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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A LAW FOR THE POOR, ANOTHER FOR THE RICH


MAYBE it was in  the exercise of eminent domain that the National Power Corp. decided to lay part of its Malampaya natural gas pipe system right smack in the middle of a poor man’s property in Tabangao near the Shell refinery in Batangas City.
 
One of the two owners of the property told me Malampaya or the Napocor did not even have the courtesy of telling him and his family that a piping system has cut across the property. He demanded payment. Napocor turned deaf.
 
Felling aggrieved by the state that is supposed to help him, he went to court. He won the case for compensation from the regional trial court up to the Supreme Court but has not been paid the money assessed at P757 per square meter plus annual cumulative interest of 12 percent for the past 14 years.
 
A lawyer told me the state’s right to “confiscate” or use a private property for the general public good is inviolable. Should the private land owner fail to come to terms with the government over the fair price of the land – based on assessed or market value – whichever is higher, the state shall deposit the money in escrow with a bank. It shall proceed with whatever it wants to do with the property.
 
The state will eventually release the money from escrow and pay the land owner. The story ends there.
 
But not in the case of the two landowners in Batangas City one of whom was a city assessor practically wasting away on a death bed. They initially demanded an explanation from Napocor on how it acquired under the law the right to construct a structure, a piping system for Malampaya natural gas from the Palawan Sea down to the market of the urban areas of Batangas and Metro Manila.
 
Nobody in Napocor lent them an ear. The “defunct” state power monopoly which did not contribute much to ensure adequate energy supply but succeeded in sinking the agency deep in debt just went on and laid the pipes. It had to be bailed out by the national government. Its functions were taken over by the private sector.
 
After the Supreme Court ruled the small landowners are entitled to compensation, the state is forced to pay.
 
This offense committed against small people like the two landowners does not merit the attention of state leaders.
 
Malampaya or Napocor has a remarkably  bigger offense – a crime – that should send some people in government straight to jail. Hundreds of millions of pesos of Malampaya money, proceeds from the sale of gas – is claimed to have been stolen and may have formed part of either the pork barrel or the Disbursement Acceleration Program – both declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
 
The state does not want to investigate itself on what appears to be misuse of Malampaya funds which are supposed to help push faster the country’s energy program. It would not compensate private landowners for the use of their land where the pipes cut across.
 
It took the Supreme Court to order Malampaya or the state to compensate the landowners for the use of their land.
 
As is always the case, the state in not too infrequent cases, tramples upon the rights of the small man as if he does not exist. On the other hand, the big and powerful get away with “murder”, meaning theft of taxes.
 
If this were not so, how did the Bureau of Customs accept the import entry of Mighty Corp., now the king of the low-end cigarette market, that it imports tobacco at $0.68 per kilo while the world average price is said to be between $4 and $6 per kilo? It did.
 
Pressured,  the company has been reported to have paid more than P1 billion representing deficiencies in tariff payments.
 
If there was no connivance between customs and the cigarette maker, it is unbelievable how an importer can make a false entry that it knows violates the tariff code.
 
Customs accepted the entry at   face value. Customs officials never wondered why other tobacco importers are paying about five times more while Mighty is paying only 15 percent of the world price.
 
The company would not even hide its fraudulent entries. Customs accepted them as facts. If it had been true to its sworn duty, it would have checked the average price of the leaf with the exporters to the Philippines. It did not.
 
On the other hand, the two small landowners in Tabangao, Batangas City, have been waiting for 14 years to be paid the value of the land the state uses for public good.
 
That the  amount of more than P1 billion that Mighty paid customs is irrelevant.  Customs and the company both knew they were committing a crime from the very start. Malampaya or Napocor both knew they are denying the two landowners the right to compensation. The landowners got justice from the Supreme Court. They will be paid sooner or later..
 
Customs accepted or ordered Mighty to pay the correct tariff on imported tobacco as if in atonement for allowing the commission of the fraud of under declaring the price presumably to avoid payment of the correct tariff.
 
The two landowners hired public attorneys who are not paid a professional fee to fight their cases. On the other hand, customs ordered Mighty to pay the correct tariff although it could have collected the amount by not accepting the illegal import entries.
 
Or Mighty itself paid the amount without being asked on possible fears that it could be dragged with customs for what clearly appears to be technical smuggling by under declaration of the correct price of the leaf.
 
The payment by Mighty of the correct tariff does not cover the other alleged excise tax liability of P15 billion discovered by A.C. Nielsen and Oxford Economics.
 
The cigarette company behaves like an ostrich. By hiding its head in the sand, it believes it got out of harm’s way. It really did because authorities would not lift a finger verifying the truth or falsity of cheating on excise tax by under declaration of volume of cigarettes to the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
 
What a wonderful world, As Bing Crosby belted it out in one of the thousands of his famous songs.
 
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