The challenge of making taxes look cute

Erick Crisologo
We will be in fiscal osteoporosis if we refuse to talk about the budget

Jake CrisologoDuring the election season, political campaigns were running like athletes on steroids.

Politicians went crazy with their tarpaulins, millions of pesos going into media coffers through TV and radio ads, and netizens being either obnoxious or surprisingly critical on social media.

It’s marketing, and we use marketing to sell products and apparently to win elections. A lot of it is about being cute on TV through poor acting, jingles and, if we’re lucky, actual platforms. Or simplified versions of what these people are supposedly fighting for.

We’ve got people fighting for the poor, the environment, for women’s rights etc.; all of which are good, I admit. But here’s a boring issue that I actually care about: taxes.

Taxes matter

As far as I’m concerned, the public finance platform is not something that we hear too much in the campaigns. Public finance seems like a weird world of jargon, economists and boring figures for the average Pinoy.

Nobody really wants to talk about money. There are people who specialize in that sort of thing, even if most of the time it is we who complain about the economy.

Most of us complain about corruption and the lack of transparency and accountability in the government.

However, when people go into talking about Public Finance, we say: “Whoa, hold on. Let the DBM or the World Bank or Prof. Liling Briones handle that, or the Supreme Court for that matter. Call us when the corrupt official has a sentence.”

Well, it’s our money and knowing where it goes is the first step in getting people involved in actually stopping corruption.

Rappler has it figured out, hence #BudgetWatch. It’ll probably be years before we affect actual behavioral change in the people, according to Maria Ressa, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

The challenge now is how to make taxes, or public finance in the grander scale, fit for public consumption so we’d actually care to talk about it.

Tax is boring

So, what’s in the way?

Taxes are boring. Public Finance is boring; it’s all weird words and figures.

Taxes are an obligation that some of us try to avoid and others just simply resent because it takes away from our paychecks. Sometimes the things we buy become more expensive because of Value Added Tax.

The idea of money is distasteful in many ways.

We don’t like talking about money because it has so many implications in our lives. We never really want to say how much we earn to our friends, whether we earn too little or a lot.

Money is not an endearing thing because it shows the extent of what we can or can’t afford, therefore it has defined to a huge extent the limits of our lives.

Too little and we’re poor, too much and we probably didn’t share enough.

The difficult thing is that the feelings associated with money are not really nice feelings. Maybe this is because the implications of Public Finance to our daily lives are not that apparent.

The tragedies are more subtle and less hyped than the things that we can easily care about, like the war in Syria, or Mali, or global warming, or when Fukishima got hit by an earthquake, or even 9/11, or hate crimes against women, children and the LGBQT. 

It’s easy to care about these things, and I’m glad that we do, because it reminds us of the humanity we can’t compromise.

Effective use of taxes

What we don’t realize is that money still goes around. So our advocacies go beyond advocacies – that they are actualized through policies and programs that truly change lives.

We need a shift of perspective when we think about money, or at least the collected amount we give to the government. Shop all you want and pay your bills, but care about where your taxes go too.

We need to remind ourselves that the money we pay should go to the proper places with proper allocations so social development isn’t just an idea we leave to the government.

We need to talk about money because there are costs to the things that we want to happen, and that’s just natural.

We have to buy materials to make schools and hospitals; to buy medicine and build roads and bridges to places that can’t be reached by the government now.

Even volunteers, teachers and experts who go to barangays for government and civil society- initiated programs need food and fuel to travel these places.

Money is not a bad thing when it goes to the right places.

When we are critical about public finance we get to better understand when our government works, or how it works. We can see how ethically our leaders spend our money, so we can cry out “Shame!” when we must.

Taxes aren’t cute because they don’t have to be.

Public Finance, when we think about it, is like a skeleton that keeps the things we care about – our advocacies and social aspirations – in a frame of money so governance can really operate and function.

We’d fall apart if we don’t care – in a fiscal osteoporosis that we refused to talk about because we were too lazy to count. –

Jake Crisologo works as a writer and researcher for Social Watch Philippines and Prof. Leonor Magtolis Briones. He is the Secretary of the Philippine Youth Development Initiatives, Inc., a civil society organization devoted to youth empowerment. He is currently finishing his degree in BS Tourism in the Asian Institute of Tourism at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. 


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