MANILA, NOVEMBER 20, 2003  (STAR) AS A MATTER OF FACT By Sara Soliven De Guzman - No, I am not going to hit on any mayor this time . . . I am waiting for the mayors to give us good results on improving their cities (I don’t mean putting up Christmas lights and decors, okay?)

I just hope that they start addressing the needs of the people with sincerity and not on a superficial level. As it is, as you commute home you will be able to observe towns and cities whose mayors don’t really give a damn (oops, once again, pardon my French!) about their constituents – not even the health, safety and security of their people.

Now, going back to my topic for the day – believe it or not! – it’s about "ghosts". Perhaps that’s one reason so little gets done by our bureaucracy. So many ghosts are on the payroll, doing nothing at all. I refer to the scores of thousands of fake employees in the government bureaucracy whose "salaries" are a daily drain on our municipal, provincial and national coffers.

The racket in ghost employees is not a myth at all but a sad reality, and this has been going on for ages. Although this awful scam has been exposed so many times in the media (alas, some of our media people also benefit from it). NOTHING has ever been done to erase it. Yet I feel this should be an urgent national concern since it involves squandering and misusing our people’s tax money.

I received first-hand information on this from a friend who told me in confidence that she is a "ghost employee" of the Department of Education. I was shocked to hear this because, right now, she is still a student in college. While she studies in Manila, she gets paid as a "teacher" somewhere in Mindanao. She said she has been in the payroll list since she was 17 years old. Her mother, a textbook supplier for DepEd, had originally asked a friend from within the department to put her on the list. She was not secretive about this perk of hers; in fact, she seemed even proud to be on the list. She further stated that when her family is lobbying to sell textbooks (or secure a contract from DepEd) they lavish expensive gifts on some people within the department such as luxury cars! I guess this is why her name was easily "enlisted". I am sure many Education department insiders and officials will deny this – but this is a fact – which is common knowledge over there.

As a taxpayer, I feel robbed of the money I contribute to the government. I believe that we, the public, are being cynically and insolently deceived by the insincerity of the government institutions which siphon off our hard-earned money in very corrupt ways. Of course, as we pay taxes, we expect results – yet unfortunately, we don’t see them. Nakakahinayang tuloy magbayad ng buwis! Is it only in the Philippines that this is happening? Probably not, but even in other Third World countries in Asia you can at least see the government somehow meeting the needs of their citizens. In our case, our officials don’t even seem to be concerned about giving the impression they are trying to fulfill those needs. Do they feel that they can "fix" the results of the next election anyway – whatever they do or don’t do?

Why do we have to pay our taxes if our various government institutions do not strive to meet our basic needs?

Imagine the take-home pay of an average employee who earns P8,000 a month. If her salary is P8,000 she probably is able to take home P6,000 to P7,000 only – after the deductions made for SSS, Pag-Ibig and taxes in general. There is no problem paying SSS and Pag-Ibig because the benefits are quite obvious. However, having paychecks or ATM salaries "deducted" for TAX purposes, for the use of our government, supposedly, to improve our infrastructure, provide public education (which is not totally free) and hospitalization, maintain cleanliness in the environment, and pay the wages of government workers, seems a waste – especially since we do not see that our money is being allocated wisely and usefully.

The same goes for a restaurant owner who works hard to earn a decent profit but is slapped with an atrocious "value added tax" (or VAT as we call it), and ends up barely able to make ends meet. The VAT seizes too much of the income of a restaurant that as a result, it can be called a silent killer of the restaurant industry.

No wonder businessmen are compelled, some of them admit, to try different means and ways of getting around paying the VAT tax in full. And guess who still benefits from this? You guessed right: Some clever BIR personnel who make money for "fixing" matters. Just like the BIR, Customs, the Office of Land and Transportation (LTO), DILG, Register of Deeds and other government offices have their own "rackets".

* * *

My point is: Why work so hard and diligently pay taxes when we don’t see any good results coming out of this, anyway? Even the simplest form of government service that of keeping roads for commuters in good repair (which should be a service coming out of tax money) is not delivered, nor given priority. Aside from having to pay taxes to improve the roads we also end up paying for our cars to be repaired from the damage done to them by potholes (lubak) on the road that inflict so much wear and tear on our vehicles.

When voting day comes around, we all ought to check our personnel listing of candidates and try to lessen the number of people in public office who aren’t on the job – and on the ball. There are some offices that have already initiated programs on cost-saving measure, such as cutting down on manpower.

By the way, the bulk of our taxes go to salaries and wages – first priority should be to chase away the myriads of ghost employees who bloodsuck our treasury.

