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Opinion

Senator Tito Sotto ‘robbed’

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

The top two topics this week will most likely be about Duterte’s veto of the proposed law requiring SIM card registration and the second will be about returning travelers that took home a case of COVID-19 as “pasalubong.”

In terms of bad timing, nothing could possibly beat Duterte and Malacañang’s decision to announce the veto during Holy Week. Many of us learned about the matter when news started being shared or posted on social media on Good Friday. As expected, the automatic response was disbelief and the impression that the veto would lead to more cybercrime, terrorism and online scams that continue to victimize thousands of ordinary Filipinos. Last but not the least, the decision to block the proposed law led to accusations that Duterte is troll-friendly or that troll farmers had direct access to the President.

Malacañang claims that the veto was in light of 61,000 signatures challenging the law and accusing it of being overly vague in terms and definitions applying to social media. For the most part, I find it so limp that 61,000 signatures are enough to kill a law designed to protect 100 million-plus Filipinos from cyber scams and terrorism! Even the issue of vagueness of certain sections could have been addressed via a conditional approval where the President only vetoes the vague parts but not the spirit or substance of the law which is all about proper registration of all SIM cards.

I suspect that the timing was intentional as in “the sooner – the better” because there are only three weeks left before the elections and the law was vetoed not for its infirmities but in order to “rob” Senate President Tito Sotto of a masterpiece legislation that he could proudly present to voters in his run for vice president! Bear in mind that it was Senate President Sotto who has been shepherding the SIM Card Registration bill through the Senate and during all that time, Sotto promoted its significance, effectively making it one of the most anticipated laws to be passed in 2022.

The Duterte veto effectively steals Sotto’s thunder and robbed him of an additional accomplishment as a legislator. Unholy as it may have seemed, the veto had to be done ASAP. In the world of real politics, President Duterte would have been remiss in his support for his daughter Sara Duterte if the SIM Card Registration bill had been signed into law.

Nonetheless, those of us who believe in the proposed law can still do something about it: Raise hell, kick up a stink, rant on social media and let Malacañang know that this law must pass albeit through a motion for reconsideration if needed. If that does not happen, which is most likely, then all those who wanted the law passed should now make it an election issue. The fact of the matter is that both President Duterte and Senator Sotto could have benefitted or gained recognition had the bill passed into law. The President did not have to say or do anything, he could have simply let it pass into law. But as it stands, NOBODY WINS FROM THE VETO!

If the veto cannot be retracted or appealed, then the other option is for the Bureau of Internal Revenue and all telcos to effectively implement SIM card registration based on the requirement of the BIR for all retailers to issue OFFICIAL RECEIPTS that should reflect the name and address of buyers based on an official or valid identification. In fact, this is another area second to failing estate taxes, where the BIR has not tightened the reins on. So many vendors and stores still don’t issue real official receipts and those that do simply take the word of buyers etc.

This temporary measure will effectively carry out the SIM registry, reduce troll farms and scams while vendors are compliant with the BIR’s rule on ORs and sales. As an incentive, it may help if we all work together to make it an election issue in order to ensure that future legislators and the next president realizes that this simple law is for the protection of human lives, our law enforcers and military who are the first victims of IEDS and terrorists. This law is also aimed at stopping the theft and hijack of our money, bank accounts and personal or corporate data. We want to steal the thunder of terrorists, not legislators and candidates, and stop scammers from robbing people blind.

*      *      *

The second topic of concern coming in the tail of the Holy Week are reports of local tourists and travelers who have shared their unfortunate experience of getting COVID-19 while on vacation. On the morning of Good Friday, I received word that a former associate had returned from their holiday trip in El Nido only to discover that three out of eight of them were COVID positive. My friend, who is a retired veteran broadcaster, suspects that they got infected “in transit” at the airport where she reported that the policy of “social distancing” was not being observed.

One disturbing reminder of such crowds and close contact came from several photos sent by a friend who took photos of crowds walking up a mountain trail in the general direction of Mayon Volcano. After two years of lockdown, thousands of devotees all over the country have been walking and trekking up hills and mountains as a demonstration of their devotion or an act of penitence and sacrifice. Unfortunately, these hill treks are also lung busters that lead people to lower their face masks or to remove them completely in order to catch their breath. In close contact situations and stressed breathing, all it takes is one or two asymptomatic individuals to start up a local surge.

So hot topic number two this week will surely be: Will there be a surge and subsequent lockdowns?

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