THE Court of Appeals’ Fifth Division, in a decision penned by Justice Jose Reyes, has ruled against junking the legalistic move of the Rufino family, the controlling stockholders of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), to prevent government from recovering the prime 22.6-hectare Mile Long property in Makati.*
The property, which contains more than 400 establishments and is valued at least P30 billion, has been controlled by the Rufinos since 1978, and even after its lease expired 14 years ago in 2002. Government has claimed that from that year to 2015, the Rufinos have not paid its rentals to government totaling P1.8 billion.
The Rufinos, of course, could decide to fight government and hold on to the state’s property, which they have been unable to justify their continued control of. They could, with their highly paid lawyers and through our problematic justice system, slow down the legal process, and hope that a new administration would reverse President Duterte’s audacious move to get back what is government’s, despite their political clout through their powerful newspapers.
Or the Rufinos could be magnanimous, and draw from their wellspring of patriotism and change our political culture—by cooperating with government.
The PDI’s coffee-table anniversary book for its 30th anniversary was entitled The Inquirer Story: 30 Years of Shaping History. While there are those who would see that as a somewhat doubtful boast, the Rufinos, at this time when their liabilities to government have been exposed, could actually shape our history, by ordering a PDI editorial written that would be something as follows:
“Our chairman Marixi Rufino Prieto in her speech at the 30th anniversary of the newspaper in 2015 said: ‘For 30 years, we mustered the courage to express the ills of society, courage to be the voice of the powerless, courage to stand our ground, no matter how unpopular it is. With our loyal readers, we had courage to endure pressure and courage to ride the tides of change.’
Today we are mustering such courage–even if it entails huge financial costs to the Rufino family, the controlling stockholder of this newspaper—to demonstrate our commitment to building a nation by abandoning all efforts to prevent government from recovering the Mile Long property which we have used and generated huge revenues from since 1978.
Rather than tying down government’s scarce legal resources, we will cooperate with the National Government to determine how much we fairly owe government as unpaid rentals for the property.
We are also committing to cooperate with the Bureau of Internal Revenue to settle the alleged P1.5 billion tax liabilities of a firm we own, Dunkin’ Donuts.
We hope that this decision of ours will send a message to the upper classes of our society, that blessed as we are financially and owners of powerful assets, we have a huge responsibility to build our nation and its state that enforces the rule of law, regardless of the economic status of a violator.
The histories of our rich neighbors in Asia incontrovertibly show that their economies developed in the very short span of a generation because their elites were willing to build a strong state invulnerable to their selfish agendas, and to moderate their greed so that the benefits of the economy’s growth are spread more equitably.
The tax system has been proven in many countries to be a powerful means of redistributing wealth in an inequitable society. We the rich however have been able to evade paying the right taxes because of our access to the best tax lawyers in the country and because of corruption in the BIR.
We also take this occasion to appeal to our partner in the Inquirer, ultimately controlled by the Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim and represented by Manuel V. Pangilinan, to respect the Constitution’s ban on foreign participation in media companies and sell their holdings to entirely Filipino entities. For the same reason, we call on Mr. Salim to divest his indirect holdings in the Philippine Star, Business World, TV-5 and the rest of his dozen media outfits.
It is a disgrace to the nation and to our Press that we have allowed ourselves to have such foreign holdings, something none of our nationalist and proud Asian neighbors have done.”
Such a move by the Rufinos, announced through an Inquirer editorial, would make them heroes, revered in our history, even the richest of heroes as they certainly wouldn’t be impoverished by giving up Mile Long and paying Dunkin Donuts’ right taxes. It would start to change our existing political culture by which elites see the Philippines not as their nation, but simply a huge market to exploit.
It would inspire our government, especially the courts and the BIR, to enforce strictly the laws and not to be used by the elites.
The other alternative of course would be to defy and fight Duterte, and hope that as in the case of President Estrada who also went against the PDI, he is toppled in just two years.