Afraid of the INC but…

By: Malou Guanzon Apalisok September 03,2015 - 01:19 PM

Everybody is still weighing in on the controversy sparked by the mass demonstration staged by members of the Iglesia Ni Cristo for four days in a row in Shaw Boulevard along EDSA.  As a constant visitor to Makati City where many of my siblings live, I can understand why the INC demonstration has caused the blood pressure of Metro Manilans to rise because traffic is already hellish without 20,000 people blocking  busy streets near EDSA.

Instead of decrying the situation, prominent politicians made excuses for the INC while government officials tried to assuage the public and the church group by calling for maximum tolerance in dealing with the sect’s supposed exercise of freedom of expression.

Unlike in mass actions staged by militant organizations which are usually met by a phalanx of policemen ready with their truncheons and firearms, top Philippine National Police officials even praised the INC for their supposed orderly gathering, never mind the traffic gridlock or that a crew member of ABS-CBN was reportedly beaten up by INC members because the media organization was “biased” against the religious group.

The specter of a government practically leaving the population to suffer the aggravation for four days all in the name of religious freedom and freedom of expression is very hard to swallow.

The monolithic INC vote, estimated at 1.4 million, can make or break the election of a national and local candidate which is why the bloc vote has attracted politicians of all stripes.  Even the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos is said to have made a beeline for the Manalo-led church because it is very well organized and adherents obey strict orders from their elders.

Not surprisingly, politicians are careful not to offend the INC, and that is why in the current brouhaha over the INC’s resentment of Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s alleged interest in the case filed by an expelled church member against top INC officials, no politician dared defend de Lima nor contradict the INC line, except perhaps for Senator Koko Pimentel, who by the way is not yet up for reelection.  His current term ends in 2019.

When I think of the warm bodies massed by the INC in the mass action in EDSA, what is 20,000, supposedly representing 1.4 church members, compared with the 13-million strong members of the cooperative sector?

The cooperative movement is reportedly restive over moves by Congress in pushing the Fiscal Incentives Bill.  The Aquino administration is poised to have the FIB passed through a consolidated bill crafted by Congressman Rufus Rodriguez, his brother, Abante Party-list Rep. Maximo Rodriguez and Cebu 6th district Rep. Luigi Quisumbing.  In the Senate, the main author is Senator Loren Legarda who is now in her 2nd and last term as senator.

The proposed bill aims to rationalize fiscal incentives earlier granted to certain entities, but which under current times no longer need tax and duty-free privileges because they are already thriving.  Moreover, the system is said to have distorted the tax structure and taken away billions of pesos from the government which could well be used for social services.

On the face of it, the FIB looks sensible except that it also targets the cooperative sector which enjoys tax-exempt status under Republic Act 9520 also known as the Cooperative Code of 2008.   Co-ops are businesses imbued with a social mission.  These member-owned and -led organizations educate and capacitate their members to engage in social enterprises, the benefits of which are plowed back to the community, unlike off-shore companies owned by foreign entities.

The bid to lift the tax-exempt status of cooperatives is said to have been inserted in the FIB by no less than Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima whose agency has jurisdiction over the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), the regulatory and development body of cooperatives.  Purisima is said to have secured the support of Rep. Quisumbing and Sen. Legarda to push the anti-coop provision.

The move to lift the tax-exempt status of the co-op sector through a provision inserted by Purisima was accidentally discovered by CDA Administrator Benjie Oliva while diligently attending Congress deliberations on the 2016 budget bill.  He was trying to lobby for CDA to get a bigger budget which under the current year has a measly appropriation of less than P320 million.  To Oliva’s utter surprise, he found out that the DOF, the mother agency of the CDA, is moving to put the co-op’s neck in the chopping board through the FIB.

Administrator Oliva immediately aired his strong reservations, saying that the repeal of RA 9520 Sections 60 and 61 will be the death knell of the cooperative movement.  I salute this brave Boholano for standing up for the sector.

The FIB has not gained traction for the past 15 years, and I have a nagging suspicion that the provision inserted by the DOF to lift the tax-exempt status of co-ops will turn out as the second prize in getting the FIB passed.

Cooperatives are perceived to be fragmented and, unlike the INC, cannot whip up a critical mass, or could it not?
I heard the Philippine Cooperative Center (PCC), the apex body of the sector, is organizing a protest rally next month to demonstrate against the DOF’s assault on the co-op movement through the FIB.

In a talk with this corner, Cooperative Development Authority Chairman Orlando Ravanera said he would meet with leaders of co-op federations in his Manila office to give them the lowdown of the situation. The CDA top honcho is also disappointed that the DOF has proposed to earmark only a measly P320 million for the CDA in the 2016 budget.

It’s about time the co-op sector flexes its muscle and protests against moves to tear down fundamental legislation that defines its social mission.

I’m shocked to hear about these developments while the sector celebrates its centennial year.   What a mockery of the Philippine Cooperatives centenary!

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TAGS: church, EDSA, government, Iglesia ni Cristo, Inc., politics

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