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Help! I have beer withdrawal syndrome

(Article published in the No. 18, 2002 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

Ever since Master Romy Santos, my arnis instructor, told me to cut down on beer, that is, if I wanted to ever get some color on the very white belt I had been wearing since August last, I have been gradually reducing my consumption of that elixir, and others like it, until finally on the day before Halloween, my daily intake was down to zero. But while my girth may have shrunk an eighth of an inch, or two, and my blood pressure gone down a wee bit, alcohol deprivation appears to have damaged whatever remains of the contents of what my mother used to call "thick kanuto". I fail to understand more and more things around me; very soon, I will be thoroughly autistic.

Take for instance, those plastic knives the airlines give you upon serving your meal in the sky. No more metal knives, I was told, since 9/11 in order to prevent some idiotic terrorist from entering the cockpit, killing the pilots, and diverting the plane to some target in the US of A or to some other temple of power and greed elsewhere. How those diminutive instruments can be used to slit the throat of the pilots when they could hardly make a dent on the meat on my plate is beyond me. But more of a mystery is why the airlines continue to provide metal forks. Those things, with four pointed tines, can stamp a deadly tattoo on any pilot’s jugular as easily as they can pierce the baked potato. Maybe the airlines got their instruction from Mayor Jejomar Binay and the honorable aldermen and alderwomen of Makati.

About a month ago, Makati’s Council passed City Ordinance 2002-121. It was authored by councilor Israel S. Cruzado, passed unanimously by those in session assembled on October 15, with only Vice Mayor Ernesto S. Mercado (on official leave) and councilors Ferdinand Eusebio and Rico Puni absent, and duly approved by the good mayor Binay, the man. The city ordinance’s ponderous pomp is surpassed only by the levity of its circumstance.

The ordinance begins with a reminder of the honorable officials to themselves that it is the city government’s "responsibility and mandate …to protect business establishments located within" the city. Protect from whom? The first Whereas gives no answer and leaves you to surmise. But if you are, even for a moment to think that it is from them that you would be protected, perish the thought. The second Whereas clearly states that target of the ordinance is the "lawless and unscrupulous", not the lawmakers and the law’s implementors. As to them, you have to fend for yourself. The purpose? According to the third Whereas, the intent is to "addresss the vulnerability of banks, pawnshops, money exchange and other establishments from these criminals through timely and relevant legislation". Their solution to problem of crime, you read it right, is to pass yet another law.

The City Council has high hopes that the ordinance will "send a strong message that the government is committed to preserving the interests of legitimate businesses (read that to mean those businesses who have unforgettable as well as forgettable experiences in getting their yearly from the Mayor’s office) and project the image of progressive center of commerce and trade for our (theirs, mind you, not yours) city". That message, however, cannot be sent by text. Makati City Ordinance 2002-121 bans cellular phones in banks, pawnshops, money exchange and similar establishments in Makati City.

Moreover, it is a garbled message. The title of the ordinance says that is "an ordinance banning the use of cellular phones or similar devices inside banks, pawnshops, money exchange and similar establishments in Makati City and providing penalty for violation thereof". But what Section 1 says is that "Cellular telephones and similar communications devices shall no longer be brought inside the premises of banks, pawnshops, money exchange and other establishments located within the jurisdiction of the City of Makati." So, what is the offense? The use of cellular phones or bringing them inside bank premies? Or both?

The message is also bad tidings. Section 2 requires banks and the other covered institutions to post a sign at their entrances informing clients about the ordinance’s prohibition, obviously in imitation of the signs the aldermen seen in the night clubs some of them frequent, saying that firearms are not allowed inside. A rule more honored in the breach than in the observance, if any.

The banks, furthermore, are to "provide adequate facilities for the safekeeping of the cellular phones" deposited by their entering clientele. They would thus have to hire additional personnel to receive their client’s cell phones, keep them safely, and return them to their owners when the latter leave the premises. The system envisaged, I suppose, is the same one currently used when you get an ID to enter a building or when you check-in your wet umbrella before proceeding to the supermarket. With many handsets looking alike, with as many clients as forgetful as I am, and with security guards being what they are, I cannot imagine how much the banks would have to spend to comply with the requirement and, more significant, how much would be needed to manage the resulting hostility of clients for being inconvenienced and the suits that are sure to follow when handsets are misplaced, lost, or even just damaged. The banks are better off, really, spending all that money into beefing up their security in their own private way.

But the most important objection to Makati City Ordinance 2002-121 is that it undermines the BIR’s program of using text messages to thwart tax payments scams perpetrated usually in banks. Under this new program of Commissioner Guillermo Parayno, corporate officers will be notified via text message as soon as the BIR receives the payments made by them through the banks. Now, suppose a corporate officer paid P1 million pesos by way of his income tax through an authorized bank in Makati but the BIR confirmed by text that it received only P500,000. The corporate officer, in order to confront the Makati bank, must go to the bank and show Mr. Parayno’s text message. But at the bank’s entrance, he must surrender his cell phone because the brillant ordinance of Makati makes no exception. No cell phones allowed. Period, says Section 1. Assuming the corporate officer is able to smuggle his cell phone in, he cannot turn it on or scroll to BIR’s message. The title of ordinance Ordinance 2002-121 bans the use of cell phones inside bank premises. So, how can Mr. Parayno collect the correct tax?

Perhaps, he should consult with Justice Secretary Nani Perez, Congressman Villarama and Sen.Lacson. They all seem to know something about somebody who somehow knows how to collect, at least, the papers say, $2 million.

It could be that the good Commissioner will be as confused as I am by the dance of the three.

My confusion: first, Willie supposedly told a reporter that someone in the Cabinet collected. Then, Nani supposedly challenged Willie to name names. Willie takes up the challenge by delivering a privilege speech that named no names. Nani and Willie then met purportedly to kiss and make up. Nani, after the meeting, proclaims he is cleared but did not say whether he kissed Willie. Willie is also silent about the kissing but said he did not clear Nani. Maybe, each in their own times, kissed the same somebody and messed her make up and, since if A equals B and C equals B, then A equals C, all that kissing time-warped during their rendezvouz and Nani and Willie, in a manner of speaking, really kissed. In the meantime, Ping Lacson is jumping up and down, saying, "it is clear, it is clear, it is Nani".

What is important, for the Commissioner, however, is that $2 million was apparently collected. Hence, it was received. Thus, somebody got income. And that income is subject to tax. Go for it, Mr. Commissioner, with $2 million, you shall have met your target.

As for me, my sole target is to get some color on my belt ASAP. In the meantime, a beer! a beer! my insanity for a beer!