The Philippines: A slaughterhouse
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - February 22, 2019 - 12:00am

In a period of three months three people I knew personally were killed by hired assassins. The first one was businessman Dominic Sytin who was killed in front of the Lighthouse Hotel inside SBMA. The second murder victim was Congressman Batocabe who was ambushed by hired gunmen while campaigning in Bicol. The most recent victim was businessman Cel Yulo, elder brother of one of my friends in the circle of car enthusiasts. Judging from their behavior at the time they were ambushed, they obviously did not expect to be targeted by assassins.

During each incident, well meaning friends have cautioned me to be careful. These expressions of concern makes me wonder if there really is reason to be worried? Has the country turned into a slaughterhouse where no one is safe or exempt from the murderous reach of contract killers? Is ambushing or murdering someone as simple as paying a fee, getting on a motorcycle and just killing with impunity, believing the police will never get you until or unless someone posts a P50 million bounty on your head accompanied with a presidential directive? Before the Duterte administration came into power, Filipinos habitually cautioned their loved ones to “take care” or “ingat” when stepping out of the house or going somewhere because drug addicts, petty criminals, rapists and the like were part of the terrain. When Duterte declared war on drugs, drug dealers and users, criminality took a nosedive and the majority of us felt safe going out or even letting our kids take Grab rides at any time of the day or night.

But now we face murder with impunity and this time not even the rich, politically powerful, or the well connected are safe. Even worse, the victims merely end up as statistics on the unsolved columns of police reports. To be realistic about it, those three dead individuals are merely a drop in the bucket when compared to the number of murders associated with ambushes or “riding in tandem shootings” and police operations fatalities. When you add up those numbers I’m surprised that we have not earned the title of “Slaughterhouse of Asia.” Equally bewildering is that Congressmen and Senators as well as Cabinet members have been stone cold in their indifference. While they privately condole with the families of the ambush victims, there has been no outcry or pressure on the PNP to come up with results. Do we have to pass the hat to produce P50 million so murders can be solved? Do we have to print the names of Senators and Congressmen who borrowed vehicles or received donations from businessmen in the last campaign before they go public in demanding an end to this culture of impunity and for cases to be solved? And if we do, does that mean that we will also have to watch our back?  General Albayalde please solve the cases and end the murderous impunity!

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Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III expressed complete surprise when President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed crucial portions of the Tax Amnesty Bill passed by the Congressional bicameral committee. Sotto even expressed bewilderment that the President vetoed the very bill Duterte supposedly wanted. When pressed for answers, Sotto suggested that the President may have been ill informed by the presidential legislative liaison officer who may not have been doing his job properly. In the beginning, Sotto’s lamentation seemed to make sense but as it turns out, the version or proposed bill that the Executive department had been shepherding through Congress and the Senate was one that provided for a general tax amnesty, on the condition that it would be accompanied by a provision for the removal of the bank secrecy law. Essentially it would be “Amnesty with Transparency”. The plan is nothing new according to tax experts because as early as the time when the TRAIN Law 1-A was being drafted, the Department of Finance was already asking for the lifting of the Bank Secrecy Law but Congressmen chose to defer it for the second part of the law or 1-B where a general amnesty bill would include the lifting of the Bank Secrecy Law.

When the bicameral bill came out, it provided for an amnesty based on the presumption of honesty on the part of the applicant, with the government having no access to the financial or bank records of delinquent taxpayers or evaders. In other words, Malacañang and President Duterte did not get what they were expecting to get from Congress twice over. What the legislators ultimately did was to retain the Bank Secrecy Law to protect their own accounts! As such, Senate President Tito Sotto can’t claim “Na Eat Bulaga sila” or that they are getting confusing signals from Malacañang or the President because they, the legislators, were the one’s running the show all along. Duterte simply became their convenient scapegoat after the President exercised his veto power on a useless part of the legislation.

Ironically our researchers reported that the Bank Secrecy Law can be set aside or disregarded if a criminal case is filed against a depositor/client, when a court issues a subpoena, when the Ombudsman issues an order to lift the secrecy protection and open the records, or when the Anti-Money Laundering authorities issues an order to open the records of account. In other words, the Bank Secrecy Law is only inviolable when the media, a suspecting spouse, or greedy heirs want to find out how much money you have in the bank.  Otherwise, the Bank Secrecy Law gives you very little protection once you are targeted by an enemy in court or by the authorities. We all demand transparency and speak out against corruption and thievery among politicians and businessmen. If that’s what we want, then we should support the government’s call to lift or remove the Bank Secrecy Law.

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