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It All Starts with Taxes…. February 26, 2008

Posted by Janjan in Armchair Politics, Legally Opinionated and Jurisprudent.
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Okay… this is a veeerrrrrryyyy long blog to make up for my verrrrryyyyy long absence from “bLAWgging”. People who have are too busy to read this (i.e., people who have no lives to speak of), shoo… move on. Nothing to see here.

I actually wrote this entry last January, but in the light of recent political events, I find this entry very apt and prophetic. So I’m posting it now. Scathing criticisms shall be met with cold indifference, and an eventual backstab in the dark from an unseen ninja. Fawning praises and songs of adulation will be met with much narcissistic preening and false modesty. So hit me with your best shot…. Fire away!
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On April 15 of this year and of every year, I come across my most dreaded prescriptive period of all prescriptive periods (that means “deadlines” for those of you who do not speak Martian). Yup, you know what I mean… it’s the last day of filing of income tax for individuals who rely solely on compensation income, as well as for those juridical entities who follow the calendar year for their accounting systems.

Why do I dread this deadline? Well… when I file my income tax return, I get to see how much of my precious earnings go to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (or BIR), and penultimately, to the government, and when I do see this amount, I can’t help but cringing and saying “OUCH!” Those precious pesoses could well go into a lot of things to make my life more enjoyable… good food, a much-needed vacation, an AF 12-24mm f/4 Tokina lens, or more memory and an extra battery for my trusty and dependable laptop. Or even straight into the bank account where I am diverting funds for buying my first car. (Current balance: Zero. I should’ve taken up photography after I got myself the Power Picanto of DOOM!)

To make the pain of seeing my money go to taxes, I think about the good that it will go to, which will eventually redound to me, in the form of infrastructure, government services, administrative expenses, and the like. I think of all the poor children who will get good textbooks, of the expensive asphalt that’s used to line and maintain our streets, and the hardworking government workers who have money to take home to their families because of my tax contributions. A lot of good has to come out of it, right? For this mandatory sacrifice, society is improved and we citizens are given the security, service, and infrastructure that we need to improve our quality of life.

And then again, I cringe.

What improvement in services, infrastructure or quality of life???

The reality is that when we go to poor rural provinces, we see our children being taught by teachers who have the equivalent educational competency of a Third-grade student in the modern world. In certain city and municipal hospitals, I have heard of the dilution of the hospital’s alcohol with water because there’s really not much to go around for everyone who is in need of medical attention. In our cities, we see multi-million infrastructure projects that remain unfinished, despite the huge budget earmarked for its construction. In our rural courts, I have heard of a shortage of bond paper and office supplies because the court has run out of money for their purchase.

And we wonder…. so much of what we have goes to taxes. It seems like every move we make, we get taxed. When we earn income, we are imposed a hefty income tax. When we buy commodities, we are slapped on with value-added taxes. When we impart gifts to our beloved, there’s a donor’s tax. Heck, even in death, the State finds a way to tax us, in the form of estate taxes. Truly, there is a truism when the sages say that there are three constants in mortal life: Debts, Death and Taxes.

At its extreme, let us examine how corporations are taxed. First of all, the corporate income is slapped on with a hefty 35% tax on net profit. Then, as it is distributed among the corporation’s owners, 6% of the dividends is taxed as well. So effectively, if you are a businessman operating under a corporate structure, you are being taxed 41% of your precious earnings. For every P100 you make, P41 of that goes to the government.

Okay… say it with me now, one, two, three: OUCH!

SO WHERE DOES ALL THAT MONEY THAT GOES TO TAXES GO OFF TO? WHAT BECOMES OF “THE LIFE-BLOOD OF PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT”???

