Tobacco farmers cry for help, renewing ties with San Juan’s Mayor Guia

Published April 30, 2017, 12:05 AM

by Noreen Jazul

By Deedee M. Siytangco

“God help me to focus on the truth instead of the trial. Help me to give thanks instead of giving in to fear. Help me to choose joy instead of anger. Help me to trust in Your power instead of my plan. Help me to elevate Your name instead of my own.”

A compromise or settlement can be an honorable, if a very practical way, to settle any dispute.

Especially in a legal issue that can drag on for years and drain the resources of both the complainant and the party being sued. Big money on both sides has to be spent, which could otherwise be used for better purposes than a lengthy legal battle.

Grace and Guia San Juan Mayor Guia Gomez surrounded by Bulong Pulungan core group at XO Heritage Bistro. Rina and Pie David, Chay Santiago,  Domini Torrevillas and Saeed Daof, Bob Zozobrado, Mila Alora, Jullie Yap Daza, and the author. Also in the picture is Senator JV Ejercito (Ed Santiago)
Grace and Guia San Juan Mayor Guia Gomez surrounded by Bulong Pulungan core group at XO Heritage Bistro. Rina and Pie David, Chay Santiago, Domini Torrevillas and Saeed Daof, Bob Zozobrado, Mila Alora, Jullie Yap Daza, and the author. Also in the picture is Senator JV Ejercito (Ed Santiago)

Why am I sounding off on a legal matter this lazy Sunday, just before the rains of May and right after the ASEAN Summit?

Well, one, a very good friend of mine woefully related how her family is still embroiled in a legal tussle with her elder siblings on their vast inheritance from their banker-real estate developer father. It has been more than two decades, I asked, and you’re still at it? Why? Your lawyers are richer than you guys now!

My siblings refuse to compromise, she answered sadly. It’s all or nothing. So we are still at this “nothing” stage. For them or for us.

This week, “compromise” came floating into my consciousness again after reading in this paper the item on the opinion of Justice Secretary Vitalino Aguirre on the festering issue of collecting taxes owed to the government of a big home-grown cigarette manufacturer. Now, Mighty Corporation employs 1,600 workers and buys from local tobacco farmers, (about 55,000 of them all from tobacco producing provinces) so they do contribute to the country’s economy. How many families do those numbers add to? Somewhere along the way Mighty, according to BIR, incurred back excise taxes because of “spurious” BIR seals on their cigarette packs.

As an aside, I find this strange because I have seen the modern, highly-guarded BIR printing presses in the APO compound in Limay, Batangas and can’t imagine how the BIR seals can still be faked. Anyway, the government has decreed that Mighty owes some nine billion pesos and President Duterte, first adamant against any settlement, or a compromise (or a staggered payment offer),  is now amenable to the firm paying three billion pesos but in one swoop. Aguirre thinks this is fine, as a legal battle will not benefit any of the two parties, and government can certainly use that tax money windfall.

“R3 billion is what the government is asking as a compromise tax  payment  but only one-time payment. This way,” he observed, “the Duterte administration can avoid a long legal battle.”

Wise words, but wait, BIR’s Commissioner Dulay has announced he is cancelling Mighty’s permit to operate? Just a moment po. Mighty I know has stopped operating since the “fake” stamps were brought up rendering their worker and farmers dependent on them jobless and income-less. In fact, they are appealing for help from President Duterte.

How will we cope? Mario Cabasal, president of the 55,000-member National Federation of Tobacco Farmers Associations and Cooperatives asks. No other cigarette manufacturer buys locally produced tobacco except Mighty. I believe it’s time to let Mighty go back to its operations and pay its obligations!

As I said, compromises are better than long drawn-out litigation. Look at Pacquiao, the boxer-senator. Then BIR Commissioner Kim Henares went after him for non-payment of taxes due the government but his defense was that he already paid in the US! Now he still owes back taxes and with hope the government’s economic team can hammer out a “deal” with Pacman and get some of his earnings !

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Meanwhile, in the tiny city of San Juan, (population 150,000; voters, 80,000) site of the historic  Battle of San Juan del Monte (Pinaglabanan) in 1896,  now with the best “tiangge” for locals and tourists in the country, its  gracious “mayora” is busy making sure the informal dwellers in dangerous areas are being relocated to livable sites. Providing housing is, after all, her flagship project.

Mayor Guia Gomez Ejercito realizes that she is losing many registered voters when she relocates them outside the city but she continues with her housing projects. Happily many come back to vote as they are still registered and because they know who to be loyal to.

At 77, Mayora Guia has some difficulty walking fast now, but she retains the charm, graciousness, and beauty that made her the beloved First Lady of San Juan and for the past seven years, its beautiful, approachable, hard-working “mayora.” I first met her when Joseph Estrada, the love of her life and Senator JV Ejercito’s father, was first elected mayor of San Juan, then a struggling municipality.

She was already the hands-on First Lady with her clean-up and community livelihood endeavors (which are still alive now) and when her son JV became mayor after, she quietly helped, too. Politicos in and out of San Juan beat a path to her residence through the years, especially when they   wanted her sage advice and help in their campaigns. She was always ready to extend a helping hand or give pointers. Her image was clean and friendly and this helped them, just to be seen in her company.

To the disadvantaged, her motto was “Give until it hurts.” She put her soul, passion, and heart into her public service.

“I gave San Juan my all my best,” Guia told us. And now that she is on her last term, she confided during a dinner at the XO Heritage Bistro in Estancia that she regretted none of the heartaches or brickbats and poisoned arrows from some of her political foes as long as she helped her constituents, rich or poor.

San Juan has its own PUP university campus and will soon have its own general hospital. A San Juan museum is in the works and more housing. But the location sites must be equipped for people to start their lives decently, their mayor asserts.

So why is this lady mayor being mercilessly pilloried by her political rivals in all venues, especially in social media? C’mon guys…you used to be on the same side. Don’t let greed and ambition get the better of you!