Looking Back

Cavite paid lowest tax in 1898-99

One wonders why, in the age of electronic banking, one has to physically pay one’s income tax at a bank within the Bureau of Internal Revenue District Office in which one is registered. Shouldn’t it be possible for people registered in Quezon City to pay their taxes in an online bank in Zamboanga, or even Tokyo? The BIR should make it more convenient for people to pay their taxes, first by having an online application that will automatically compute tax due after the input of relevant data; second by making it possible for the completed online form to be transmitted by e-mail to the relevant district office instead of being printed out and filled out manually or with a typewriter; third by arranging it so that payment can be made at any accredited bank and a scanned copy of the receipt can be sent by e-mail along with the form.

There must be mountains of paper in BIR offices nationwide. Yet paying taxes can be made simpler and easier for nonaccountants like me.


The BIR TV advertisement showing how taxes build the nation made me look back at the First Republic and how taxes were collected and used.  You can see this in the detailed budget submitted by Emilio Aguinaldo in 1899. Compared to a number of pages in the 1899 budget, today’s National Budget in printed form is one thick document that you can use as a doorstop. I have yet to look at annual budgets from the Spanish colonial period for comparison and contrast, but the point is that then and now government funds come from taxes: the biggest amounts from industrial and commercial taxes, followed by export duties. Much revenue in the 1899 budget was sourced from the Chinese who were levied a poll or residence tax. Then there was income from opium, the use of which was tolerated particularly in the Chinatown dens (one is described as being frequented by Kapitan Tiago in “Noli Me Tangere”).

Other sources of revenue for the First Republic came from: the sale of useless state property, rental from post office boxes, lottery tickets, and rent from state buildings and religious property confiscated by the state. There was even revenue from adhesive stamps, licenses and even income from the labor or work of jailed prisoners! Aguinaldo’s government also collected a war tax known under a different name—“certificate of citizenship.”


It seems the First Republic did not want to use the word “cedula” because people still remembered the day in August 1896 when Andres Bonifacio roused his followers to revolution by tearing up his cedula. Spanish-period cedulas were rightly seen as a symbol of colonial bondage, and when the citizens of the First Republic got their cedulas, or when we get ours today, we ask ourselves: Didn’t we tear up these documents in 1896? It must have been difficult to collect cedula fees in those troubled times.

When you think about cedulas today, you will see one of the roots of our present problems. People had to change their thinking when they transitioned from a colonial government to one run by Filipinos. It was patriotic to go against the Spanish colonial government just as it was patriotic to go against the martial law government, but now that we live in different times we are still historically conditioned to go against rules, like those governing traffic.

From May 31, 1898, to February 1899, P361,268.50 in revenue was collected mostly from Luzon, where tax collection was efficient. The highest amount, more than a third of the total, was sourced from Cagayan (P136,467), followed by: Laguna (P53,510.05), Pangasinan (P26,510.04), Romblon (P22,765.21), Camarines (P22,000), Bulacan (P20,218.50), Batangas (P19,478.94), and other provinces that remitted over P15,000 each. Surprisingly, Cavite had the lowest tax collected at P1,481.47! Perhaps the difference in amounts depended not so much on the size of the population as on the diligence or aggressiveness of the tax collectors.

Why did Cavite pay the lowest tax? Was it because Aguinaldo had moved his headquarters to Malolos and taken all the efficient Caviteño tax collectors with him? Was tax collection really deficient in Cavite, or did Aguinaldo’s kababayan think they were exempt from war taxes? You can analyze a simple, seemingly insignificant, list of war tax receipts with many questions.

Aside from war taxes, the First Republic lived on “contributions of war.” It seems there were many sources of income in the various towns and provinces. For example, in San Jacinto, Pangasinan, revenue was generated by: bridge toll, anchorage and ferries, and fees on carriages, carts, tramways and horses, unless these modes of transport were used in agriculture. Taxes were imposed on the movement of large cattle and on the slaughter and sale of meat, such that one centavo was charged for every pound of meat that came from horned cattle, hogs, sheep and goats. Public lights, street cleaning, and solemn burials were subject to tax. Other taxes were imposed on civil trials, public markets, theater performances, horse races, and other forms of public entertainment. A license was required for fiestas, and fees were charged for inscription in the registry of property, birth, death and marriage.

When you look at our history you will probably agree with Benjamin Franklin who said that the only certain things in life are death and taxes.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Bureau of Internal Revenue, Cavite, Cedula, Emilio Aguinaldo, First Republic, National budget, taxes
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