MANILA, February 13, 2004 (STAR) GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc - The policy is avoidance – of the press, of issues, of consequences. When the matter of his citizenship at birth first came up, Fernando Poe Jr. made himself scarce. It was his "unofficial spokesman", Sen. Tito Sotto, who made the rounds of radio talk shows, and only to distort the issue as one of patriotism. Only much later did Poe surface to say he would produce proof of Filipino birth in his parents’ marriage contract. And when he did, it only bolstered evidence that he was born illegitimate a year before the nuptial, and that he thus followed the citizenship of his American mother under jurisprudence at that time.

After admitting he had sired a son out of wedlock, Poe was asked at least thrice by reporters if it was true that he has two illegitimate daughters as well. He was evasive each time. Twice he put on dark glasses and said he will reply in due time. The third time he advised the interviewer to not use the painful word "illegitimate". Then his presidential campaigners got Poe’s lovely but aggrieved wife to parry the question with a request to "not ask about things private and past." All the while supporters howled that, notwithstanding Poe’s avowals of honesty and sincerity, marital infidelity was not an issue in judging a candidate’s character.

Wednesday, Senate President Franklin Drilon urged Poe’s camp to respect whatever ruling the Supreme Court would make on his citizenship. It is an issue of the rule of law, Drilon explained, and Poe had declared on the rare occasions that he talked platform that he wished to restore respect for government and rule of law. Reporters naturally tried to get Poe’s reaction. There was none, for Poe had to cut short his Bulacan sortie after injuring a finger. But on cue, two sidekicks rose to speak for him: senatorial aspirant Ernesto Herrera who needs publicity to raise his survey ratings, and reelectionist Rep. Harry Angping whose Chinese birth was once questioned as well.

Herrera and Angping chorused that Poe’s camp had decided that he should continue to run even if the Supreme Court finds him unqualified to be president. They redefined rule of law to mean having the people decide the case in the end. "Sovereignty and political authority emanates from the people," they argued, so the electorate should be the ultimate judge. "The people’s will is always supreme than any ruling from the courts."

And here is where the policy of avoidance becomes convenient. By having Herrera and Angping speak for him, Poe cannot be pinned down to their words, which are debatable to begin with. The 1987 Constitution that allows only natural-born Filipinos to run for national posts overwhelmingly was ratified by voters in a plebiscite. Along with that tacit people’s assent was the tasking of three branches of government to pass, enforce and interpret laws. Poe is now leading the surveys with 36 percent of respondents, from which Herrera and Angping presumable draw nerve to forecast the man’s victory even if disqualified. If the surveys hold true till Election Day, they would have 36 percent of the electorate overturning a Constitution ratified by more than double that number. So much for Poe’s desire to restore the rule of law. But then, it’s not him who’s talking about defying it.

The policy of avoidance proves more convenient if push comes to shove. Drilon’s appeal rang in the midst of repeated threats by Poe’s camp to take to the streets in case he is disqualified. It was somehow reassuring, since the threats brought back to mind how the same agitators had led an assault on Malacañang in May 2001 after an extended miting de avance at the EDSA Shrine. The threats seem real today. When a Comelec division debated Poe’s citizenship case, police had to disperse unruly supporters outside. Just before the en banc took on the matter, jailed ex-president Joseph Estrada, for whom the 2001 assault was made, warned of street violence with an adverse ruling on Poe. The same mob-for-hire had fought with riot police while the Supreme Court was deliberating the legality of Gloria Arroyo’s presidency after Estrada’s abdication. Comes now a supposedly constitutional basis, from Herrera and Angping, to express the people’s sovereign power "to correct an injustice that could be perpetrated by the judicial system."

Of course, if Poe is disqualified and street violence does erupt, he cannot be faulted for it. He already has skirted the issue. Asked weeks ago by businessmen about his followers’ published threats to go on a rampage, he simply said "it’s not true."

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It’s tax filing time: business taxes, income taxes, value-added taxes. Given the taxman’s ever-changing rules on assessments and payments – due to taxpayers’ ever-growing skills with loopholes – more and more questions are being asked about where, when, how to file. If it wants to increase its collections, the Bureau of Internal Revenue must make it easy for payers to know how. So in this election campaign season, Mr. Taxman himself, BIR chief Guillermo Parayno, launches his own info campaign via a weekly radio program on DWIZ-882 kHz. Mr. Taxman premieres this Saturday at 10 a.m.

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For decades the GSIS had no reliable membership database to speak of. Loans and pensions were given on mere certifications that often proved inaccurate, incomplete or false. Winston Garcia could have sat on it when he took over as GSIS president in 2001. The provident fund of government employees would keel over in time due to unbridled doles, but not during his short watch. But he chose to set things aright with a computerization that took a year to finish. Technicians had to retrieve and encode tons of manual records and remittance receipts from GSIS warehouses. It was an inconvenience to members, to say the least, but it’s now working. Garcia foresees savings of P5 billion a year by avoiding payments to unqualified or fake applicants for loans and benefits.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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