tupas and his cohorts, including senior vice-committee chair Rodolfo Farinas (of "palusot" fame in the Corona impeachment trial), may not realize it but they are plunging P-Noy's popularity to new lows with their arrogance and defiance of the Constitution. Actually they are doing him a great disservice, as they now totally negate his tuwid na daan through baluktot moves in Congress.

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Corrolarily, the House LPs, in perfect obedience to Malacanang, now seek to re-define budget savings to mean collectible after every semester and even after every quarter---in direct contravention of the SC ruling of savings at the end of each year.  The end-game is, of course, to reverse the 13-0 SC ruling on DAP the circuitous way, by circumventing its strict prohibition on availment of semestral and quarterly savings. 

Many members of Congress, pampered with so much funds like these were going to be denominated, just are not ready to give up DAP one and a half years before the 2016 elections

Incidentally, a reader of this blog from Taytay, Rizal, reports that where before she could press some solons to account for how they have spent their DAP, now these solons' emails have become inaccessible. Many secrets to hide from prying eyes, obviously. 

At this point we all can only hope that the more decent elements in Congress join to resist the majority's persecutorial moves to retain privilege. Like many citizens who love their country, I can see with my mind's eye some of those decent elements---friends of mine as of last reckoning---and pine to hear their voice in defense of our freedoms. For the moment it's only the small band of minority solons resisting, but as Jesus Christ said of those he cured but disappeared, where are the rest?








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