What we need is a "Ghostbusters" department – but, oops! Creating one would entail foisting another agency or bureaucracy on our groaning government roster. Our overburdened taxpayers can’t stand much more. In the meantime, the tax evaders compound their shame by calling the conscientious taxpaying public: Gullible souls. Or, worse, "suckers".

This situation is all wrong. If it’s not corrected, we’ll never achieve real progress – or happiness.

* * *

Who does NAIA Airport Manager Edgardo Manda think he is? He’s been bragging, if the newspaper reports are correct, that he’s been giving singer Mandy Moore flowers and VIP treatment, while now snubbing another American singer, the celebrity Mariah Carey, because her bodyguards had insulted him last Saturday night.

What was the unspeakable, announced crime of the unfortunate Mariah Carey’s bodyguards? They had shooed Airport Manager Manda and his chief security, General Angel Atutubo, out of the NAIA Centennial Terminal presidential lounge while the famous Gold-Disk singer was "retouching" her make-up in the lounge. By golly, Manager Manda! Are you one of those mambobosos? When a girl is "retouching" her make-up, this may mean she is also changing her outfit, in Mariah’s case preparatory to meeting the fans gathered outside to greet her.

What did Manda expect? That, he, being the Big Shot airport chief, he has the vested right to ogle Ms. Carey within the intimacy of the lounge, even if, sources say, the concert-organizers had paid for the use of that lounge? When they paid, they paid for PRIVACY. What gives Mr. Manda and his General the license to leer at a celebrity on the pretext they are giving her and her staff "airport VIP treatment"?

What’s our Lady President, Madam GMA, doing about her airport man’s scandalous behavior – which is far from gentlemanly towards a woman singer – at the airport and his absurd claim the airport is his "home". It’s not Mr. Manda’s home or his personal fiefdom – the airport, the last I looked, was called "Ninoy Aquino International Airport", and belongs to the Filipino people!

* * *

As for Ms. Carey, yesterday’s reports say she may leave from another airport since Manda’s indignation is proving so nasty.

Does GMA and our government realize the implications of Manda’s resentful behavior and his arrogant rantings? Mariah Carey is an international Star, adored by scores of millions around the planet. When she declares, at her next foreign press conference, whether in Hong Kong or back in the USA, that she was treated shabbily in the Philippines, or even hints she was pursued by a leering official, or subjected to acts of "revenge", the spin on this will be that Filipinos are barbarians, skirt-chasers (may be true, in part?), celebrity-harassers, and uncouth types who’d barge uninvited into a girl’s impromptu dressing room! Gee whiz, Mr. Manda. Did her bodyguards ask you to leave the room where she was "touching up"? Perhaps you shouldn’t even have been there, to begin with.

An international airport manager has more important work to do: Like keeping security at the airport, even the Airport Tower in 24-hour, tiptop condition; inspecting toilets and making sure they don’t stink; making EVERY commuter, flight crew and everyone who uses the airport, feel comfortable, safe, and confident they are getting efficient service.

When Manda speaks of "Filipino hospitality", making the entire airport user-friendly delivers that message, not his personally handing out bouquets to visiting celebrities. There are supposed to be greeters assigned for such duties, not the manager himself. Does the manager of Heathrow, Paris CDG, Frankfurt airport, JFK in New York, LAX in L.A., to cite just a few, go out to greet the Ms. Careys, Mandy Moores, or other "stars" of the world, as part of his daily chores? Or, worse, impose themselves on famous airport arrivals?

Remember when one of our international airport managers kicked The Beatles in the butt as they departed, because, he boasted, he was angry they had refused to go to Malacañang to sing for Imeldific, the then First Lady and Superma’am and her "guests"? (Those were the Martial Law days when Super-Imeldific must have thought she was Queen Marie Antoinette.)

Of course, The Beatles couldn’t go to the Palace: They had commitments abroad – and, besides, the spoiled Marcos big shots expected them to sing there FOR FREE. What are we, a nation of cheapskates and freeloaders? Those guys sang for a living. Anyway, this airport official, eager to curry favor with the Boss Lady and the Big Cheese, Macoy, publicly kicked them at his airport as they left. This news was flashed all over the world. The Beatles were asked about it at every press conference. It is now enshrined, to our shame, in all the "history" books on The Beatles, and the entertainment industry.

Now, is it happening again? By gosh, do we never learn? The Beatles are idolized by two generations, thus our embarrassment at having one of our officials very specifically kicked them out of the country at the airport has been compounded a thousandfold.

Mariah Carey is now in a position to add to that – well, awful legend.

Mr. Manda: Tell us it isn’t true. But all your press releases say it is.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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