Incentive for tax evasionBy Raul J. Palabrica
Philippine Daily Inquirer
For morally upright senators and congressmen (assuming they exist), the recent weeks may be considered the worst of times in terms of public esteem for their office.
The exposé on the P10-billion pork barrel scam allegedly orchestrated by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles in connivance with some legislators has further sullied their already damaged reputation.
The skimming of public funds through the use of bogus or questionable nongovernmental organizations from 2007 to 2009 was validated by the special audit report released last week by the Commission on Audit.
As expected, the lawmakers implicated in the scandal denied any involvement in the malversation of the people’s money. They claimed the government offices that released the funds were negligent in checking on those NGOs and the projects they applied for pork barrel support.
What a poor excuse for incompetence! They conveniently forgot that they nominated those NGOs and that without their signature, no money would have been released.
It is as if government bureaucrats whose employment depends on the budget Congress approves yearly would dare question the lawmakers’ instructions on who they want to receive what the Catholic bishops describes as “discretionary funds of politicians.”
Any congressman or senator who says his participation in the disposition of his pork barrel funds ends with his signature on endorsements and vouchers is lying through his teeth.
Anyone who thinks our legislators do not earn commissions from the release of pork barrel money is either a fool, dumb or both.
This is not to say that the siphoning of taxpayers’ money is exclusive to the members of Congress. This cannot happen without the cooperation or participation of state employees tasked with the preparation of the documents needed for the release of pork barrel funds.
Those who have done business with the Department of Budget and Management can find common cause with the statement of the whistle-blowers in Napoles’s case that they call certain people at DBM from time to time to expedite the issuance of the checks for NGOs.
Government offices that want their statement of allotment release order or notice of cash allocation released on time have to know whose boots to lick for that purpose. Neither should they forget to set aside money (clandestinely) in their budget to cover Christmas gifts for them, or they will get the run-around next time they do business with the DBM.
That’s the easy part. What happens after the checks are issued and cashed is a different (but lucrative) story.
It is depressing that reports about malversation of public funds came at a time when the Bureau of Internal Revenue is into an intensive campaign to encourage people to pay their taxes.
The BIR is bearing down on professionals to be more honest in declaring their incomes and not make fixed-income earners carry the bulk of the tax burden.
Tasked with the responsibility of meeting two-thirds of the country’s funding requirements, the BIR has, on top of its enforcement measures and “expose and shame” campaign, appealed to the Filipinos’ sense of patriotism in meeting its tax-collection targets.
In the face of well-documented reports of the taxpayers’ money being wasted on ghost projects or finding their way into the pockets of corrupt congressmen, senators and their partners in crime, the public cannot be faulted for entertaining serious doubts about the merit of complying with their tax obligations.
Why should ordinary taxpayers pay the right taxes when part of it will be used to sustain the luxurious lifestyle of some businessmen who partner with slimy lawmakers in the disposition of pork barrel funds?
Why should honest businessmen carefully record their operations to ensure the collection of correct business taxes when a portion of it will wind up in some foreign bank accounts to purchase posh houses abroad?
Why should hardworking professionals not attempt to evade taxes when they know that higher tax collections translate into more pork barrel funds for lawmakers and, in the process, more opportunities for graft and corruption?
The BIR should be commended for its efforts to increase tax collections.
With the dysfunctional Bureau of Customs still unable to accomplish its collection goals, the BIR has no choice but fill up the slack no matter how difficult it may be.
But how do you convince taxpayers who are stunned by the large-scale swindling of public funds to hand over to the government their hard-earned money knowing fully well that it will be misused?
What assurance does the public have that all this hullabaloo and outrage over pork barrel funds will not go the way of past exposés of a similar nature—nothing?
Time and again the government has promised to straighten the pork barrel system to make sure it meets the purpose for which it was originally created. But the same problems of corruption continue to exist and persist.
Scant comfort can be drawn from the recent promise (like a broken record) of the members of Congress to clean up the pork barrel mess. That would be no different from a chronic adulterer extolling the virtues of marital fidelity.
On Monday, Aug. 26, let us express our indignation over the pork barrel system by participating in the “million people march” to Luneta or in city parks all over the country.
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