Monthly Archives: April 2005

Where are the advocates of oil deregulation?

ALMOST everybody agrees that R.A. 8479 or the Oil Deregulation Act of 1998 must be reviewed in light of the uncontrollable oil price increases and the scandalous profiteering of major oil companies in the country.

This should be immediately undertaken if only to assuage the growing discontent among our people confronted with new taxes, rising cost of living and a seemingly inept government.

But we dare inquire, where are the advocates of the oil deregulation law? They should be facing the public today and defend their centerpiece legislation.

Where are Representatives Tiñga, Perez, Buenaventura and Roxas? They were the legislators who quickly re-filed the oil deregulation bill when the Supreme Court nullified R.A. 8180 or the Oil Deregulation Act of 1996.

Where is President Ramos who certified the bill as priority administration measure? Where are the economists who painted gloom scenarios if the Congress fails to pass the oil deregulation measure? They promised a better economy and a competition that will drive the oil prices down and what we got were the opposite.

We spent millions, possibly billions, of taxpayers’ money in committee meetings, public hearings, technical working groups and bicameral conferences in order to pass a law which will prove to be disastrous to the economy and to the lives of our poor.

Meanwhile, the critics of oil deregulation who were publicly labeled as populists, communists, leftist agitators, and stupid ideologues are vindicated today with their prognosis that the bill will lead to oligopoly and further hardships among our people.

We challenge the adherents of oil deregulation who were amazingly optimistic in their projection for the Philippine economy to come out from hiding or slumber and give a repeat performance of their "objective and scientific" presentation on how or why oil deregulation would benefit the public.

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when education becomes business

Not too long ago, it was Lucio Tan who holds the distinction as the most notorious capitalist-educator in the country. He boasted of turning the University of the East into a profitable school by charging higher fees and started the practice of collecting dubious charges such as aircon fee. Today UE is still making money but enrollment has dwindled and student rights such as freedom of assembly are violated.

Lucio Tan’s notoriety of exploiting schools for profit is obscured by the accolade he receives in the media for being a "philanthropist and benefactor" of many education programs.

Lucio Tan’s success in reinventing his image from a tax evader and Marcos crony to an avid promoter of education while earning big money has inspired other wealthy businessmen to invest in education as well. Senator Recto once exposed that the motive of these new school owners is to apply for tax discounts.

Studies must be made to determine the impact of corporatization of our schools especially in the light of the government policy of pressuring state universities to be operated as semi-corporatized institutions.

The capitalist-educator grabbing the headlines today and probably deserving the title currently reserved for Lucio Tan is Alfonso Yuchengco. He owns the Mapua Institute of Technology and the bankrupt Pacific Plans insurance company.

Last February, students of Mapua protested the proposal to change their school name into Malayan University. Some Mapua alumni accused Yuchengco of initiating that move to escape from tax liabilities.

Student leaders of Mapua informed us that their campaign is not just the change of name but also the reforms introduced by Yuchengco which proved disastrous for the school.

Before Yuchengco bought Mapua, it is a recognized leader in the field of engineering. But today, less than fifty percent of Mapua students pass the board exams. Students blame the quarterly semester system for this decline in quality of Mapua graduates. In one schoolyear, Mapua students have to pay tuition and miscellaneous fees four times and semestral break is only one week. They even have classes every Sunday.

The Mapua-Malayan controversy is not yet over and here comes another Yuchengco-owned company declaring it will not be able to honor the contracts it made with its 35,000 education planholders.

Yuchengco is right to pin down the tuition deregulation in the country as the reason for the collapse of Pacific Plans. But he is also to blame since he owns one of the most profitable schools in the country which collects tuition four times a year. If he was able to set an example to other schools by foregoing tuition increases and not taking advantage of the tuition deregulation, his insurance company might still be operating today.

Look what Yuchengco did to Mapua. Look how Yuchengco’s company turned its back to the 35,000 education planholders. Business and education should not mix. It’s bad for the kids and certainly bad for our future.

Tax religious schools

The Church defends its businesses and activities as charity-driven. But their schools rake high profits because of the high fees they collect from the students. The Bureau of Internal Revenue must review the tax incentives given to schools operated by the Church since many of these institutions charge tuition affordable only to the rich and a few lucky scholars.

The Church mission of building schools for the poor is a joke. What they operate are exclusive schools for the rich charging fees which the poor could not possibly afford.

In fact, Lucio Tan who owns the University of the East, Yuchengco of Mapua and Henry Sy of Asia Pacific College would look like amateur businessmen compared to the Church when it comes to running profitable schools.

There are also some Catholic schools which apply for tax break for the medical equipment they import citing its use for medical education yet these will be used in their hospitals while patients pay expensive rates for its use.

Aside from being pampered and overrated institutions in tertiary education, Catholic schools are powerful lobby groups with direct link to Malacanang. The current and former chairman of the Commission on Higher Education were from Catholic universities.

If the Church does not want to pay more taxes, then it must be sensitive enough to the hardships of the people and lead an example to all schools by charging the same or lower fees next schoolyear. Since they already enjoy tax discounts, and profit is expected not to be their primary motivation, we believe they can manage to lower the cost of tuition they charge to students.

How we wish the same fervor of Church leaders in appealing for sacrifice and unity among our people can be applied too in the management of their schools. The Church is urged to implement their own austerity measures.

We believe the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales wield a big influence on Catholic schools. We pray they would make this appeal of ours to school authorities so that our parents can have a temporary sigh of relief next semester.

