Times investigation bares: Trump, firms paid more taxes to PH than US

US President Donald Trump or his companies paid thousands more in taxes to the Philippines than he did to his own country during the first two years of his presidency, a New York Times investigation revealed Monday, September 28.

The Times based its exclusive report on over two decades of tax records which Trump had fought for years to keep secret. "The Times was also able to take the fullest measure to date of the president's income from overseas, where he holds ultimate sway over American diplomacy," it said.

The Times reported that in 2017, Trump or his companies paid $156,824 in taxes to the Philippine government – an amount that eclipsed the $750 in income taxes paid to the US government the same year.

Trump's US income tax of $750 was equivalent to P36,376 – within the range paid by lower middle-class Filipinos to the Philippine government.

Trump's presidential rival Joe Biden and wife Jill, on the other hand, jointly paid $3.7 million or around P179.44 million in income tax to America in 2017.

Trump's predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush, meanwhile, "each regularly paid more than $100,000 a year – and sometimes much more –– in federal income taxes while in office," according to the Times. The amount of $100,000 is equivalent to P4.85 million.

In contrast to Trump's income tax in the US, the taxes of Trump or his companies in the Philippines were equivalent to P7.6 million in 2017.

Referring to taxes paid for overseas ventures, the Times said, "In 2017, the president's $750 contribution to the operations of the US government was dwarfed by the $15,598 he or his companies paid in Panama, the $145,400 in India, and the $156,824 in the Philippines."

According to the Times, the taxes paid to the Philippine government came from a deal where he licensed his name for a tower located in Makati City. Trump – whose name has become synonymous to a brand – licensed his name for use to the tower nearly a decade ago.

On the Makati Trump Tower's official website, developers built on the Trump brand, marketing the property as having "unparalleled service, quality, and real estate." The tower, located in Century City in Makati, was also described as "the country's most amenitized residential high-rise and Manila's definitive landmark."

The 56-floor luxury condominium boasts over 260 units and described itself as having the "exclusive touch of the Trump brand," and "raises the bar in super luxurious living."

The Times report revealed that Trump earned some $9.3 million (P451.03 million) from the licensing deal. 

TRUMP TOWER. US President Donald Trump's family name brands a luxury condominium in Makati City. Photo from Century Properties website

"When he took office, Mr Trump said he would pursue no new foreign deals as president. Even so, in his first two years in the White House, his revenue from abroad totaled $73 million," the Times reported.

"And while much of that money was from his golf properties in Scotland and Ireland, some came from licensing deals in countries with authoritarian-leaning leaders or thorny geopolitics – for example, $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey," it added.

Why does this matter?

The Times' bombshell investigation showed Trump's tax avoidance set him apart from past presidents as well as other affluent Americans who have paid thousands more in federal taxes than the self-proclaimed billionaire businessman-turned-president.

Trump's tax records also showed his finances were "under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed."

Trump's overseas ventures have likewise fueled concerns of conflicts of interest. 

In the Philippines, possible conflicts of interest emerged in President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to appoint businessman Jose E.B. Antonio as his special envoy to the US. 

Antonio is chairman of Century Properties Group, which is behind the Trump tower in Manila.

A 2017 Newsweek report cited the "financial relationship" between Trump and Antonio was of concern.

Contracts and other legal documents obtained by a European intelligence service showed "that deal has already resulted in large payments to Trump's business, with millions of dollars more on the way – all coming from an agent of the Philippine president."

Unlike the US president's predecessors, Trump and Duterte enjoy cordial ties with Duterte nicknamed as the "Trump of the East."

The tax reports cited in the Times report, which comes over a month before the November 2020 US presidential election "tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public."

"His reports to the IRS portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president," the report said.

The Times said the records in its investigation “offer the most detailed look yet inside the president’s business empire.” 

“They reveal the hollowness, but also the wizardry, behind the self-made-billionaire image – honed through his star turn on ‘The Apprentice’ – that helped propel him to the White House and that still undergirds the loyalty of many in his base,” the Times reported

“Ultimately, Mr Trump has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.” – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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