MANILA, March 12, 2004
(STAR) By Sheila Crisostomo - Taxes collected from text messaging will be used to build homes for the poor, presidential contender Raul Roco vowed yesterday, if elected.

Roco, standard-bearer of the Alyansa ng Pag-asa, said the existing 10 percent value-added tax (VAT) imposed on voice and short messaging system or SMS can be used to finance housing projects for indigent Filipinos.

The scheme will be dubbed "Text-a-Home" project.

"There is already a 10 percent VAT on text messages on those who maintain a plan with mobile (phone) companies. The 10 percent VAT is imposed on your call charges as well as text messages," Roco explained.

He, however, clarified that he is not for imposing additional tax on texting, which Filipinos have grown accustomed to doing at any given time of the day to keep in touch with anybody they know with a mobile phone.

"We should not penalize the public for government’s failure to collect the VAT properly," Roco said. "Nor should text messages be considered a commodity that is subject to an excise tax."

At least P18 billion annually could be generated by government from some 500 million text messages sent daily, Roco estimated.

The imposition of a tax on text messaging is among several measures that businessmen said they want the president to be elected in May to pursue. Businessmen hope this will increase the government’s tax revenues.

Howls were raised over the proposed text tax. The consumer youth group TxtPower has said chances are slim that Congress will act on the proposal.

There are an estimated 22 million cellular phone subscribers in the Philippines, most of whom are on the prepaid plan.

In a statement, Roco said he wanted to know if the VAT on prepaid cards is collected properly.

He said prepaid cards already have a 10-percent VAT that is charged on-sale. This is supposed to be collected by the mobile phone companies from their dealers.

"This is a matter of improving the collection system," Roco said.

He said the annual revenue that government can collect from the VAT on text messages will provide shelter to homeless Filipinos.

Roco earlier said that if elected, he will agree to the demand of squatters for a one-year moratorium against eviction.

During a recent campaign sortie in the depressed area of East Triangle in Quezon City, Roco said the moratorium will give him ample time to review the government’s relocation programs. Bro. Eddie Favors Federal Form Meanwhile, presidential candidate Bro. Eddie Villanueva has proposed a shift to the federal form of government to maximize the potential of the country’s 13 regions for development.

Villanueva, however, pointed out he will let the public decide on whether it is best to adopt a federal system.

President Arroyo has expressed favor for a shift to a parliamentary unicameral then to a federal form of government.

"My personal preference is the federal form of government. However, I do not want to impose this on the people," Villanueva said. "What is more important is for the Filipino people to be educated on the pros and cons of the various government systems."

Villanueva, who visited Cagayan de Oro City the other day after a series of campaign sorties in the cities of Marawi and Iligan, also said an overhaul of the justice system is needed to fast-track the resolution of cases, especially those involving former and incumbent government officials.

Villanueva, an evangelist of an influential Christian movement, cited the "Jose Pidal" controversy which he said must be resolved, and those involved punished.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, another presidential contender, exposed last year the alleged Jose Pidal accounts of Mrs. Arroyo’s husband that were supposedly used to launder millions of pesos.

Iggy Arroyo, the brother of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, surfaced to claim he was Pidal but senators hearing the Lacson exposé doubted this.

Congress adjourned for the May election campaign without resolving the Pidal issue after the younger Arroyo invoked his right to privacy in refusing to answer the senators’ questions.

"That is a serious charge. And like other high profile corruption cases in the country, investigation should be conducted and prosecute those involved," Villanueva said.

Villanueva said the "legacy" he intends to leave once he has served the country as president is having strengthened the "country’s democracy." — With Bong Fabe

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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