Greco Belgica: Youngest bet vows change to flat taxBy Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Greco Belgica was elected to the Manila City Council in 2004. He was 26 and he enjoyed wielding power and influence.
But when he lost his bid for reelection in the city’s sixth district in 2007, he learned the bitter realities of politics, including the reported betrayal by friends in the name of political survival.
“It was a surprising lost because I was a very popular city councilor then. I actually wanted to run for vice mayor, but I lost the party convention,” Belgica, who describes himself as a member of the “original Liberal Party” wing of former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, said in an interview with the Inquirer.
“I was one of the boys then. But infighting in our party led to our defeat in that election,” he said.
Dejected, Belgica stayed away from politics and went into international trading and construction. He also got married and started a family of his own.
Then he found what he called his “real happiness,” which he said came to his life unexpectedly—becoming a pastor in the Christian ministry founded by his father, Grepor “Butch” Belgica, a murder convict turned evangelist.
“I realized that money, power and position never made me happy and satisfied,” Belgica said. “I realized that the joy and satisfaction I was looking for were in the word of God, in prayer and in serving Him. That changed me.”
He said there had been several invitations for him to return to politics, but he rejected them all. But he said his experiences as an elder in the Lord’s Vineyard Covenant Community convinced him to try his hands in politics again.
“Being a minister, I realized that the life of people in power was very different from the life of ordinary citizens. Those in power do not obey the law. We also have laws that are not consistent with the law of God,” he said.
In October last year, he gave in to friends and supporters who had been prodding him to run for a seat in the Senate.
Now 34 and father of two, Belgica prides himself on being the youngest among the 33 candidates courting more than 52 million voters for one of the 12 senatorial seats at stake in May’s midterm elections.
“I’m actually the same age when Ninoy Aquino became senator [in 1967],” he said, referring to the father of President Aquino.
Belgica believes his youth, idealism, faith and strong belief in the free market system will propel him to the Senate, duplicating Ninoy Aquino’s feat as the youngest politician to be elected senator.
Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983 served as the catalyst for the Edsa People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos regime three years later.
Belgica wants to start a different kind of revolution in the Philippines. He admits it’s a bit radical, but he believes it’s more realistic, palatable and appealing to most Filipinos: A flat-rate tax to replace the current progressive tax system.
According to Belgica, the current tax system deprives Filipinos of their dreams of a better life. If elected, he said, he would fight for legislation that would mandate a tax of no more than 10 percent of the salaries of employees and the net income of private businesses.
“One of my advocacies is to abolish all current taxes, including the e-VAT (expanded value-added tax) and the RPT (real property tax), and replace them with a 10-percent flat-rate system,” Belgica said.
He said 43 developed nations all over the world, among them Russia, Singapore, China and Hong Kong, had adopted such a tax system, resulting in improved economic conditions for their citizens.
Belgica, who has a degree in marketing and management from San Beda College and another in international trade and commerce from the University of California, said reducing taxes would result in an increase in the take-home pay and purchasing power of ordinary workers and in the net income of businesses.
Such a tax climate will attract more investments, both local and foreign, resulting in faster economic development for the Philippines, he said.
It would also help resolve the perennial problem of unemployment in the country, “as experienced by nations with a flat tax system,” he said.
“If we go into a flat tax system, the prices of basic commodities like gasoline, electricity and food will go down. We will be the tax haven of the world, inviting more investments here,” he said.
Asked how he would pursue the idea in a Senate dominated by lawmakers with contrasting business interests, he replied: “I would strongly fight for it. I would use the Senate floor, the media and social networks like Twitter to fight for it.”
Like many young Filipinos his age, Belgica believes in the power of the Internet in advancing his advocacies and challenging the antiquated leadership style of “traditional politicians.”
“I will come out in the media and in social media networks to remind the people that this is the platform I carried when they voted for me. Then I will tell them the names of the senators who do not want to bring down taxes,” he said.
“[T]he people will clamor for it. Who doesn’t want lower taxes? The people will be hitting them in the media and Twitter. I will convince them (senators) to fight for the interest of the people,” he said.
“Remember one man was able to increase the tax imposed on us through the e-VAT. Then one man will also be able to bring down the taxes. That will be me. It’s not impossible to reduce the taxes,” Belgica said, referring to Sen. Ralph Recto, who lost his reelection bid in 2007 for sponsoring the e-VAT law.
Recto was also publicly criticized recently for his version of the sin tax law, which would have led to less tax revenue for the government compared with the version proposed by the Aquino administration.
Belgica said he would also push for the distribution of public land to all Filipinos for free.