The Duterte government, or any government for that matter, fully knows that the superrich are obsessed with just one thing — the pursuit of money and more money. Wages are kept low, working conditions for low-wage earners are borderline slavery, suppliers are squeezed, and collective bargaining for better conditions is taboo. Big Business and the corporate overlords, by the very nature of their undertaking, are devoid of a moral and ethical core. Just look at the operations of the major utility firms, which are near-monopolies, and the operating principle would easily unravel: underwhelming service delivered at the highest cost.
Big business tries to paper over the corporate grift through phony and heavily publicized stunts called "CSR" or corporate social responsibility, but people can see through the hollowness and emptiness of such fake gestures. Replanting logged-over areas and distributing food packs to calamity victims are no substitute to, say, profit-sharing or encouraging trade unions to flourish and bargain fairly.
Politicians, except for a few exceptions, are in thrall of the moneyed class. That, or the pols are forever grateful for the campaign contributions, delivered during elections in cold cash, stuffed in big bags or in overflowing big, brown envelopes that burst at the seams. The unspent portions usually go to discreet bank accounts or asset purchases. We have no Elizabeth Warrens in Philippine politics, the kind that can both wield the law and rigorous research to expose the shenanigans of wealthy and corporate malfeasance.
Our political class is always pandering to the needs of the wealthy. No accountability, no big-time inquiry into white-collar crimes, no anti-trust and anti-monopoly legislation. In the 8th Congress, the first to convene after martial law, then Sen. Teofisto Guingona tried to interest his colleague into writing and passing landmark anti-trust and anti-monopoly laws. There was no enthusiasm for the initiative.
Of course, the arc of the moral universe often leads to this — a day of reckoning. That, of course, was not initiated by concerned political leaders and crusading tax investigators but by investigative journalists from many parts of the globe who probed offshore accounts of the world's billionaires, millionaires, political leaders, pretentious do-gooders like Tony Blair, criminals and plain thugs and an assortment of interesting characters.
The "Pandora Papers," the result of the probe done by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), compiled what was described as a "massive trove" of documents that consisted of 11.9 million financial records of over 20,000 offshore activities, all sourced from 14 financial-services entities and law firms that operate not just in the usual tax havens such as Belize and the British Virgin Islands, Panama and Cyprus but in unlikely places such as Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Roughly 130 of the world's dollar billionaires listed on the Forbes billionaire data and a total of 330 public leaders from 90 countries were named as owners or beneficial owners of offshore accounts, which are used for tax-dodging purposes, avoidance of government scrutiny and cover-up for laundered money obtained from illegal activities.
A total of 940 individuals and companies based in the Philippines were named as owners of offshore accounts in the Pandora Papers, and why the offshore accounts were set up was described in very precise terms by the Washington Post, a media partner of the ICIJ in the Pandora Papers investigative work. The Post termed the Pandora Papers as a "trove of secret files that detail an opaque financial universe where the global elite shield riches from taxes, probes and accountability."
This needs repeating. Shielding riches from accountability and for tax evasion.
So, it is both ironic and tragic that the centerpiece fiscal legislation passed by Congress recently and giddily signed into a law by President Duterte, read this and weep, was a sweeping corporate tax cuts to be done in stages, until it hits a rock-bottom 20 percent. Prime beneficiaries of the corporate tax cuts were the Philippine-based holders of the offshore accounts.
Our local elite, by virtue of that legislation, now enjoy the best of both fiscal worlds. They will be blessed with a rock-bottom corporate tax rate of 20 percent in due time, without forfeiting their right to register offshore accounts in the tax havens to dodge taxes and shield their wealth from probes and accountability. Filipino dollar billionaires on the Forbes list were, indeed, in the 11.9 million files uncovered by the investigative work of the ICIJ. They are in "good company."
King Abdullah 2nd of Jordan, one of the most prominent names on the list, was found to have splurged on a $100-million house buying spree in the US via his offshore accounts, with luxury purchases in California and Washington, D.C. — plus other pieces of property in London. President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic, President Sebastian Pinera of Chile and Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta were in the Pandora report. So were Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Montenegro President Milo Djukanovic. And American billionaires on the Forbes list, members of the Chinese elite and cronies of Vladimir Putin.
Our fiscal overlords are not innocents, and the offshore accounts set up by the Filipino billionaire class to dodge taxes and create corporate layers to hide overseas acquisitions are public knowledge.
Even better, the Filipino elite have been setting up trusts in these offshore accounts so they can pass on intergenerational wealth without paying taxes. This is also public knowledge.
Instead of digging deep and exposing these offshore accounts, as the late former Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner Beethoven Rualo attempted during his term, our Congress, with a big nudge from the fiscal overlords, decided to gift the tax-dodging elite with corporate tax cuts with the false hope that investments would surge, and jobs would be created on a massive scale.
The investments and jobs never came and the offshore accounts, as the Pandora Papers have documented, never returned home.