Public display of affection

Anthony Chua

One thing that stood out the most in the last Monday’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) is Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s public display of affection for the 12 percent value added tax (VAT).

In her SONA Arroyo pointed out that it is VAT that has salvaged the country from the devastating onslaught of global economic threats. “…ito [VAT] ang nakasalba sa bayan;” Arroyo said in her SONA.

For Arroyo VAT also served as a key for present and future progress.

“Take VAT away and you and I abdicate our responsibility as leaders and pull the rug from under our present and future progress, which may be compromised by the global crisis.”

Because of this Arroyo will continue implementing the tax even though this will bring “more unpopularity for [herself] in the opinion polls.”

Being a president of a nation fond of expressing their opinions with kumpares and kumares, Arroyo admittedly took the risk of becoming unpopular, especially with regards to economic issues. Maintaining her stand on VAT implementation despite the growing number of severely poor Filipinos due to soaring prices is a task made only by intrepid leaders.

In fairness Arroyo was brave enough to sacrifice her popularity for the continuance of VAT. But being intrepid does not necessary mean being virtuous. While courage is a necessary component of an effective leader, honesty and integrity, as what former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, said in his leadership seminar in Makati City, are bare essentials in order to gain public trust.

“People are in great need of honesty and integrity in government,” Giuliani said in the forum. “And the more they can see how [government] operates, the more they feel that they are operating in the open, the more confidence a government can be able to develop.”

Basing on Giuliani’s standard for a good leader is it is not surprising why Arroyo remains far from being trustworthy. There stood Arroyo delivering her SONA where she had used to defend VAT while the World Bank’s 2008 Worldwide Governance Indicators considers corruption in the Philippines as the worst in East Asia. Who would trust her sincerity to spend the P80 billion of Filipinos’ hard-earned money collected from VAT properly and efficiently?

How about the missing billions of pesos of income generated from other kinds of taxes aside from VAT? Have they vanished in thin air or went into some anonymous coffers?

To regain the public’s confidence in VAT, Arroyo has launched PR campaigns to make it appear that the tax is pro-poor. Yet, as long as prices of oil and medicine are involved, who would believe in Arroyo’s gimmick that the poor will only feel a small pinch of VAT’s damage?

VAT, in theory, is really important to alleviate poverty and push the economy forward. But to single this out as the only lifeline for a country notorious for rampant corruption by no less than the World Bank is but a public display of irresponsibility

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