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One-family rule driving Quezon City mayoral bet ‘MAD’

/ 11:35 PM April 11, 2013

“If you see something wrong going on, do you just close your eyes and continue on your way?”

This was 60-year-old businessman John Chang’s reply when asked why he was challenging incumbent Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista in next month’s elections.

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“I want to be able to say I did something that no one else dared to do,” he told the Inquirer in a recent interview.

A full-blooded Chinese, Chang was born in Manila but moved to Quezon City in the 1960s. He owns a company that sells office equipment.

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“We were not a rich family. I really had to work hard,” he said.

Chang is no stranger to politics. He first threw his hat into the ring when he ran for mayor in 2010 against Bautista, then the incumbent vice mayor, and five other candidates.

But according to Chang, his real opponent isn’t Bautista but “a family” that has ruled Quezon City for years. “I am not really running against Bistek (Bautista’s moniker) but the ones supporting him. You know what family I am referring to. It’s a powerful political dynasty,” he said.

Chang was apparently referring to the Belmontes, led by former Quezon City mayor and now Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., whose daughter Joy is the incumbent vice mayor.

Late last year, Chang was among the movers behind a new coalition—the Movement against Dynasties, or “MAD”—which aims to bring an end to political dynasties.

Asked why he was running again, Chang said: “If I don’t, then who is going to run against them?” A third candidate for QC mayor is Henry Samonte, 71, a businessman and former airline pilot.

In Chang’s opinion, the biggest “wrong” being committed by the city government that he hopes to correct is the overtaxation of businessmen and residents.

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Based on his computation, retail stores in Quezon City are taxed two percent while those in Makati City—the country’s business capital—are taxed only 0.75 percent.

He added that Quezon City restaurants pay 1.75 percent in taxes against 0.75 percent that is imposed on those in Makati. A cedula, or community tax certificate, issued in Quezon City costs P50 compared to P5 in Makati, he added.

Overtaxation, Chang argued, drives businessmen and investors away.

“If you tax less, you collect more. Why? Because if you impose higher taxes, the taxpayers only find ways to cheat the system instead of paying the right amount,” he said.

Chang cited as an example the socialized housing tax ordinance approved last year, which imposed an additional 0.5 percent tax over five years on owners of property that were valued at over P100,000.

The additional taxes, the city government explained, would be used to fund housing projects for informal settlers.

The ordinance, however, is now being reviewed by the Court of Appeals after several residents sought to stop its implementation.

According to Chang, the additional tax is unnecessary, given Quezon City’s budget surplus. “In fact, if you lower taxes, people will come back to Quezon City,” he said.

Other items high on his agenda are legal aid and additional allowances for policemen. Another proposal: 20 percent of the personnel of companies operating in the city should come from Quezon City, Chang added.

A Protestant, he described himself as fiercely “prolife.”

Given his limited resources, he said he could not afford to hold big rallies during the campaign period. Instead, he and his followers will conduct a house-to-house campaign to explain his platform, especially his plans to lower taxes.

His Facebook page, “BetterQC” contains his views on the local budget, internal revenue allotments and other money matters that he believes city residents need to know.

“(But) if anyone would ask me for cash, I’d tell them not to vote for me,” he said.

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