EDITORIAL - Taxes and governance

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Taxes and governance

It’s tax filing month, and the government as usual launched a campaign to inform the public about meeting the deadline for filing tax returns. It would be better if a campaign can also be implemented to raise public awareness not only of the civic duty of paying the correct taxes, but also the responsibility of public officials in utilizing those taxes judiciously.

Individuals pay income tax while businessmen pay corporate, business and local taxes. Aside from these, there are hefty excise taxes on all petroleum products, liquor and tobacco, automobiles, luxury goods and mineral products as well as value-added tax on nearly all goods and services, from food and medicine to basic utilities. Look at the fine print on your utility bills to see how much goes to the government. A road tax is collected for motor vehicle registration even as many areas including Greater Manila are dotted with privately operated toll roads.

With taxes collected for goods and services from cradle to grave, people must demand good governance and the proper utilization of public funds. Too many Filipinos, however, are unaware of how much of their basic expenses go to the government. This leads to a high tolerance or indifference to the misuse of people’s money, venality and incompetence in government.

If there is greater awareness of how much people are contributing to the national coffers, there would be greater public pressure for accountability and transparency in the way public funds are utilized. There would be greater outrage over large-scale tax evasion as well as confidential funds for civilian agencies with no involvement in public safety or national security. There would be greater pressure for government officials, especially those at the top levels, to make public their annual statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, as stipulated in the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, regardless of the prohibitions imposed by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Amid tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea, the National Security Council and the Philippine Coast Guard are reportedly planning several projects to raise public awareness on WPS issues, such as holding campus caravans, advocacy runs, regional road shows and even the printing of illustrated comics.

The proper use of people’s money is equally important, and deserves a similar intensive information campaign. Tax awareness, to include the responsibilities of both taxpayers and government officials, can be included in the high school curriculum. It’s not enough to remind the public to pay the proper taxes; people should also know where their taxes go.

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