Apr 182013

Go ahead and cry and turn green with envy. And be mad as hell in frustration too. Myanmar, a country that was stuck in the past has been making fast and bold leaps into the future. And they started doing that while our leaders were busy playing politics or otherwise doing nothing more productive than shuffling papers and restudying long completed project studies.

A friend of mine from the old UP days just came from Myanmar, as part of a JICA team to help Myanmar formulate its national transport plan. Guess what? According to him, Myanmar “has built a new international airport in three years time, with a spanking new terminal building that puts our T3 to shame.”

Good Grief! In the three years this administration was busy restudying plans and getting DOTC lawyers to pretend they were engineers, Myanmar got going and has inaugurated a brand new airport they can’t even fully utilize. The new airport “was designed by Changi airport with a capacity to handle five million passengers per annum. Current traffic is only 40,000 passengers per year.”

According to my friend, a transport expert working on projects in Asean, “had Myanmar applied cost-benefit analysis, phasing and staging would have resulted in a more modest airport. But there it is, standing on a new capital that is 3x the size of MetroManila.”

I hope Mar and his gang of lawyers won’t say Myanmar succeeded in opening a brand new airport larger and better than our Terminal 3 because they had a military junta in control. If we had more decisive people in government, we would do even better because Pinoys excel everywhere except here.

Oh well… we endlessly debate, probably because of all those lawyers running or ruining our lives. If it isn’t the lawyers in a Supreme Court that killed our dreams of a petrochemical industry in the ’80s, it is the lawyers in the bureaucracy or Congress who make things difficult to happen. What we need are engineers who will put things together and make things run.

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Here we are still debating whether it is Clark or NAIA when experts have been saying we can and indeed, should have both. Clark would be about a hundred kilometers away from our economic boom areas in Laguna or even Alabang… too far to be our main airport. And that fast train is a bad idea from the start and takes too long to put in place. The debate is preventing any serious development to happen at either airport.

My friend’s comment: “Ben and I (as another Filipino aviation expert, Ben Solis) agree that a multi-airport is justifiable for MetroManila. As you may recall, I called Sec. Abaya’s four options on airport as fallacy of the false alternatives.

“There is only one — which is Manila and Clark (at least for next five years) airports. But DOTC is still in dreamland, agonizing over imagined options, because that was what Mar Roxas told them to do. He is, for all intents and purposes, still calling the shots at DOTC and Abaya is merely a surrogate.”

This is horrible… a national disgrace. I was in Myanmar less than 10 years ago and I found their airport was worse than our Manila Domestic Terminal. A portion of it wasn’t even cemented. Many of our provincial airports looked better.

And now they have managed to open a modern terminal better than our T3, which we have been unable to fully operate for over 10 years now. Speaking of T3, they have not yet signed any agreement with the Japanese contractor Takenaka to complete and fix it. But Sec. Abaya is insisting it will be fully operational this December.

Our officials are in denial. They are misinforming P-Noy. My sources tell me Sec. Almendras called them to a meeting last week, and DOTC repeated their fairy tale that T3 will be completed. By the time reality emerges, it is already too late.

Remember the announcement of Mar Roxas that major renovation of T-1 will commence Jan. 15, 2012? Well, it is now April 2013 and no contract has been awarded because, sources tell me, the lawyers of DOTC said that it would be faster to negotiate without tender.

Myanmar is hosting the SEAGames this December and the Asean Summit next year — at their new capital Naypyidaw. Direct air links with Singapore’s Changi airport has also been established since the new airport opened in 2011.

It is obvious that DOTC has become totally dysfunctional and we have to be resigned to the fact that nothing much will happen between now and the end of P-Noy’s term. That is just so sad because a country like Myanmar is starting to overtake us in modern transport infrastructure.

Vietnam has overtaken us and Cambodia probably is just about to as well. We used to joke — a hyperbole — that Myanmar will overtake us too if we don’t do better faster. Now, we cannot joke about that. At the rate we are not going, that is starting to happen… 

Top taxpayers

So Kris Aquino is the country’s top tax payer. Now everyone is asking about the taipans… the captains of business and industry… where are they in the list?

Indeed. Kris paid as much as she did because like most people in the entertainment industry, there is a withholding tax on their talent fees. In other words, the government has collected a good part of its share even before the talents pick up his or her check.

It is a tribute to Kris that she has paid her dues. As P-Noy’s kid sister, she has set a good example specially for those in power and in private business. Kris is giving back to her fans because her massive tax payment is increasing government’s ability to deliver essential social services.

There are, however, those who are questioning the accuracy of the BIR’s Top 500 list. While some say they appreciate the anonymity of not being in that list, they also find it difficult to explain to friends who looked for their name on the list and failed.

At least a few high income people have told me that they paid more than some of those on the list, but their names are not there. For instance, I was with Gabby Lopez and he was incensed that he is not on the list while Charo Santos, his CEO at ABS-CBN who paid about P11 million, is. He told me he paid about P18 million and that should put him at No. 14.

Gabby’s uncles are also wondering why they are not on the list. The family patriarch Oscar Lopez had been complaining every time his name is omitted. In this particular list, his accountant told me Oscar Lopez paid P37 million which puts him at No. 3 in the list. His brother Manuel, who used to be chairman of Meralco, and is now a government official as Ambassador to Japan, paid P11 million which puts him at No. 34 or 35.

Revenue commissioner Kim Henares has gone out of her way to explain what has happened. “You have to make a distinction between income and assets,” Henares said. The annual list published by tax authorities as mandated by law, she said, is based on the taxes that individuals have to pay based on transactions — not the static level of assets a person owns as measured by Forbes.

“Only those who filed income tax returns (ITRs) will find themselves on the Top 500 list,” Henares explained. “If you did not file an ITR — if you had a ‘substituted filing’ where your company withheld income taxes for you and remitted it straight to the BIR, just like regular employees — it doesn’t matter how big your salary and tax payments are. You will not appear on the list.”

“Substituted filing” is how Fernando Zobel de Ayala explained to my fellow columnist Ichu Villanueva why he and his brother JAZA are not on the list. They may be CEOs of Ayala and Ayala Land but if they only received what BIR calls “compensation income” for the year — taxes for which were withheld by the employing company — their names would not appear on the Top 500 list.

Henares said some top officials of large corporations who found their names on the list must have submitted “mixed filings” which incorporated taxes due from their regular employment with income from other non-employment-related activities. That probably explains why Gigi Montinola of BPI is No. 5 on the list while JAZA, his boss is not on the list.

I think BIR should publish a comprehensive list for total transparency. Middle income tax payers feel bad high profile rich people don’t seem to be paying their rightful tax bills.

Talk and talk

Democracy means government by discussion, but is only effective when people stop talking and start doing.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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