LOCAL JOURNALISTS swear they have not seen debates as highly charged as the spectacle they witnessed at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) recently.
Our provincial dads were arguing on the release of the province’s P254-million share in the P5.81-billlion tobacco excise tax due to tobacco-producing provinces.
This has been highly discussed in the news, so I will no longer delve into painstaking details, but allow me, dear karikna, to present the primary issue, which is: should Ilocos Norte participate in the Tobacco Excise Tax Monetization Program (TEMP) which would allow the province to get its share in lump sum, or should it subscribe to long-term installments, sans deductions? Under TEMP, we will be able to get our piece of the pie, but less 31.5% in bank interests and consultancy fees. Under the second option, we get almost the full amount.
Should the province participate in the TEMP, an SP resolution had to be passed to that effect. This is where the debates transpired. I know you understand why I am interested on this. I am a Philosophy teacher, and coach, too, of university debate teams. Add to that the fact that I am also a dutiful taxpayer.
One thing to be watchful for in debates are fallacies, which, as we have learned in our Logic classes, are products of convoluted reason. Here, I listed down some fallacies which were committed both by the SP members, and those who have spoken about the issue in media.
First in my list is False Dilemma. Also called Black and White Fallacy, this operates by effacing the various alternatives in between two extreme choices in a particular issue. Thus, the various gradation of gray in between black and white are concealed giving us only two alternatives, black and white.
Such is committed when one says, “either you approve the TEMP resolution or you deprive farmers their rightful share.” But, of course, there are alternatives.
I do not believe that any SP member is really against the welfare of farmers, and nobody is saying that we should not get the money. The questions are: in what manner?, and how much?
If the SP avails of TEMP in toto and as is, farmers will lose around one third of the total amount due them. They will be charged exorbitant fees for money they have already earned. Any self-respecting banker will say that the bank interest of 26 percent and the consultancy fee of 5.5 percent are just too high.
With TEMP approved as it is, farmers stand to lose around P80-million. That’s a big loss, very big loss. That means P80-million less government support to agricultural infrastructure and equipment, and to human resource development.
If paying interest is inevitable, can we not, at least, bring it down? Fifteen percent, the opposition says, would have been tolerable.
“But all others have agreed to it, why shouldn’t we?,” ask people who commit the Bandwagon Fallacy. Reportedly, Ilocos Sur, Abra, and La Union have already approved the TEMP, so proponents at the Ilocos Norte SP say we have to follow their lead, less we be left out. But, if we adopt this line, should we even need our own SP, why don’t we just wait for other LGUs to decide and just adopt whatever is the consensus?
Closely related to the Bandwagon Fallacy is Tu Quoque, two wrongs make a right. Because others committed a purported mistake does not give you license to commit the same. Steve Barreiro, my good friend and mentor, in his column last week, lamented that 2nd District Rep. Bongbong Marcos (BBM) has already availed of TEMP, but that SP Member Nonong Marcos, and others who blocked the resolution at the provincial board, have not spoken against it. Steve takes issue with this double standard.
Granting, for the sake of argument, that BBM was wrong in his decision, and that Nonong et al. are wrong, too, for being silent about it, these supposed errors do not necessarily justify as right the approval of the TEMP resolution at the SP. In short, what is wrong remains wrong no matter how many have committed it.
“Kaasi met dagiti mannalon,” thus goes the choral lyrics of the TEMP proponents’ song. We see this as Argumentum ad Misericordiam, or appeal to pity, a fallacy committed when emotions take primacy over reason. This srategy is oversimplifying the issue because the opponents can also say, “poor farmers, ginigisa sila sa sarili nilang mantika, they are charged interest so they can get their own money.”
Manang Gloria, our househelp, not the president, gives me a view of the difficult life of common Tobacco farmers. Whenever planting season comes, her family would borrow money so they can operate. They used to resort to lenders who charge high interests, but since she began to work with us, we in the family try our best to lend them a hand, sans any charges, of course.
