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Opinion

It’s all about targets

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

It was an ambitious goal to start with. Fighting the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic for nearly two years, the Philippines is not an exception to the realities and challenges not all people believe on vaccination. Even more advanced countries have trouble in convincing people to get anti-COVID shots as best deterrent to serious complications from the infection.

Thus, it was a tall order even for the Philippine government when it first announced plans to jab as many as 15 million people during the three-day National Vaccination Program (NVP). Thus, it was not surprising the National Task Force (NTF) against the pandemic decided to re-set the NVP goal to 9 million jabs as “more realistic” target to inoculate this much of still unvaccinated Filipinos all around the country.

NTF chief implementer and designated “vaccine czar” Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. and NTF deputy chief Implementer and newly sworn in Presidential Adviser for COVID-19 Response Secretary Vivencio Dizon made the joint announcement last Saturday. The NTF announced the reduction of target two days before the formal launching of the Bayanihan Bakunahan last Monday.

“As we are finalizing the preparations for this massive movement across the 16 regions outside Metro Manila, there is currently a shortage in ancillary supplies, particularly syringes for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and other logistical challenges,” the two NTF officials admitted.

The Department of Health (DOH) earlier declared they are all set to conduct the three-day nationwide vaccination campaign. DOH bureau director Dr.Beverly Ho called a hurriedly organized “alignment meeting” with media editors through zoom conference last Thursday to ask their help in convincing and encouraging the still many unvaccinated people to cooperate in the government’s bid to achieve the so-called “herd immunity” by the end of this year.

Winding down today, the DOH reported 2.5 million jabs were done on the first day of the NVP. With about 110 million Filipinos as of latest census, the goal is to inoculate at least 70% of the population. This is the target to reach the so-called “herd immunity” set by the World Health Organization (WHO) to get ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many COVID-impacted countries – whether rich or poor and developing like the Philippines – have suffered negative growths last year when the pandemic first struck. The resurgence here of COVID-19 due to foreign variants has slowed down our own economic recovery. Buoyed by the ramped up vaccination program of the NTF, the economic managers of President Duterte remain optimistic though the country’s recovery will be sustained by yearend.

The heavy losses to the economy and businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic have greatly weakened the government’s tax base.

Speaking of year-end targets, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC) as the government’s major tax collectors, must hit the revenue targets by the end of this year. These are the revenues needed to fuel the country’s economic recovery and take us out of the pandemic woes. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not stopped notorious smugglers taking advantage of loopholes in the laws.

Customs Bureau officials have been recently summoned to shed light on the use of Freeport zones, particularly Subic to facilitate the entry and release of illegally imported agricultural goods and tobacco products. Some issues were also raised regarding oil imports now subject to fuel marking to deter smugglers.

In a recent press releases of Philip Morris, the company pinpointed transshipment of goods through the Port of Subic as a loophole being exploited by illegal cigarette distributors to flood the market with lower priced merchandise causing unfair competition for local tobacco manufacturers.

The BoC has been called by the House committee on ways and means chaired by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda to aid them in coming up with remedial legislations. Since the BOC is mandated to execute and implement tariff laws, the agency supports any amendments to the law to plug these loopholes.

Under oath, BoC officials swore they have even joined forces with the concerned officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) in monitoring the entry and exit of these goods through the Freeport Zone. The Bureau reported having deployed additional personnel to surveil the SBMA warehouses and beef up presence in the exit gates of the Freeport zone.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar and SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma formalized an agreement last Friday for the establishment of a control facility to screen fresh and frozen agri-fishery commodities brought in the country through SBMA. This control facility should add safeguards to protect our farmers from smuggled agri-products.

Truth hurts but both the BIR and BoC do not have the best reputation among government agencies. In previous years, the two agencies were even identified as the centers of corruption. It is also not unprecedented for officials to be called by the Congress to address issues on tax leakages and abetting smuggling which drain much the government coffers of much needed revenues.

Currently, there are bills filed seeking to consider the abolition of transshipment of goods that pose unfair competition against local manufacturers. In particular, oil importers decry the newly enacted Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Law. They blame a provision of this law has not lived up to its intended effect as pandemic relief response from the government.

The BIR and BoC are facing the tough tasks of meeting collection targets that increased by 52 percent from last year’s figures. It is not too late though yet for the outgoing 18th Congress to pass the remedial legislations.

There is an opportunity to see the problems on the ground in order to boost, not just about meeting collection targets. And the proper remedies could come from the right direction.

COVID-19 NTF
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