(Article published in the Sep 29,2004 issue of TODAY, Business Section)
some reason or another, the offer of a tax amnesty, as part of President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s bundle of proposals to address the national
deficit problem, never enjoyed one hundred percent acceptance.
From the time it was initially suggested in general terms during
the State of the Nation address last July to this September
when the proposal has become concrete
in the form of House Bill No. 2933, some sector or another has from time
to time expressed opposition in some shape or form.
last week, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue himself expressed
reservations about extending tax amnesty to those taxpayers who have tax
cases already pending in court. All
the time and effort exerted and expenses incurred in building the cases
and, in prosecuting them would go to waste, so argues the good
Commissioner, if the defendant taxpayers are permitted to escape the noose
by simply taking the same rap on the wrist given to the less delinquent.
Juan Ponce Enrile, reputed to be a tax practitioner and, if I am not
mistaken, the Commissioner of Customs at one point during the tenure of
President Ferdinand Marcos, is reported to have objected to that portion
of the House bill that couples the filing of a Statement of Assets and
Liabilities with the payment of the proposed amnesty tax of three percent.
At the Manila Overseas Press Club, last week, he is said to have
condemned it as a “double tax on the people and a tax on capital”.
Finally, just yesterday, House Minority Leader Francis Escudero
called on his colleagues to reject tax amnesty reportedly claiming that
“it only sends a negative impression to the tax-paying public and mocks
the government’s sincerity in going after tax cheats.” He said to
object to the feature of the bill making a taxpayer liable for perjury
only if he files a Statement of Assets and Liabilities that is more than
30% off the mark. Rhetorically, he is said to have asked, “Are they saying
that it is accepted (sic) that one cheats as long as it’s below 30
have no problems with comments on House Bill No. 2933 relating to a
provision or two. All that is
needed to remedy the defects pointed out is some tweaking and fine-tuning
that could easily be done when House Bill No. 2933 is discussed on the
floors of the House and the Senate, sooner or later (presumably sooner due
to the Presidential certification), and then at the conference committee
have difficulty, however, accepting calls totally rejecting the idea of
tax amnesty, because it is, for instances, “a bad signal” or as some
members of the private sector said, “a moral hazard”
general idea one gets from these objectors is that a tax amnesty permits
the tax cheat to easily escape the consequences of his wrongdoing instead
of severely punishing him for it. That,
according to them, is unacceptable.
those who hold this sanctimonious view, I recommend the reading of
Leviticus, Chapter 25, verses 8 to 54, to realize how they out-Moses
Moses. This section of the
good book deals with the Year of Jubilee.
counting off “seven times seven years” (seven in the Jewish biblical
literature, as we know, signifies something important e.g. seventh day of
rest), the people of Israel is told by Yahweh to “have the trumpet (the
latin is jubeleus, meaning horn,
hence the English jubilee)
sounded throughout all your land. And
you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants”.
Liberty from what and from whom, considering that Israel is by this
time already in the desert away from Pharaoh?
answer is, “It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one
of you, to your property and everyone of you to your family.”
It is a time of coming home; a time of restoration to the original
state of things. A time of
remission; a time of breaking free from bondage.
time when the disruptions of the last fifty years are corrected and made
right. Just a few examples: If
anyone fell into difficulty and was constrained to sell his land, his next
of kin was entitled to redeem it. But,
“if there is not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall
remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee, it
shall be released and the property shall be returned.”
The reason? Because the land is not “owned” by anyone but is
the Lord’s. “The land
shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but
aliens and tenants,” said Yahweh.
is commanded, at the jubilee, not only of material property, but also of
human dignity. Thus, “if anyone who are dependent on you become so
impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them
serve as slaves. They shall
remain as hired or bound laborers. They
shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee.
Then, they and their children with them shall be free from your
authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their
am, of course, not advocating, by citing the Torah, the scrapping of the
Torrens system, nor am I seeking to disrupt the industrial peace that is
the present fruit of the Labor Code, although my heart still throbs to the
clarion call of Rerum Novarum and Laboren
My thesis is simply that to gain acceptance, particularly by those who feel offended by the propect that the evil doer will be having it easy, the proposal of a tax amnesty ought to be subjected to what Howard Gardner calls, a “representational redescription”. It is about time tax amnesty is seen outside of the constricting parameters of the legalistic forms that depict it as something in derogation of the sovereign’s right, a giving up of what the state is entitled to. We should begin to look at it as a call for everyone to cleanse themselves in contrition and honesty, for who of us can really claim that we have fully rendered to Caesar what is Caesar’s?. No time is better than now for us all to remember and return to the original command that “you shall not cheat one another” and that “you shall observe my statutes and keep my ordinances”.