Unshared
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - October 24, 2019 - 12:00am

Some congressmen are saying things that should worry Rep. Lord Allan Velasco. They are saying that if House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is doing well in his job, he should remain there.

The comments became intermittent after the latest Pulse Asia survey gave Cayetano a 62% trust rating and a 64% approval rating. Those positive numbers are significantly higher than what Vice President Leni Robredo garnered.

The trust and approval ratings Cayetano posted are the highest our people gave any Speaker of the House in recent memory. They were certainly higher than any gained by former speakers Pantaleon Alvarez and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Even more remarkably, the current Speaker gained those numbers after only a couple of months on the job.

In those couple of months, Speaker Cayetano delivered strongly on President Duterte’s legislative agenda. The House passed the 2020 General Appropriations Bill early, indicating we should not have a repeat of that disastrous delay in the passage of the 2019 national budget.

In addition, the House promptly passed two key packages of the comprehensive tax reform program: the Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA) and the Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act (PIFITA). A bill further increasing excise taxes on alcohol products and e-cigarettes and another one introducing amendments to the Foreign Investments Act have been approved on third and final reading.

All these measures critical to our fiscal consolidation and our ability to attract investments are now up for Senate action. We can only hope the Senate will act with the same sense of urgency demonstrated by their colleagues in the House of Representatives.

Cayetano’s close association with President Duterte’s agenda helps explain his exceptional ratings. Well into the second half of his term, Duterte retains his immense popularity.

Some might tend to forget, given the latest survey results, that the speakership is the subject of a 15-21 arrangement between Cayetano and Velasco. This was a deal brokered by President Duterte no less in order to avert a struggle for leadership of the House that could break the supermajority. In that deal, Cayetano serves the first 15 months while Velasco serves in the remaining 21 months.

Term-sharing agreements, our history shows, are always tenuous. To begin with, they are always informal and personal agreements involving posts filled by a formal vote of peers. Since it involves a vote by peers who are not really party to the informal arrangement, the elected legislators may choose not to honor a deal they are not part of.

This is where Velasco’s problems begin. Should Cayetano excel in the job he holds, the congressmen might not want him replaced.

Velasco’s only leverage is his much-advertised closeness to the President and his daughter, Mayor Sara. But both will likely avoid antagonizing an operational House majority.

Presidential spokesman Sal Panelo was quoted as saying the President merely suggested the term-sharing deal. It is always for elected legislators of the House to choose their leader.

Regulate

By the force of circumstance and the power of new technologies, we could well emerge as the gambling capital for all of Asia. We defied Beijing’s request to suppress online gaming conducted from our shores by curtly telling our Chinese friends that this is not illegal in our shores.

Along with the high-rollers who come here to play in our casinos, Philippine online gaming operations (POGOs) have boomed. Gambling operations create numerous jobs for Filipinos even as they might attract foreign workers to work here. One operator pointed out that foreign workers in the POGOs constitute only 10% to 30% of their operations. That means that 70% to 90% of those directly employed by these operations are Filipinos.

The gambling boom reflected in a property boom as well as rapid growth in secondary industries such as restaurants. A whole new “industry” prospered in just a matter of a few years.

Of course, the gaming “industry” has dark undersides. The BIR has been busy lately cracking down on unregistered POGOs evading taxes running into the billions. Pagcor reports having closed down 200 unregistered gaming outfits.

The PNP and the local governments have their hands full reining in vices and crimes associated with the gaming “industry.” Among these are prostitution, kidnapping, homicide and murder. 

Just recently, the police raided Diamond Bay Towers along Roxas Boulevard for allegedly operating a Chinese-only prostitution den. According to records, Stanford Resources and Development Corp. owns this building.

The raid underscores the importance of cooperation between the police and the communities hosting a large number of foreign workers. This will not be the last instance where our laws will have to be enforced strongly against a variety of enterprises servicing the foreign workers, be they restaurants or prostitution dens.

Unfortunately, we cannot have our cake and eat it too. We cannot enjoy the jobs created and the taxes paid without investing in strong enforcement to contain the vices composing the underside of the gaming “industry.”

As the gambling boom continues, Pagcor will have to be constantly on its feet guarding against unregistered gambling outfits. The police will be hard at work against kidnaping syndicates that are often associated with casino financiers attempting to collect on shady borrowers.

It is probably a good idea to relocate POGO operations to designated “hubs.” In such “hubs” they may be more closely regulated. The tax collectors could keep track of their activities and earnings. The enterprises servicing the foreign workforce may be more closely monitored.

The idea of collecting gaming operations into “hubs” should be worked out in greater detail.

LORD ALLAN VELASCO
Philstar
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