Looking Back


/ 12:06 AM January 23, 2015

January is the time of year when adults head to their barangay hall or municipio to get a cedula or residence certificate. The cost of the cedula should be based on income, but most people get the cheapest one available because no one asks for it to be physically presented, anyway. At most, one just needs the number to use on legal documents and assorted forms.

It seems the cedula is on the road to extinction because people can now use a passport number or tax identification number instead of a cedula number for documents and transactions. One could say that the cedula is a shell of its former self. Didn’t Andres Bonifacio tear up his cedula in August 1896 at a gathering where he yelled what textbook history calls the “First Cry” to revolution, and didn’t he invite his followers to do the same to symbolize their throwing off the yoke of Spain?


One would think that the leaders of the First Republic would have remembered the cedula-tearing of 1896 and made sure the document remained dead when they came to power. In those times, however, the cedula was needed for identification and revenue, so they renamed it a “war tax” or a “certificate of citizenship.”

I have been leafing through the budget and the ledgers of Emilio Aguinaldo’s administration to know how it raised funds to continue the struggle for independence against the United States. In a general survey of receipts for 1899, local revenue was generated by direct taxes on: bridges, ferries and fords; weights and measures; fisheries; carriages, carts, tramways and horses, except those employed in agriculture; credentials and transfer of large cattle; slaughter and dressing of cattle; street lights and street cleaning; and 50 percent of the fees for formal interments.


By way of indirect taxes, the Aguinaldo administration raised revenue from: fees from civil trials; public markets; lease of municipal property; theatrical performances, horse races and other entertainment; licenses for fiestas; one centimo for each pound of beef, pork, mutton, goat-meat and meat of other cattle; and undetermined others I wonder if it taxed chicken and fowl also, because fish and meat were taxed. I was surprised that, at least in this document, there was no tax reflected on tobacco and alcohol which provided steady income streams in the Spanish colonial government together with taxes imposed on opium, cockfights and playing cards.

Then as now there were taxes and fees for documentary stamps used in the registration of property, births, deaths and marriages. I always tell people that I became a historian because math and numbers do not agree with me, but a detailed study of the development of government budgets from the Spanish period to our day is worth a PhD thesis or two.

Reading Aguinaldo’s decree on the collection of “war tax” issued in Malolos on Feb. 16, 1899, we learn that donations to the war effort were to be made to local presidentes who would issue a printed stub receipt to the donor indicating the amount of the donation, and whether this was made in cash or in kind, where an approximate value was indicated. There were eight classes of cedula: The first cost P100 and the eighth was free. Cedulas were required for employment, the execution of contracts, to sell at public auction, to engage in commerce, to establish identity, etc. What struck me in the document were detailed instructions on how donations are to be remitted.

Donors were advised to “preserve for future purposes their receipts as vouchers of their patriotism and support of country… The citizen who can prove having contributed to the country, in … one way or another, is the one most entitled to the right of claiming protection or benefits for himself or for his children from the government.” Reading this made me curious about the benefits from these contributions and whether donors were encouraged to ask for and keep their receipts, to ensure that the government was not cheated by unscrupulous collectors who kept the funds for themselves.

For example, Jose Ignacio Paua, writing from Tonsuya, Malabon, on July 6, 1898, explained his collection of donations to Aguinaldo thus:

“[C]ontributions from Chinamen stand as follows: I earnestly asked for contributions from those who live outside of Manila and are within our jurisdiction, not being able to do the same in the cases of those who are in Manila, because, even if it is a pleasure for them to give us contributions, they cannot do so because all their property is in the charge of the English consul for greater security. Thus, all the Chinamen are protected by the national flag of England so that it is advisable to wait until we may succeed in effecting an entrance into said city.

“With regards to what you said to the effect that I was retaining two percent for myself, you should not suspect me in that way, for you are already well aware of my desire to serve the Dictatorial Government … with all my strength; and the only thing that I see to object to is that the commanders and generals in this province are getting pretty abusive toward our brethren and allow themselves to be bribed by the Tagalog merchants so as to allow them to enter Manila with their goods, which is of great assistance to our enemies.”


Benjamin Franklin said the only sure things in life are death and taxes. Maybe we should add tax cheats to that.

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TAGS: andres bonifacio, Cedula, Emilio Aguinaldo, residence certificate, tax identification number
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