By Tonette Orejas
Central Luzon Desk
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga -- (UPDATE) A special committee of former seminarians created by Pampanga Governor Eddie Panlilio has collected more than P5 million in sand taxes in the first five days that the Catholic priest has been in office.
Vice Governor Joseller Guiao, who took on a watchdog role against graft at the provincial capitol, said the income earned under Panlilio confirmed that the “potentials [of the quarry industry] are big.”
“That is within the range of expectations,” Guiao said.
The P5-million collection is 17.18 percent of the P29.1 million generated by the administration of former Governor Mark Lapid for the whole of 2006, an Inquirer review of capitol reports on quarry income showed.
It was higher than the P3.19 million collected in January and February this year.
The recent collection represented an average of 3,333 truckloads of sand a day, more than the 100 truckloads reported by the previous administration.
If the trend continues, Panlilio said in an interview Saturday, last year’s income could be raised in a month’s time.
A separate check by the Inquirer showed that if the capitol makes an average of P20 million monthly, it could surpass the P106.4 million collected in 2001 by the Natural Resources Development Corp. of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Panlilio attributed the increase in collections to a new system that the provincial government has adopted starting Monday to help rid it of graft-prone policies.
The system was implemented on the strength of Panlilio’s first two executive orders and enforced by a team of four former seminarians who volunteered for the job.
The EOs required the haulers to pay the P300 tax per truckload at the provincial treasurer’s office, not at quarry checkpoints established by the roadsides.
Panlilio replaced 90 capitol employees and assigned new personnel on checkpoints to verify the authenticity of receipts shown by haulers as they pass there.
Panlilio said local governments in areas where the sand was taken from would receive their share of the quarry income at the end of July.
Of the P300 tax, P150 would be divided on a 30-30-40 percent sharing by the province, towns, and barangays (villages), respectively. The capitol would keep the other P150 to cover operational expenses.
Panlilio said he was not keen on accepting at this point a proposal to grant the NRDC authority to oversee the industry and collect the taxes.
“If our system is found to be ineffective, we are going to improve it until it gets better and better,” Panlilio told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
Asked if his administration would pursue new cases against Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid and his son, Mark, for the low collections they made during their respective stints in office in the past 12 years, Panlilio said: “We have not discussed that matter yet. For now, we just collect and protect the interest of the Kapampangan over this public resource.”
Sand became more bountiful in Pampanga after Mount Pinatubo spewed out sand during its 1991 eruptions.
The Lapids have “a lot of explaining to do,” Guiao said.
“We need to follow up on the graft cases against the Lapids so we can protect the province’s future income from quarry and ensure that nobody does it (alleged theft of public funds) anymore,” Guiao said.
Provincial treasurer Vergel Yabut could not be reached on Saturday for comment on the low collections in the last six years and the sudden increase now.
The younger Lapid and Yabut were named respondents in a graft case that Guiao filed at the Office of the Ombdusman before the May 14 elections.
Guiao accused the two officials of allowing the use of fake receipts and maintaining a graft-prone system.
They denied this, attributing the poor collection instead to low demand of the construction industry for sand.
Panlilio said while quarry operators and haulers have been “very cooperative” in complying with the new system, this was not largely the case in Bacolor town.
He declined to give details on “some resistance” encountered there pending the results of a dialogue next week.
Panlilio said that in line with the wishes expressed by mayors and civil society leaders in recent consultations, income from sand taxes would be used to improve services in 10 district hospitals, upgrade facilities in public schools, and support other social services.
In the planning stage is the rehabilitation of the Bren Guiao Convention Center so Pampanga could again host national sports and cultural events.