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In 1849 Pierre Joseph Lannoy, who served as Belgian consul in Manila from 1837 to 1848, published an obscure book in Brussels titled “Îles Philippines: De leur situation ancienne et actuelle” (The Philippine Islands: Their situation then and now), which was fortunately translated from the original French by Pura Santillan-Castrence and published by the National Historical Institute as part of a series of 19th-century travel accounts of the Philippines. While the data they contain are obsolete, these travel books are still worth reading because they provide an eyewitness view of the past that gives context and relevance to the present.

Last week was the deadline for the payment of income taxes to the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The online filing of tax returns should make it easier for citizens to comply; despite the kinks, I believe that it is a step in the right direction. And while the BIR is at it, maybe it should also consider payment in banks and Bayad Centers, regardless of revenue district. For example, someone whose revenue district is in Tawi-Tawi should be able to pay taxes in any accredited bank in the archipelago. Under the present system, a taxpayer in Manila who has a tax identification number registered in, say, Benguet will have to file and pay in the BIR Benguet Revenue District Office or in any accredited bank in Benguet. And this is the age of the Internet!

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Taxes provide the government with funds to deliver basic services to its citizens, and Lannoy noted that the budget of the colonial government in 1841 was 24,697,742 French francs that was paid for by revenue collected from taxes. Lannoy detailed 20 sources of revenue, including: poll tax from indios and half-breeds (mestizos) in the amount of 5,042,064 francs; poll tax from Chinese, 195,245 francs; customs duties, 792,795 francs, which could double depending on the diligence in collection; stamped paper (probably what we call documentary stamps today), 77,671 francs; notarial fees and other charges, 45,741 francs; fines, confiscations, etc., 15,900 francs; and profits of post, 39,580 francs.

Then as now they had “sin taxes,” though I do not know what they were called then. The tobacco monopoly contributed 13,136,277 francs; cigars and cigarettes (separate taxes), 9,892,677 francs; native wines and liquor, 3,892,677; gallerias and regulated cockfighting in 20 provinces, 188,499 francs; and duties on playing cards, 2,750 francs.

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Tobacco factories employed an estimated 14,000 workers; the majority were women (10,000-12,000), who were paid more than the men because their small hands and nimble fingers were better at rolling cigars and cigarettes. The tobacco monopoly was in Luzon and the production of native wines and liquor from coconut was limited to: Tayabas, Laguna, Albay, Camarines, Pampanga and Pangasinan.

There were two sources of revenue I didn’t know existed. The first was on bulls of indulgences that were divided into 11 classes, with pricing varying from one to 79 francs. This generated 284,949 francs. I didn’t know the Church was subject to taxes at a time when church and state were fused, so I think the BIR today should look into revenues from Church income and property. The second unusual source of revenue was that from “vintas or duty of protection which the provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga pay for the military supervision of the shores against the descent of pirates,” which amounted to 33,575 francs. Why was there no similar revenue for the protection of the Visayas, or even the Ilocos? How could pirates threaten Central Luzon, which is so close to Manila? I was also surprised that revenue was raised from the military hospital (15,741 francs), from “Royal Stores,” whatever those are (10,600 francs), and from the allowances of the troops (125,988 francs).

What modern Pinoys may find surprising were the various taxes and deductions imposed on the appointment of civil and church officials (147,340 francs), and for the “expedition of appointment of municipal officers and licenses, etc. (77,713 francs). If I read this entry correctly, does this mean that “grease money” to make papers move went to the government instead of the pockets of corrupt officials? If so, when did the system change and degenerate into its present state, putting the Philippines at 85th in the list of 175 countries perceived to be corrupt by the Berlin-based Transparency International?

There are other 19th-century sources for taxes and government revenues that are worth revisiting to compare and contrast industries then and now. Travel accounts usually contained shipping schedules, tables of tariff, and duties. The finances of the First Philippine Republic are also available and show that when it came to money, Filipinos were very careful about accounting records.

Someone once said that the past is like a foreign country because people do things differently there. History becomes engaging when boring obsolete data on sources for government revenue in 1841 can be used as a mirror to show us in the present how far we have progressed, or retrogressed, since.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Bureau of Internal Revenue, Pierre Joseph Lannoy, sin taxes, tax returns, taxes
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