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Audit the taxes of richest legislators

I HAVE long ago proposed that the richest congressmen and senators be subjected to a tax audit by the Bureau of Internal Revenue and I am glad that somebody, Rep. Ted Haresco, agrees with me. Haresco added that for the BIR to avoid being accused of harassment for filing tax cases against the Arroyo brothers, the same audit should be done on the richest legislators.

Every year, the Senate and the House of Representatives release to the press the 10 richest senators and congressmen, respectively, based on their statements of assets and liabilities. The BIR should follow this by releasing to the press the amount of income taxes paid by these richest legislators. Not to harass them or to file tax evasion charges against them but just to compare their wealth with the taxes they paid. It would be interesting and informative to the public how much their richest legislators are paying in income taxes.

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Right now what good have the statements of assets and liabilities done? They were intended to compare a public official’s assets before and after serving the government. If the difference is too much, then there would be prima facie evidence of ill-gotten wealth. In fact, a number of lower-level officials in the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Bureau of Customs have been charged with ill-gotten wealth because of this. With members of Congress, however, nobody except the Arroyo brothers, and only because, many people think, they are sons of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

So the yearly list of the richest senators and congressmen have become nothing but a way for legislators to boast how rich they are. It is said that those who intend to steal while in public office inflate their assets while those who have already stolen deflate theirs so that they have little to explain when they leave public office. And it is easy to inflate assets, especially if you have plenty of real estate holdings. The price of real estate you want to declare depends on what you think it is worth, not necessarily how much it would really fetch in the market. That is why Sen. Manny Villar is always at the top of the “richest” list every year. He has many real estate holdings.

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But how much, for all their wealth, did they pay the government in personal income taxes? If the BIR will conduct a tax audit, as it did with the Arroyo brothers, they will find out that the taxes paid by the richest legislators are way below in proportion to their declared assets.

I asked BIR Commissioner Kim Henares to release to the public the amount of income taxes the richest legislators paid if only to make them pay the correct taxes or to temper their proclivity to boast of their wealth. She answered that the taxes paid are confidential.

Why confidential? I asked.

Because the richest ones may be kidnapped.

Won’t they be kidnapped just the same if their statements of assets and liabilities (SALs) show that they are very rich? If the SALs of public officials are made public, why not the income taxes they pay? When a person becomes a public official, doesn’t he lose privacy? He becomes public property living in a fishbowl.

There is a reason for this loss of privacy. It is to make the people know what the public official is doing at all times so that he would always do what is right and avoid situations that would embarrass him. Many crooked public officials have been caught because of the press prying into their lives. Can you imagine what these people could have gotten away with had not the press looked into their affairs?

The prying goes into the bedrooms as what recently happened to resigned IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Khan and to California “Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even American Presidents are not immune to this prying, as what happened to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.

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All the more should the public be made to peek at the wealth and the taxes paid by their representatives. If the wealth declared and the taxes paid are not proportional, then there is something wrong somewhere.

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The Department of Environment and Natural Resources should put its foot down on the plan of the Philippine Reclamation Authority to reclaim 635 hectares of Manila Bay along the Las Piñas-Parañaque coastline. Environmentalists and conservationists warn that the P14-billion project would destroy one of Metro Manila’s last nature preserves.

The 175-hectare area, comprising salt marshes, tidal areas and three islets covered with mangrove stands are home or resting places for no less than a dozen different bird species, including the globally threatened Philippine duck and Chinese egret.

The area is important to a sprawling metropolis like Metro Manila because there are so few other bird habitats left, according to environmentalists.

In 2007, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order 1412 declaring the coastal lagoon as the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area. The EO banned activities that would impede its ecologically vital role as a bird sanctuary.

But now that President Benigno Aquino III is the President, the government is planning to reclaim 635 hectares in front of the sanctuary to create a new business center.

My question is: Why here? The sea is so vast; there are many areas that can be reclaimed that are not habitats of birds and other wildlife. The Las Piñas-Parañaque coastline is not an ideal place for a business center. The roads going there are narrow, so how can people go to the business center?

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TAGS: Bureau of Internal Revenue, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, House of Representatives, Las Piñas-Parañaque coastline, Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, Rep. Ted Haresco, Senate, taxes
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