I agree that people in need would usually do a “kapit sa patalim,” and it is because they feel utterly helpless. But is our provincial government in the same predicament? Are we that helpless, and powerless, and pitifully resigned to fate?
We should ask, what put us in this scenario that disadvantages farmers and favors financial institutions and consultants? Who benefits in this set-up? Why are we beholden to their dictates? And who, in the first place, are the ‘they’?
From what I surmised from the interviews I made with both camps, there is really some sort of mafia (the term is mine), surely larger than the provincial government, which orchestrates all of these. This is led by someone so powerful, let’s just call him, in reference to the Harry Potter series, “he who should not be named.” Overall, “he who should not be named” and his cohorts stand to benefit the most from all of these, and they are lucky. Kaasi met dagiti mannalon.
There are two options, dear karikna. One is, to take the easy path, the quick fix—to go with the flow. The other is to traverse the difficult-but-noble path that only the courageous dare take—the fight for justice, for what is really due the tobacco farmer.
Pardon my idealism, but I go for the second option. The farmer should be considered not only as beneficiaries, but, and more importantly, as comrades in the struggle for agricultural reforms, in particular, and good governance, at large.
We cannot, however, wage the battle if the farmers themselves are not ready and willing, that is why it is important to involve them in the decision making process. We need to consult them. In the same breath, we should not let them lose P80-million pesos without their consent. And so I suggest that the provincial government should go down to the sanjeras, the farmers associations, not only to deliver programs and services, but to listen to and heed their will. After all, that is the sworn duty of any legislator, er, any public official, regardless of political affiliation.
I believe that some proponents of the TEMP resolution are really well-meaning. For example, Kris Ablan, a young politico I have so much respect and admiration for, is for it. We talked about the issue at length, and his arguments are not without merits.
“If the circumstances were different, I would have voted otherwise,” says Kris, who, together with Toto Lazo, ardently supports the resolution. He explained that, given the massive agricultural damage caused by Pepeng and Ondoy, Tobacco farmers need immediate help. Kris, obviously, is learning the art of political compromise. He has decided to be pragmatic, and I expected otherwise, but I respect his position nonetheless.
It does not help that election time has come, and we cannot blame people who think that politicians need the money more. What is funny and disappointing, however, is when politicians themselves blame “politics” when their pet measures do not get through.
The proponents are said to be allies of Governor Michael Marcos Keon (MMK) while the oppositionists are reportedly aligned with former Rep. Imee Marcos, who is running as governor against the former. “Politics!,” cry the proponents, is the reason while the approval of TEMP is being derailed. But, in governance, aren’t politics and public service really intertwined? How can you separate politics from the politician? We are, at this point, now begging in circles, and we call this fallacy, Petitio Principii.
Also, to assert that getting the money immediately would benefit the farmers is non sequitur, it does not follow. First, it has to be made very clear and transparent how the province intends to spend the money, who to distribute the funds to, and what programs and projects to pursue. Only then can fears of the money being used for the campaign be dispelled.
MMK reportedly said that the opposition committed “the most violent act in the history of the SP” for killing a resolution that would benefit farmers. A statement like this, which employs strong language in the aim of gaining popular support without really delving into the salient issues, smacks of Argumentum ad Populum, appeal to the people.
Governor Keon is right to push for programs which, to his judgment, will benefit his constituency. But the provincial board, both a legislative and fiscalizing body, is equally right not to be a rubber stamp of the executive. The power of checks and balances, whenever used reasonably, always leads to a government less abusive, less corrupt, less fallacious. The burden is on Vice Governor and SP presiding officer Windell Chua to continue to lead the body towards this direction. I pray, dear karikna, that the TEMP issue be resolved with dispatch, but not blindly.
And so, in my objective assessment, Nonong Marcos, Yvonne Ranada, Albert Chua, Rudys Farinas, Robert Castro, and Jessie Galano—SP members against the controversial resolution—won, not just in the numbers game, but also in the realm of reason.
Some say this issue marks the dawn of a bitter MMK-Imee fight.
I say these are exciting times for debaters and logicians.