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Opinion

Refund travel taxes of debarred tourists

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc -

The Ombudsman finally is investigating Gloria Arroyo for the P728-million ghost fertilizer scam to fund her 2004 election. It’s time to probe as well the P1.55-billion purchase of flatbed grains dryers at 100-percent overprice for the 2010 poll campaign. Distributed to farm cooperatives, 2,212 dryers were purchased for P700,000 apiece although the going rate was only P350,000. Total overprice: P774 million.

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An interesting note: Ombudsman nominee PCGG commissioner Gerard Mosquera got five votes from the eight-man Judicial and Bar Council. Same with retired Supreme Court justice Conchita Carpio Morales, former justice secretary Artemio Toquero, and justice undersecretary Leah Armamento.

Mosquera reportedly got a separate unanimous JBC vote as deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, for which he also applied. This, after he presented a seven-year, eight-point plan to fortify the anti-graft agency.

Carpio Morales leads the Ombudsman race because appointer President Noynoy Aquino is known to admire her independence and guts.

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Football fans may download the chant, “Go Azkals Go,” from YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v= b39FRhCBTBA). Commissioned by Azkals manager Dan Palami, the song was composed by Juan Miguel Salvador, performed by The Authority, with Alvin Soriano on vocals.

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Who and where are the 32,038 Filipino tourists whom the Bureau of Immigration barred from departing in the first half of 2011? If, as BI deputy Siegfried Mison says, they were turned over to the Interagency Council Against Trafficking in Persons, what happened to their cases? If they all really were near victims of white slavers, illegal recruiters and narco-traders, has the government taken steps to redress the wrong?

Like, did the BI refund to the 32,038 victims the P1,620-travel tax they each had to pay first before purchasing plane tickets? If not, does the government think the entire P51,901,560 a just exaction even though the payers were disallowed from traveling? What of some 22,000 other “tourist workers” whom the BI, from its press release, also halted at international airports in August-December 2010 — were they given back their P3.56 million in unused travel taxes?

Did the BI help the total 54,000 get refunds of airline fares, even if minus penalties for checking in but not boarding because subsequently stopped? If they all truly were duped into prostitution or undocumented work or as drug mules, are they not likely to be poor and unlearned, and so direly need their money back? Has the BI deigned to check that the roundtrip fares to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore — the three cities where, according to spokeswoman Maria Antoinette Mangrobang, most of the 54,000 were bound — is $180 (P7,830), $230 (10,179), and $361 (P15,703), respectively?

The questions beg answers as the BI continues to selectively bar tourists from leaving international airports. “Selectively,” because Immigration officers allegedly pick out from passport-check queues the provincial-looking — dark skin, unfashionable wear, thick accent — and ask for proof of affordability to travel abroad.

In a STAR report last Monday, BI chief Ricardo David justified the discrimination as necessary in order to end the trafficking of “our poor countrymen.” Lawyer Mangrobang added that it was only proper to ask the racially profiled travelers to show documents that tourists normally don’t carry: bankbooks, income tax returns, employment certificates. Mison in an earlier story said that Immigration officers had detected the 32,038 tourist-poseurs to be unregistered overseas hires, hence offloaded.

Assuming that David, Mison and Mangrobang are correct, more questions come up. Like, before imposing its show-document rule, did the BI first issue travel advisories, in the same way that Metro Manila officials first conducted a month-long info drive before starting to arrest smokers in public places? Did it bother to ask frequent foreign travelers if they carry passbooks, income tax forms, and employment papers — or just cash and credit cards? Does the BI brass ensure that passport checkers do not mulct tourists who cannot produce on the spot such proof of means to travel?

Also, why have only two of the 32,038 supposed trafficking cases referred this year to the interagency council prospered in court? Does this mean that the BI had gathered no solid evidence of trafficking? Are not the two trafficking charges out of 32,038 travel debarments reminiscent of haphazard military body counts of noncombatant civilians in the hunt for communist guerrillas?

The government certainly needs to run human traffickers to the ground. Profiling can help in detecting victims, but not the slavers. Other weapons are needed to flush out, arrest and jail the latter.

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July 8-10 is the last weekend run of Aida, the timeless love story remade into pop-rock by Elton John and Tim Rice. Directed by Chari Arespacochaga, the musical stars Ima Castro, Myke Salomon, Rachel Alejandro and Hajji Alejandro. For tickets, call Atlantis Productions (02) 8927078 or 8401187, or TicketWorld (02) 8919999; also available at the Carlos Romulo Auditorium box office, RCBC Plaza, Makati.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

E-mail: [email protected]

ALVIN SORIANO

ARTEMIO TOQUERO

ATLANTIS PRODUCTIONS

BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION

CARLOS ROMULO AUDITORIUM

CARPIO MORALES

CHARI ARESPACOCHAGA

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

DAN PALAMI

ELTON JOHN AND TIM RICE

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