It would perhaps be more bearable if it weren’t for the fact that we see so many government officials starting out as average people, who, after working in the government, suddenly have a sudden windfall of wealth. Their wives are seen with genuine Prada bags, while the husbands drive around with Terranos or Pajeros or Crosswinds and what have you. They take fancy trips to Europe and Asia while somewhere in a badly-dilapidated wing of an elementary school, three children are sharing a tattered textbook with badly mangled historical facts, listening to an instructor blabber on in pidgin English.

Something has to change.

Unfortunately, our government is stuck in a vicious cycle of corruption and cheating. It’s become another constant in our lives as Filipino citizens. I for one was born under the Marcos era. I have never ever in my life experienced a reprieve from the endless headlines of corruption, bribery, graft and inefficiency in the government. I am so used to it that I honestly take it for granted that a government official WILL be dishonest, WILL steal public funds, and WILL have controversies and irregularities in their election or appointment into office. For me, an honest government official is like a unicorn, or the Philippine team winning a gold medal in the Olympics. There are rumors that they exist, but no one has actually seen one in the flesh.

Okay… I apologize to all honest government officials out there, because to be fair, I have met a lot of them, and they really have done wonderful things for the country. I’m just being my usual hyperbolic self.

But nevertheless, you would agree with me, wouldn’t you? Graft and corruption has become so entrenched that when we hear of honest and oustanding government officials and employees, you can’t help but stand up and preserve the moment with your cellphone camera, just to show to cynics and disbelievers of the fundamental good of the human race that truly, an honest Filipino government worker exists and is serving the public. The next thing you know, our Philippine basketball players might come back from the next Olympics in China astride pure white unicorns, displaying their gold medals for all Filipinos to see. Then I will look for the nearest rock and cower underneath it because it is a sure sign that the world and everything we know has come to an end. Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla! Save us from our mythical enemies! Win for us the much prestigious Metro Manila Filmfest Awards!

My grandparents (God bless their souls) used to tell me that there was a time when corruption was not so prevalent in our government. This was the time of Presidents Osmeña, Quezon, Magsaysay, Roxas and all the wonderful true STATESMEN of yesteryears. “Really Lolo? I don’t believe it!,” I told my grandfather. And he would get that far-away and dreamy look in his eyes, seeing the glory of things as they were and a vision of what should have been. Then he would fart. It was just the fish he had for lunch, after all.

But seriously, so many of those who have gone before me all say that things were so much better in the past. (As most old people are wont to do). Government workers, at least, had the decency to lie low and cover up their tracks when they were corrupt, knowing the shame of getting caught in the act would cause a great stir in society. But old-timers say that the Marcos era came and changed all that. Suddenly, corruption was institutionalized, and government officials, from the most mundane government position and all the way to the most powerful seat in the land have become brazen and wanton in their dishonesty and incompetency. You would see a cashier in an administrative agency tell you to your face that she’s busy then open her cabinet, get her make-up and powder her nose in front of you. After she’s done, she will use the phone to call her Avon lady and make more purchases. You see hearing officers indiscreetly accept sealed envelopes from the opposing counsel before your very presence. You read of Senators, Congressmen and Presidents diverting funds for public projects into mysterious bank accounts which have their own names as signatories. (But I was merely holding it in trust for the Poor Carabao Scouts of Canadia, who asked my help in forming a foundation in their name! Yes, of course, they DO need Ten Million Pesos as a development fund! *look of rightneous indignation* The cassava flour which they need to sell Carabao Scout Balanghoy doesn’t come cheap you know! It’s imported all the way from Vietnam!”)

And when there’s no fear of getting caught, the next step is to see how far they can get away with the theft of public funds, with amounts getting more and more ludicrous with each passage of the General Appropriations Act. Their lifestyles become more and more questionable while less and less of our funds are actually put to public use.

But let’s stop pointing our fingers and blaming so and so government official shall we? My point is that THEY ARE ALL CORRUPT, and they all just came from ordinary Filipinos like you and me (ERGO, we are ALL corrupt). Removing or impeaching one is pointless, because just like every cockroach and rat that develops an immunity to a poison, they keep coming back with different faces and different schemes. If they are not hopelessly corrupt, then they are so hopelessly stupid to the point of being inefficient and running the country to the ground. Given the fact that every government official will be corrupt, then I say at least let us pick officials who are smart enough not to mess up our economy and give something TANGIBLE back to the State.

