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Kim Henares, the commissioner for the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), said during a recent radio interview that the real problem is that Filipinos are demanding too much from their government, but are not paying their taxes. In her delusional world, tax collection targets can be lowered if the people demanded fewer projects from their government.

Obviously, her comments drew a lot of criticism. It was, after all, the height of indifference and insensitivity to the true plight of the people and the country.

Filipinos DO pay taxes. If Henares felt like generalizing the country as a nation of tax evaders, then I am surprised how out-of-touch she is with the realities and conditions of Philippine society. There are certainly more Filipinos who fulfill their duties to the state than those who escape it. Most of them –rank-and-file employees – don’t really have much of a choice, as taxes are automatically deducted from salaries every pay day. Those who do manage to “break the law” often have the aid of greedy BIR officials for under-the-table transactions. And why do they try to evade taxes? Well, at the end of the day, Filipino taxpayers and tax evaders alike feel that this burden imposed by the state is pointless considering the state of the country.

The logic of Philippine taxes.

The logic of Philippine taxes.

Compared to many of our ASEAN neighbours, our tax rates are twice, and even thrice as high (from withholding to excise to VAT), yet without the benefits most of the other countries enjoy. Our infrastructure remains at a horrible state, particularly our roads and railways. For a country that imposes an individual income tax rate of 32%, we have to settle for haphazardly planned cities – unsafe footbridges, rail systems plagued by disruptions and accidents, traffic that seems impossible to solve, poorly built public schools and health centers, polluted waterways home to millions of people living below or near the poverty line, etc. For a country that exacts such tremendous burdens on its people, so little returns in the form of government services. And the proof isn’t limited to cities. Provinces that have so much potential for development are left unaided, vulnerable to man-made and natural disasters, left to settle for scraps of our revenues mostly in the form of substandard projects.

Despite supposedly high tax revenues, we still lag behind many Asian countries. We still have to deal with slow internet, high crime rates, floods, energy and food shortages, along with our very own public officials pocketing our hard-earned money for personal gain. And yes, that includes officials from our tax bureau who continue to threaten businesses with their seedy dealings under the plain sight of Henares. Where is the money we are giving our government going? Where are the projects that are supposed to alleviate poverty? The absolute lack of transparency only makes things worse.

So for Henares to call the Filipinos demanding is not only tactless but also obscene because it disregards the very circumstances compelling the citizens to ask the important questions. The elite continue to exclusively reap the benefits of so-called economic progress while ordinary citizens like me have yet to truly feel every centavo deducted from our salaries is going somewhere – perhaps for the improvement of our farmers and fishermen’s lives; perhaps for the construction of better public facilities; perhaps for the rehabilitation of our roads and highways; perhaps for projects that are meant to uphold and safeguard the dignity of human beings?

So either you have a very strange definition of demanding, Ms Henares, or you’re completely dislocated from reality, thus lacking the compassion necessary to understand why people complain about the taxes they’re paying, and/or why they’re breaking the law to avoid giving their incompetent government money they might as well put to good use better than your bureau could every dream of.