Recto and Legacy

Philippine society highly values ancestry, especially so in the realm of power and politics.It might seem contradictory that while public opinion disdains dynasties, the electorate continues to vote for elite clans, who have made politics a way of life or a profession

The problem is not so much the existence of political clans. After all where elections are free, honest and clean and where the rules level the playing field, those with the cachet are not guaranteed victory. We just have to accept that political clans are often elected into office.

The electoral rules unfortunately are far from fair, thus resulting in adverse selection. The present rules encourage disreputable political clans to dominate politics (from the Marcoses in the North to the Ampatuans in the South).

Only when rare upheavals, the black swans, happen do good persons from a noble political family (Cory Aquino and son Noynoy) accede to power.

How we wish that the Lorenzo Tañadas and Claro Rectos dominated Philippine politics. Their legacy nevertheless is firm. It is interesting to see how their descendants have followed their political path.

In the case of the Tañadas, Wigberto or Bobby followed his father’s political path and became a senator and a congressman. Erin, Lorenzo’s grandson and his namesakeand Bobby’s son, is a third-term congressman and concurrent Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. Bobby and Erin may lack the charisma and eloquence of Lorenzo,but they are on a par with the patriarch in promoting good government, progressive politics, and enlightened nationalism.

The descendants of Claro have also engaged in politics. But whether they likewise represent the ideals of Claro is a different question.

Claro’s son, Rafael, was an assemblyman in the BatasangPambansa, Marcos’s rubber-stamp parliament. Rafael was associated as a Marcos remnant, even running but losing in the Senate elections 1987, under the banner of Marcos’s KilusangBagongLipunan. The joke then was he was the Recto who was not “claro,” obviously in reference to his being the opposite of his father.

Now it is the turn of Senator Ralph Recto, son of Rafael, to carry on Claro M. Recto’s tradition. Ralph is mindful of living up to his lolo’s honor.

What is written in his Senate profile is this: “Senator Ralph Recto’s political lineage is traced to the late nationalist and statesman Claro Mayo Recto, who was a senator for several terms and himself a descendant of the patriotic Mayo and Recto clans of Luzon.”

To secure the Recto legacy, Ralph faces a daunting challenge. He must always stand for reforms, upholding public interest and resisting the strong lobby of vested interests. This task is all the more difficult to do as chair of the powerful Ways and Means committee.

This challenge now takes expression in the passage of the administration’s reform bill on the excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

Disturbing though how Senator Recto is handling the sin tax bill, in which he is tasked upon to write the committee report and defend it at the plenary session. Media have reported that Senator Recto had an exclusive session with the tobacco industry wherein he presented his own proposals of maintaining different price tiers and lower tax rates, in contrast to the administration’s reform bill. Rappler.com also quoted him (posted on 20 September 2012) that his preference is to mimic the ad valorem system (based on the product’s value or price) for the specific tax (which is a fixed amount based on a unit of measurement). This suggests a status quo—defeating the purpose of the reform to restructure the sin tax, specifically by having a unitary rate and a price indexation to curb the affordability of sin products.

Yet, Senator Recto is often quoted about his search for the “sweet spot” that will optimize revenues for government. The sweet spot is nowhere nearhis and the industry’s proposal that dilutes the reforms as embodied in the amended Abaya bill and the better Miriam Santiago bill. The evidence from various studies, using different methods and deriving different elasticity coefficients, convincingly shows that the sweet spot can be found in either the Abaya bill or Santiago bill.

Like his lolo, Mr. Recto is an intelligent politician. He knows the inelasticity of the sin products—that the significant increase in tax rates will still yield significant incremental revenues. He knows that tobacco and alcohol have a huge cost to society and such costs have to be internalized through high taxes.

He is likewise sensitive to public opinion. And public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of the sin tax reform. It goes without saying that he is an ally of the administration, which has given priority to the passage of the sin tax reforms.

It will be thus intellectually and politically difficult for him to justify a dilution of the sin tax reform. We are hoping he will do a Claro M. Recto act—upholding the public interest by defending the totality of the sin tax reform. And surely, he does not want the embarrassment of being called another Recto who is not “claro.”

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