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Rx for taxes

/ 12:36 AM March 06, 2014

The controversial print ad that the Bureau of Internal Revenue ran as part of its ongoing shame campaign showed a doctor being carried on the back of a schoolteacher, a comparison of their incomes and taxes paid, and the campaign’s tagline: “When you don’t pay your taxes, you’re a burden to those who do.”

The clear implication is that the “doctor” in the ad paid very little in taxes because she does not issue receipts, while the “teacher” paid the exact amount because she is a salaried employee whose taxes are withheld at source. The obvious message is that doctors as a group cheat on their taxes.

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The members of the Philippine Medical Association have condemned the BIR for what they say is a smear, and it is hard to fault them. “To project to the entire nation through the trimedia that medical doctors are tax cheats per se is absolutely unfair,” PMA president Dr. Leo Olarte said.

BIR Commissioner Kim Henares had a ready retort: “They have to accept that it is a common public perception that many doctors do not pay the right taxes. That perception is based on experience and on data we gather.” And then the clincher: “Instead of getting hurt, shouldn’t doctors who pay inaccurate taxes feel ashamed?”

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This is true, but it is also a reductionist view. The opposite question can also be asked: “Instead of feeling ashamed, shouldn’t doctors who pay accurate taxes feel hurt?”

The problem with the BIR campaign is that it paints with too broad a brush.

To be sure, the controversial ad was part of a series of three advertisements that came out on that day. One showed an “online seller” riding on the shoulders of a construction “foreman,” while an “accountant” was shown being carried by a “sous chef.” So the medical profession has not in fact been singled out. But can we blame doctors for feeling that way? There are major corporations, even very rich men, who also suffer from “the common public perception” that they do not pay the right taxes. Should the BIR run an ad showing a taipan on a cigarette vendor’s overburdened shoulders?

Rx for Lakas

THE PRESIDENT of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats political party issued a head-scratcher of a statement the other day. Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said a plunder conviction was not necessarily a disqualification for high political office. “Remember, Mayor Erap [former president Joseph Estrada] not only faced but was convicted of plunder and he almost made it in 2010. So, anything is possible in Philippine politics.”

He was referencing the political ambition of Sen. Bong Revilla, the Lakas chair, who is eyeing a presidential run in 2016. Revilla is one of three senators facing plunder charges for his alleged involvement in the so-called P10-billion pork barrel scam masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles. He has repeatedly denied involvement in the scam, even taking to the Senate floor to deliver a memorable privilege speech attacking the Aquino administration, but many lawyers see the case against Revilla as very solid indeed.

Can Lakas actually risk fielding him as a candidate?

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Estrada was able to run for president in 2010 because he was pardoned by President Gloria Arroyo after his plunder conviction. (The Inquirer strongly opposed both the pardon and Estrada’s unconstitutional second run.) But pardon is one thing; an active plunder case, which is what Revilla faces, is entirely another.

It is true that Revilla topped the Senate election in 2010, with over 19 million votes. That is no guarantee that he will continue to be seen as a leading candidate for president. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas topped a Senate race, too, also with 19 million votes; does Romualdez think that he would make a leading candidate for the presidency? And Revilla does not exactly have Estrada’s grassroots base, which continued to support him even through his plunder trial.

Romualdez’s comments about plunder and the presidency make political sense only when viewed in one particular way: as an admission of a once-dominant party’s shallow bench and diminished political prospects.

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TAGS: BIR campaign, Bong Revilla, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Dr. Leo Olarte, Janet Lim-Napoles, Janet Napoles, kim henares, Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, Philippine Medical Association, Philippine politics, tax cheats
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