POSTSCRIPT / April 17, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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BIR, banks working on ITR e-filing system

WE’VE been searching for the likely reason why out of 75 million Filipinos, a convicted priest-killer who had escaped from jail twice was received royally by the President of the Republic and had the picture of their shaking hands splashed on the front pages.

The most plausible reason for the VIP treatment is that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was misinformed that she needed Norberto Manero Jr., killer of Italian missionary Tullio Favali and who reportedly leads a dreaded group of military-sponsored vigilantes in Mindanao.

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MINDANAO happens to be one vote-rich region where movie actor Erap Estrada is still idolized by fans who remain unconvinced by the People Power upheaval that kicked him out from the presidency last January.

To obviate any suspicion that Manero would be used for the May elections, he should be locked up in a non-military prison where everybody could monitor his activities throughout the election period.

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ANOTHER possible reason for the royal reception is that Manero has been a valuable military asset. To be effective, he and others like him must be granted protection in pursuit of their difficult special missions for the government.

If caught, the military must come to their rescue. Without that iron-clad guarantee, these special agents cannot be expected to deliver.

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NOTE that the life sentence of Manero was quietly commuted to 24 years by Gen. Fidel V. Ramos when he was president and commander-in-chief in 1998, thereby paving the way for future clemency toward his eventual release.

The military persisted in its efforts, and succeeded the next year in having then President Estrada sign Manero’s parole (which was withdrawn when the public raised a howl and Erap said he did not know what he signed).

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WITH the conditions of his engagement as military asset clear in his mind, it is no wonder that Manero has been sulking. He wants the military to make good its end of the bargain, which is to spring him.

But the military cannot just set Manero free or continue to give him special treatment. The celebrated case has attracted the attention of local and foreign media as well as the public.

Manero’s handlers then had to give him the next best thing — which was a high-profile pa-consuelo audience with the President. They must have thought that that could be enough assurance in the meantime that he would be accorded kinder treatment, and maybe even released as promised.

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BUT taking off from his instincts as a lawyer and protector of his Boss, presidential spokesman Renato Corona Jr. said early on that Manero was in no position to make demands and set conditions for his surrender.

He added most emphatically that the President was not going to receive the escaped convict if he surrendered.

Corona may have stated what we think is the correct position for the President, but Corona is just Corona. He is not part of the mighty military mafia that has captured effectively — together with a Makati-based elitist bloc — the office of the President.

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AFTER we broached last time the idea of qualified taxpayers being enabled to file their income tax returns and pay taxes by phone or personal computers, we received encouraging information from Renato Javier, head of the Systems Development and Maintenance Group of the Development Bank of the Philippines.

He said: “In November-December 2000, the Bureau of Internal Revenue met with the information technology managers of the DBP, Landbank, and the Philippine National Bank. They have present a proposed system that will allow e-filing and e-payment of a select group of taxes (pilot implementation).

“(Last March), the BIR called representatives of all banks to present their system. There are some wrinkles in the implementation. With their efforts and the help of the banking community, the electronic filing and payment might be operational within one or two years.”

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“THIS is much earlier than the light years mentioned in your column,” Javier noted. Okay, we take back the light years.

But we’ll carve it on granite that in one or two years, per Javier, some taxpayers will be able to e-file their ITR and electronically pay taxes from the comfort of their home or office. We do hope to be among the first taxpayers to do so in this country.

We recall a similar promise in 1998 by the public relations manager (a certain Daza) of the MetroStar rail transit (MRT) that the long-delayed project that had sown chaos on Edsa would be operational by end of that year. He took us to task for underscoring the delay.

Well, that year ended without the MRT line from the North Triangle in Quezon City to Taft Ave. in Pasay City fully operational as noisily promised by Daza. Still, we commend his boundless optimism and hyperbole.

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BUT we do share Javier’s optimism that we can have e-filing of ITRs in the Philippines in a year or two. Sana nga. As we have pointed out, e-filing is feasible, practical and easy.

In the United States, btw, they call it “e-filing” (electronic filing with modem-equipped PCs) and “tele-filing” (filing by phone!). Please refer to our last Postscript  for a rough description of how these electronic filing procedures work.

The banks naturally have to be brought into the ITR picture since they are now being used as filing and collection agents. Pssst, there’s big money in their being allowed to hold collections for a few days.

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WHEN e-filing is adopted and taxpayers are able to pay the BIR through instant electronic direct debit, the usual millions in BIR collections floating around in the banking system — and the profits accruing to the authorized banks — will dwindle.

We can imagine the nervous banks proposing now that a processing fee be charged by them whenever they are the source of the fund or the account from which an electronic direct debit to the BIR is made by a taxpayer using his personal computer.

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OUR opinion may not matter, but we think the bank should not charge a fee for that simple electronic transaction initiated and completed by the bank client-taxpayer without any funds or personnel of the bank being involved.

If a fee were to be collected by the bank, it should be charged to the BIR and not to the bank client doing a simple electronic direct debit by himself.

Aside from talking to the banks, the BIR should also ask us bank clients what we think of a revolutionary procedure that would affect us profoundly.

We can imagine that bank earnings from BIR transactions and the sideline of some BIR officials will contract a little, but we cannot allow that point to stymie our efforts to keep in step with the times.

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EVEN low-salaried workers should be heard. Our readers are already giving their opinion without waiting for the BIR to ask them.

Gener G. de Guzman of Sacred Heart Village in Quezon City says:“Since taxes from salaries and wages are automatically withheld from source, you could include as an option to facilitate ITR filing for the BIR to require employers to file in electronic format and on behalf of their employees, the ITRs of their employees. Since majority of income tax filers are wage earners and salaried workers, this option will result in millions of pesos savings in forms and BIR receiving clerks.”

Eric Salazar of BF Homes, Parañaque: “If our BIR does not know how to install and use this e-filing system, why does it not borrow or copy what they use in the US and improve on it or rewrite the program to suit our particular situation? Even our lawmakers can get copies of the e-commerce law in the US and rewrite it. I don’t think there is a copyright on that.”

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IF you were one of those who drove over last week to where flagellants flogged themselves under the searing Lenten sun, check your car for bloodstains. The blotches could eat into the paint and be harder to remove if allowed to stay longer.

As the flagellants swung their whips to and fro to beat their backs, blood was being whipped around because of centrifugal force. Some of it may have landed on your car. Or if you were standing nearby or taking pictures, you may have caught some on your clothes.

How was traffic on your way back to the city last Sunday?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 17, 2001)

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