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Opinion

Kill them all...?

CTALK - Cito Beltran -

In the bad old days of the Vietnam War era, some war-mongers had a popular saying that goes: “Kill them all, let God sort them out”.

The statement typified frustration, confusion, and exasperation felt by soldiers and leaders over how to fight the war and who to fight against. In the end, the killing became more of a consequence rather than the concern. The concern was how to preserve a democratic state, stop a communist force fighting imperialist powers.

In peace or at war, politicians and governments fall into the trap of imposing its politics and willfully ignore the consequences of their policy or action.

In the Philippines, the concern over surveys and political popularity has overtaken the concern for promoting a stable business environment. Government and politicians “attack” business largely on a politically populist agenda or to make themselves popular.

They embark on legislation, policy or action allegedly intended to protect public interest. Unfortunately public interest in this case is as vague as the term “National security”.

In the last few months, leaders in various industries have expressed concern over “anti-business” behavior and attitude of politicians and government. The weapons of choice have largely been price control, unwarranted taxation, or legal pressure or raids.

This cross-industry concern about the “anti-business” environment was largely informal, scattered, and sporadic. Recently however, there has been a convergence of concerns among affected leaders and movers of various companies and industries.

It was bound to happen since the “anti-business” tsunami kept pounding on different victims one season at a time.

At the moment, the target of the month seems to be cement dealers, if not the cement Industry. The Department of Trade and Industry has called attention to a so-called “artificial shortage” or unauthorized price increase and has threatened to impose various sanctions. Ultimately the DTI is expected to use its weapon of choice: Price control.

Not long ago, the same solution was used to put a cap fuel prices. Someone slipped a draft executive order for President Arroyo to sign while she was in a rush for a flight abroad.

That EO caused a fuel shortage that caused losses to businesses in trucking, logistics and transport, and according to a source, the government lost an estimated P600 million in taxes over just a few weeks. The cabinet member unfortunately still gets to make “careless whispers” to the President’s ear. In another country, the false whisperer would have been forced to resign or would have been tormented by members of Parliament or Congress.

If the generals and tacticians behind these attacks could sincerely present a true cause and effect study, or proof that their attacks on business were truly motivated by sincere social and public interests, or if they could honestly say that they have studied, done and tried everything else, it would be easier to absolve them of being “anti-business”.

But the truth is they can’t. They will “Kill them all” or attack them all for as long as it is politically popular even though economically unsound! They will simply let the next administration deal with the mess.

However, things are soon expected to change.

First, many companies and industries have finished their inventories of stocks, sales and revenues. They are now making the necessary reports to investors, shareholders or home offices.

The picture will be very bleak. Relative to the billions of long term investments, the Philippines is currently an area of very reduced profit. As a consequence an estimated one to two thousand jobs will be lost within the industries under “attack”.

Subsequent to this, they are also in the process of making recommendations along the lines of retrenchment, reducing investments and deferring or re-directing inbound investments and placing them in other countries.

All this is classified under the heading: the Unpredictability of business environment in the Philippines. Just more than a month ago, people were wearing T-shirts declaring: “Stop killing Journalists”. We may soon see stickers declaring: “Stop killing businesses”.

As for the politicians who belong to the “Donker Brigade” or “ I don’t care. Well, you’re all getting free advertising as the people who took away jobs, investments and livelihood. That should really make you popular in an election year.

*  * *

My friend Boyet Guererro once told us a very wise thought: “Life is like the wheel of a Magnolia Ice cream cart. Nasa taas ka na, natatapakan ka pa rin”.

This I suppose is the situation of Senator Noynoy Aquino whose inherited popularity has also made him everyone’s target. Even his almost angelic portrayal has laced him on a pedestal constantly under review. His every word, every action is noted and passed on by text or by word. Chances are accounts of his angelic countenance or his worldly faults are already exaggerated but that is the price to pay.

For instance, there is now an account of Senator Noynoy Aquino attending his class reunion. What comes out of the supposed event is not about a speech he made or the friends he remembered, but rather his alleged cigarette puffing chain smoking habit.

One account claims that each time Noynoy was asked for a photo-op, he would ask his bodyguard or assistant to hold his cigarette. I don’t know where truth stops and exaggeration begins, but for many non-smokers, chain smoking is not an ideal habit.

What then would Senator Aquino’s position be in terms of smoking bans, anti-tobacco legislation and it’s implementation? And how strong can a chain smoker be against the Tobacco lobby?

Remember the popular edict in Tita Cory’s time: “One must not only be clean, he must also be perceived to be clean”.

BOYET GUERERRO

BUSINESS

DEPARTMENT OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY

DONKER BRIGADE

IN THE PHILIPPINES

MAGNOLIA ICE

PRESIDENT ARROYO

SENATOR NOYNOY AQUINO

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