‘Drunken masters’

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

One of our readers reacted to our article regarding “Devolved but Undelivered” services from national to local government units. It turns out that the failure to deliver is not limited to Agriculture, Education and Health but also in various aspects of Tourism.

The reader pointed out how local government units have been collecting “Environmental Fees,” “Tourism-Visitors Fees” etc. but there is no known accounting or auditing or reports on how these fees are used or to what purpose. Our reader cited a couple of destinations such as Boracay Island and Cebu that are frequented by tourists and consequently, they all ask where the “Environmental Fee” or Tourism/Visitors Fees” go to.

Our reader shared: “The Boracay LGU has been charging an ‘Environmental Fee’ to tourists for over 20 years. The fee is collected before tourists can board bancas to go to the island. No one ever demonstrated how the billions of pesos collected were spent, considering that Boracay even had to be closed a few years ago to clean up the pollution.”

There was an official investigation at some point, but no Aklan official was ever charged. The fee was recently raised to P300 per tourist and still no one has explained where this money is going. As for “Visitors fees” I remember tourists mentioning a similar practice in Puerto Galera as they arrived and left the dock. Most people simply accepted it as a “standard practice” and didn’t mind because a hundred pesos or so was no big deal in the general scheme of things.

The problem is, when one LGU goes unchallenged or unregulated simply because of the devolution of authority, other LGUs start getting bright ideas. I recently learned that a few months back, August 2023 to be exact, the Lapu Lapu City LGU floated their plan to charge P100 per tourist and label it as an environmental tax. The twist was that Lapu Lapu City couldn’t figure out how to collect it, so the hotels were going to be obligated to be the collectors.

The councilors who floated the plan gave only one week notice of a public hearing, until resort owners and operators put up a strong opposition to the plan, forcing the city council to back down. The question is, in what other form will the Lapu Lapu City LGU attempt to collect such additional revenues and from whom. If they can’t get it from tourists, will they get it from business owners? Maybe transport operators, etc.

Ironically, none of these LGUs has presented the infrastructure projects, environmental protection systems and projects that the fees are supposed to fund. Last I heard, Boracay has not even managed to set up a Medical Emergency Response facility with full time EMT, doctors and 24/7 air ambulance on-call. Last time I visited Boracay, the inner alleys were littered with garbage and during rainy days certain streets and pathways to the beach would be flooded.

Even if services are devolved, imposing fees and charges to tourists and visitors, particularly cash strapped Filipinos, must follow a process of validation, justification and well researched plan and not just a money making scheme!

 *      *      *

I recently met a young businessman in his 40’s who had just retired.

Yes, he retired at such a young age but not by choice. The guy was happily in the “buy and sell” business of luxury cars, where he saved up enough capital to “flip” cars for a small profit. He did not have a physical store and had no employees. So, with practically no overhead, the chance to travel to Europe or Asia to find and negotiate for luxury sports cars, he was “Living the Life.”

But all that came to an end when the Marcos administration came in and a new set of “operators” held reign at the Bureau of Customs. In the past, importers like the young man simply paid a package deal that covered the duties and taxes on the car and the money “for the boys.” Admittedly, there was presumably an underpayment of taxes for a luxury sports car, but it was a system where you don’t ask questions, pay the bill and drive your car out and deliver it to a client.

Under the new regime, the young man told me that there is no under valuation, therefore “no corruption” as far as duties and taxes are concerned. The only hitch is “kasosyo mo sila” or you are working for the customs people who tell you to pay the duties and taxes to government and “For The Boys:” please pay P2.5 million! This is not an isolated case. I have heard ex-customs people, brokers, as well as legitimate Christian businessmen raise their hands in surrender.

During a church-sponsored business seminar, there was an open forum where two businessmen shared their nightmares trying to get their legitimate raw materials importation through Customs. They discovered that it was not enough to pay the full duties and taxes, you also had to pay “For The Boys” on top of it all.

Being Christians, the two businessmen expressed their refusal to pay bribes and were now considering closing their businesses. So, they asked the Pastor what to do. The Pastor pointed out that “they” – the businessmen – were not initiating or engaging in an active effort to bribe corrupt customs personnel. In fact, if they refused to “cooperate,” then they would suffer a greater loss by closing their businesses that are a blessing to many.

“In the end, you have no choice, but treat it as a cost of business.” That is what life in the Philippines has become  – we are, in the words of one reader, taxed by incompetent, corrupt officials who are “drunk with power, blinded by greed” a.k.a. “Drunken Masters.”

vuukle comment




  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with