A lot of idealists and purists out there would hate my Machiavellian view of things (and I would be the first to admit that my flawed logic would only give way to even more complacency and even more graft and corruption), but really, what can you do?

We can complain and impeach and imprison each and every government official we find, but soon we will be left with no one to run our country, because I tell you anyone you put into power will be corrupt and inefficient, in one way or another. Impeachment and imprisonment will not hack it anymore, as former President Estrada has proven time and time again. He will still find the face to say that he was innocent and a victim of politics. Or worse, they will find a way to frustrate the very ends of justice that seeks to punish them, just like the President that I thought I endorsed does. (“Yay! Go team! You can do it Nicky! Survive!!! Survive!!! Survive!!!”)

What we really need to do is to show them that we mean business. I propose that for every government official that gets caught doing an act of bribery, graft or corruption, we should cut off their extremities one by one, including those private individuals who conspired to their act. Then, for serious offenses like plunder, we should hang them by the testicles on the flag pole of Malacanang, with honey, sugar, and Carabao Scout Balanghoy slathered all over their bodies, then release a nest of fire ants at the base. If the government official does not have testicles, then we will hang their husbands instead. If they don’t have husbands, we will marry them off to one. I hear there are some Asian sub-cultures who enjoy that kind of fetish. Maybe they would like to run for politics in the Philippines.

As you well know, it’s a vicious cycle. We get corrupt government officials because we elect and appoint corrupt people into public office. We elect these people into public office because we allow our votes to get bought. We allow out votes to get bought because we don’t have a good ethical foundation. We don’t have a good ethical foundation because as children, our government gave us substandard facilities and education in the public school system. We were given substandard facilities and education because our great statesmen were busy defalcating our public funds to buy a condo in Forbes for their mistresses. We have corrupt government officials because we elect corrupt people into public office and so on and so forth…

HOLD ON! PRESS RESTART BUTTON! DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200! CIGARETTE SMOKING IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH!

There is a way out, a way that ensures a clean start for our new generation. To eliminate corruption in our system, my Tax professor in my review classes has a very succinct solution: “Shoot all Filipinos above the age of 7

Oh well… it’s a dire situation but to be honest, I have not given up hope. I have not lost faith in the bouyant and positive spirit of our Filipino race. I still believe that we have the capacity to change, as long as we work harder at putting fundamental changes in society, and laugh on our foibles and pecularities by reading about the humorous side of corruption in other people’s blogs. (“Perez… the Magnificent Atty. Perez.” It almost sounds like Denny Crane, innit?)

And most of all… invest, invest, INVEST in good public education for our poor and marginalized children. Good facilities, great teachers, the best books. Teach them fundamental ethics and good moral conduct, whether by a generic viewpoint espoused by athiests or by religious underpinings forwarded by whatever faith you follow. Make it a heinous crime to divert funds away from our public education system. Stop using our teachers as watchers and canvassers for the elections and start implementing a computerized voting system. Best of all, take away our lawmen’s pork barrel and divert it into the budget for hiring EXCELLENT and HIGHLY EDUCATED teachers.

(Yeah right Magnificent. Dream on.)

In the meantime, tomorrow, I will withdraw a hefty sum of money from my bank account, and file my income taxes in advance. I will try hard not to wince and think about the things I could have bought for myself with my tax money, and imagine all the wonderful things that our honest and hardworking public officials will use with that money for the common good. Then I will go to the nearest mall and drown my sorrows in the biggest serving of ice cream that I could buy.

Either that or unwrap a package of the best Carabao Scout Balanghoy in this side of the Visayas. Mmmm. Vietnamese cassava goodness.

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