POSTSCRIPT / April 15, 2001 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Computerized filing of ITRs is feasible, easy, tamper-free

HOLY Week is not something that drops from the sky totally unexpected. We know well in advance the exact week next year, or even next century, where Semana Santa would fall.

So, how come the Philippine National Construction Corp. was unable to prepare the North Luzon Expressway for the hordes of motorists swamping the 80-kilometer tollway this time of the year?

Today, Easter Sunday, thousands of motorists returning from a grueling vacation will have to fight every inch of their way through the expressway that offers neither safety nor comfort for its captive users.

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JUST try driving over the craters on the shoulder (an extra lane when needed) and the jarring scraped sections and you’ll know what we mean when we ask how come the PNCC did not prepare the road for the annual Holy Week traffic madness.

The answer is that either PNCC officials do not glance at the calendar or they have diverted toll collections for maintenance to more profitable pursuits.

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THERE is this phenomenon of millions of Filipinos taking off for the provinces on Holy Week for rest and recreation, only to come back on Easter Sunday more fatigued than when they set out a week earlier.

Maybe it’s the flagellant in each one of us that drives us on this ritual of self-inflicted stress and strain.

A few do not make it since their tired vehicles, unused to long trips and running mainly on high-octane bahala na, stall before logging 100 kilometers from home. Most vacationers make it back safely home, but sapped of the energy to haul their bodies to the office the next day.

It’s odd that we go out to find rest, only to come back more tired than when we started out. And we do every year, like some kind of penitential flogging.

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BECAUSE of the long Holy Week break, the income tax filing deadline has been moved from April 15 to April 18. That’s on Wednesday.

We know what will happen. Most of those who got a reprieve will again relax and postpone filing their income tax returns until late Tuesday or Wednesday together with the usual horde of last-minute filers.

That’s typically us. That’s why this country hardly moves forward.

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IN the civilized world, meanwhile, an increasing number of taxpayers are filing income tax returns electronically. They no longer fill out paper forms. They do not lose one working day and their sanity clawing their way through the mob of fellow late-filers.

Many taxpayers in the United States, for instance, now file their ITRs from the comfort of their homes or office using their personal computers or telephones.

It is so simple and so easy that it leaves us wondering why our own Bureau of Internal Revenue cannot also do it.

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AN American taxpayer who wants to be spared the paperwork and having to deal directly with the Internal Revenue Service could avail himself of the services of a tax professional — as some individuals and corporations do in this country.

Now if the taxpayer wants to further simplify and speed up the process, he could opt for a paperless electronic system (e-filing) using his personal computer or his telephone (tele-filing).

This is assuming he is qualified for electronic or computerized filing. If his case is too complicated for the e-filing software available in the market and for phoned-in filing, he will have to stick to his paperwork in the meantime.

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YOU’LL have an idea of e-filing if you have experienced filling out an on-screen form to register a newly installed software on your PC. Aside from personal and other required data, the taxpayer also has to declare on the electronic form his gross income, deductions, exemptions, taxable net income and such money details.

For security, the taxpayer has to enter his permanent Social Security Number and a personal code-number (like the PIN for users of automatic teller machines here) supplied by the IRS. Receipt of the accomplished form is confirmed electronically toward the end of the transaction.

The process requires the use of an e-filing software that a PC-owner can buy or download from the Internet. Absolutely no paper form is used.

To pay taxes due, he can use his computer to electronically transfer funds from his bank account to the IRS. Another option is to use his credit card. Of course he can always send a check or a money order.

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THE e-filing service is so efficient that excess taxes withheld are usually refunded within two weeks — by electronic transfer to the taxpayer’s bank or through the usual check mailed to him.

Nobody actually handles money or paper forms.

(Talking of refunds, have you heard of anybody who has received a refund from our Bureau of Internal Revenue within the tax year? There ought to be a law requiring the BIR to pay interest on refunds that remain unpaid after a deadline.)

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TELE-FILING, or the filing of the ITR by phone, is also limited in the meantime to uncomplicated cases.

You can have an idea of how tele-filing works by imagining an expanded version of the computerized phone-answering programs of some big companies here.

You first get connected to a computer and a recording. The computer tells you the office you have reached, that if you want this department, press 1, or if you want that, press 2… and so on in a mechanical, impersonal 1-2-3 manner that turns off most Filipinos who want to linger over a simple phone call.

The computer leads the tele-filer through a prepared form and asks him to key in number entries as responses. That should be a cinch for our texting generation, and their trying-hard pops and moms.

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TO make sure you’re not actually connected to the neighborhood usurer or the PAOCTF electronic eavesdroppers, in tele-filing you dial a dedicated toll-free number.

Only regular phones with touch-tone dialing are recommended for tele-filing. Cordless phones or those with a keypad on the handset have been found unreliable. Cellular phones are absolutely out.

But a taxpayer must first be qualified to use tele-filing. To those who are qualified, the IRS sends a TeleFile package that includes a tax form (to serve as hard-copy reference), and a five-digit Customer Service Number (CSN) for security.

It’s obvious that taxpayers who have so many attachments and are availing themselves of various tax loopholes cannot use electronic filing. The “ready” customers are those who do not have too many income sources, have no dependents, who historically opt for standard deductions, and have a verifiable record of compliance.

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IN tele-filing, the taxpayer dials the toll-free dedicated phone number and a computer software takes over the dialogue.

Before dialing, the taxpayer must have filled out the tax form sent by the IRS to serve as his guide (kodigo) when he transacts business with the computer on line. Reading from this accomplished form, the taxpayer keys in his number-responses to the queries.

Aside from his Social Security Number, he enters his Customer Service Number (CSN) provided in the TeleFile tax package, and date of birth. If the data match with that on file, the interview and the entering of data proceed.

He “signs” the form by keying in his CSN. He pays his taxes with his credit card, or an electronic direct debit through his bank, or by mailing a check or money order.

He knows everything turned out okay only when he receives in the same phone dialogue a 10-digit confirmation number. He is advised to write this down in the tax form sent to him with the IRS pack, for reference. The entire process can take 10-15 minutes.

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WITH the safeguards built into it, the electronic filing of ITRs is feasible, simple, easy and less susceptible to tampering. But considering the resistance of old fogies and the syndicates in the BIR, such a system may still be light years away for Jurassic Juan Pasang Krus.

What the administration can probably do is build a self-contained modern annex to serve as the national nerve center for a highly computerized system that will gradually take over the old paper-based system.

The building will bristle with top-of-the-line hardware and high-tech applications, with ample room for upgrades. It will be ringed with layers of security barriers. Everybody there will be new recruits who are competent and dedicated enough to make the new system work without compromising its integrity.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 15, 2001)

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