We are no different from Myanmar

Senators are right in supporting the petition to deny Myanmar the chance to grab the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) because of its anti-democratic government.

Myanmar should first free Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and democratic reforms must be instituted immediately in the military-controlled bureaucracy.

But our lawmakers must also recognize that while we have every right to denounce the authoritarian regime of Myanmar, we definitely cannot claim of being a truly democratic nation. It is hypocrisy to remind our neighbors that they do not practice democracy when we ourselves are not really sincere defenders of freedom and civil liberties.

We question the human rights record of Myanmar yet our military and police have been charged of violating the human rights of our people. Political dissenters are killed, rallies are violently dispersed and paramilitary squads terrorize the countryside in our land of democracy.

The government of Myanmar is indeed guilty of not recognizing the results of the 1990 elections. Well, majority of Filipinos still think that the President in Malacanang today is not the real winner of last year’s elections.

We decry the presence of military junta in Myanmar naively believing that there is civilian supremacy in our country. The last time I checked the appointments made by Malacanang, majority of the new
public servants are from the military and police. And curiously, not a single military personnel has been jailed for human rights abuse during the Marcos dictatorship.

Senators denounce Myanmar as an embarassment to ASEAN. This is correct. But the spate of killings of journalists in the Philippines is also an embrassment not ony to ASEAN but to all democratic nations in the world.

Myanmar must shed its authoritarian regime and we should join the loud chorus of condemnation to the continuing detention of prodemocracy fighters in that country. But I would not be surprised if Myanmar also encourages the Philippines to seriously consider embracing democracy as well.

GMA is next

What is common to Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan, Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine and Edward Shevardnadze of Georgia? They were all Heads of State accused of corruption and electoral fraud which led to their removal from power through bloodless revolution in the past two years.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) may soon join their ranks due to corruption scandals in the government and the lingering perception among the people that she cheated her way to victory during the 2004 elections.

If GMA wants to delay her downfall, she should refrain from issuing smug statements like “I am willing to pay the price of political capital” just to ignore the sharp decrease of her approval ratings. It would only alienate her further from the people who are aghast over her moves to rush the passage of new tax measures while feigning helplessness to the oil price increases and wage hike proposal.

Even the President’s husband had the audaciousness to check into a luxurious suite while the poor is asked to help stave off a looming fiscal crisis by paying more taxes. Who would not be incensed over this insensitive and vulgar gesture?

Journalists looking for the next Velvet Revolution may turn their eyes to the Philippines where an unpopular President presides over the second most corrupt nation in Asia. Even American think-tanks are predicting the possible downfall of the Arroyo administration before 2010.

The country is ripe for another revolution. After all, is not our EDSA People Power the precursor of the successive peaceful uprisings in the world which we came to know as Velvet, Orange, Cedar, Rose and Tulip revolutions? GMA herself was a beneficiary of this type of political action though she quickly lost the trust of our people.

We should learn from the shortcomings of the two EDSA uprisings to make sure that in the next revolution we would not replace a trapo with another trapo who would rob the peoples’ wealth through his/her cronies.

Kamustahan sa EPZA

Nagpunta ako kanina sa Cavite Export Processing Zone at nakausap ang ilang manggagawa sa electronics industry. Ito ang ilan sa mga natutunan ko sa pakikipagtalastasan sa kanila:

– May industrial peace daw sa EPZA. Ibig sabihin, bawal ang unyon at welga kahit hindi ito ang pormal na pulisiya ng pamahalaan;

– Mula sa pagiging tahimik na sakahan at maliit na bayan na may magagandang tanawin, ang paligid ng EPZA ay isa ngayong “migrant city” ng mga barung-barong, kainan, inuman, bar at pamilihan para sa mga nagtatrabaho sa mga pabrika;

– Bago maging regular ang manggagawa, siya muna ay magiging apprentice ng ilang buwan, tapos reliever, susunod probationary bago maging contractual. Suwerte kung tumagal ng dalawang buwan ang manggagawa;

– P178 ang sahod ng mga apprentice at P237 ang mga contractual kada araw. Ang mga mananahi ay P100. Taun-taon ay tumataas ang sahod mula P0.50 hanggang P2, kung aabot ka ng isang taon. Hindi double pay ang nakukuha ng mga contractual tuwing holiday. Libre naman ang kanin sa canteen;

– Dahil kapos ang sahod, baon sa utang ang marami. Kahit ATM nila, sinasanla. Nangangatok sa kapitbahay para makikain ang ilan;

– Palagian ang medical check-up. Kung may nakitang spot sa baga, tanggal sa trabaho ang manggagawa kahit nakuha niya ito sa loob ng mainit at mausok na pabrika. Batang manggagawa (18-24 na taon) lamang at kalimitang babae ang kinukuhang contractual sa EPZA;

Manggagawa ng Semitec, EMI, Maxon, Ultimate at Dae Duck ang nakausap ko. Produkto ng mga kumpanya nila ay wiring harness, telepono, cellphone parts, PCB at termistor ng aircon at thermometer.

Habang kumakain kami ay himutok ng isang manggagawa na natatakot silang magpamilya dahil nga sobrang liit ang kanilang sinasahod. Kung paniniwalaan natin ang Department of Finance, hindi apektado ng pagtaas ng VAT ang mga manggagawa ng EPZA dahil hindi sila tinuturing na maralita ng gobyerno.

Biniro ako ng kasabay ko sa sakayan ng dyip na siya raw ang naghihinang ng piyesa ng ginagamit kong cellphone pero hindi pa raw siya nakakaipon para mabili ang ginagawa niyang produkto sa pabrika.