Recto’s Train Wreck

Edge Davao (September 19, 2011)

Recently there have been discussions on whether or not the elevated railway systems that exclusively services Metro Manila residents are being subsidized by those of us living in the provinces.

On one side of the debate is Sec. Manuel Roxas of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC), who in news reports was quoted as having said that “the government—and ultimately taxpayers— (is) subsidizing fares to the tune of around P40 per passenger, or P7 billion a year.”

Opposing this view is Sen. Ralph Recto, who has argued that not one person living outside of Metro Manila pays for the operations of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) or the Light Rail Transit (LRT). Recto bases his argument on the comparative taxes collected from three Metro Manila cities and those coming from the rest of the country.

Citing data from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), which shows that P281.8 Billion – or 83% of the total taxes collected for 2010 came from Quezon City, Caloocan and Makati while the rest of the Philippines only contributed P 56.8 Billion to the national coffers, Recto concludes that the subsidy for the MRT and LRT must naturally come from Metro Manila residents alone.

On the face of it, and if you are as simple minded as Recto is, the argument seems to have merit. Or at least it does until you start factoring such trivial concerns like, say… the provisions on Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) in the Local Government Code, or… how the Philippine government actually works as opposed to how Recto imagines it does.

Sadly – for Recto – if you take these things into consideration, then his delusional argument of how the residents of Metro Manila are the ones being squeezed dry by the rest of the country falls apart like a cheap magic trick in a roomful of skeptics.

What Recto ignorantly fails to take into consideration is the fact that ALL local government units (LGU) – provinces, cities, and municipalities – are required to remit a part of their income to the national government. This is then pooled and only a portion is returned back to the LGU as their IRA.

The rest remains with the national treasury and is used by the government to fund projects that supposedly benefit the whole country. Projects like the modernization of the Armed Forces, infrastructure development, the construction of hospitals and health centers, and (drum roll please)… the operations of the MRT and LRT.

So despite all of Recto’s misinformed protestations and premature political posturing the fact is, by this simple mechanism of tax collection and allocation detailed in the Local Government Code, it is clear that the whole country contributes to something that only Metro Manila residents enjoy. And while an argument can be made that it is a small contribution – miniscule, insignificant – Recto will never be able to dispute that it is there and it came from us – the people of Mindanao.

Ironically this is coming from a guy who for a time served as head of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the Philippines’ “social and economic development planning and policy coordinating body.” With guys like Recto in charge, no wonder we’re neck-deep in shit and still clueless about what to do to get out of it.

You really have to wonder, is the caliber of national leadership we can expect from Recto and those who share the same crazy Manila-centric notions that he has? if it is, then the people of Mindanao will be best served if we kick them out – and keep them out – of office.

And by the way, if there ever was a train that the provinces should subsidize, it’ll be the one-way kind that would run politicians like Recto out of town– permanently.

Minding Mindanao

(Edge Davao, September 5, 2011)

If you’ve seen the news lately, then you know that the world is getting smaller.

Each new technological breakthrough brings us closer to that vision of a completely global village where your business is my business is our business. Pretty soon, just like that proverbial butterfly flapping its wings in Europe and causing storms in Asia, seemingly minor events happening on the far side of the globe can have potential life changing consequences in the most unlikely places.

Recent events in North Africa certainly point towards this conclusion. In the case of Egypt and Libya, an argument can be made that the fall of both Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi can be attributed to the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old street vendor in far of Tunisia.

So whether we like it or not, whether we are ready for it or not – this new reality is here. This is the first time in history that we have this level of interconnectedness. But the really fun part is that, looking ahead, we can only expect it to become even more so.

So the question is, are we ready? Are Filipinos prepared for the implications and consequences of a world where one man’s act can bring down another man’s country? With a tenth of our population living overseas and our local economy critically tied to their remittances, we can only hope that we are.

On the bright side, there is a wealth of evidence that Filipinos are among the best workers in the world. From the Arabian dunes to the Hong Kong skyline, countless paeans have been made to their dedication, commitment, etc… etc… ad nauseam. In other words, we can confidently say that we have more than enough human resources for growth.

Unfortunately we remain particularly vulnerable on two other areas of the development equation, namely capital and infrastructure.

As evidenced by the recent visit of Pres. Aquino to China, the Philippines needs more foreign investments to keep the country going. We need outside investments to help build our roads, bridges, dams, railways, telecommunications systems and a whole laundry list of other essential projects and programs.

This is particularly true for Mindanao, where neglect from the ‘national’ government has been institutionalized as policy and passed from one administration to the next. In Mindanao there is a desperate need for even the simplest kinds of development projects – things that our more affluent neighbors up north take for granted.

Just take the supply of electricity for example. It is an outrage that in contrast to the hardworking farmers of Mindanao who have to make do with the lowly gasera to light their homes at night, there is not one illegal squatter living in Metro Manila who does not have an electrical connection. It makes one wonder whether the policy makers and politicians in our nation’s capital place value on the lives of Filipinos based on geography, number of potential votes, or plain and simple patronage.

When will our leaders learn that an empowered Mindanao can only bring progress to the rest of the country? It is not something that they should fear. But by continually withholding the benefits that rightfully should go to this part of the country, they are helping to perpetuate the same policies used by Spanish and American colonizers to keep the native Filipino population docile and subservient all those centuries ago. That system did not work then, it certainly will not work now.

And just like in our rapidly shrinking world, we Filipinos should start realizing that the waters that serve to separate the islands in our archipelago are no longer enough to insulate us from what is happening with the rest of the country. The unequal distribution of resources that has disadvantaged Mindanao for so long has to stop, not just because it will be good for Mindanaoans, but because it is what needs to be done if we want the Philippines to move forward.