I wrote this article after I received my admission letter from the Harvard Kennedy School. It’s quite overwhelming since it took me more than 10 years to face my fear and finally apply. Like many of you, I had so many reasons or excuses for not even trying before.
Lo and behold, I made it to Harvard! It was really a childhood dream coming true.
But the first thing that came to mind really was how do I go now to Harvard with the total lockdown due to COVID-19 Pandemic? How can I celebrate when many people are dying around the world and poor people are starving and begging for help in my own country?
The truth is, I can only do so much.
Social media and vanity
Social media has long been plagued by man-made viruses, bashers and haters. Nobody wants to listen. Everybody has their story to post. Whether it’s the truth or a lie, it doesn’t matter anymore.
Social media has made us entitled, vain, self-righteous, and less personal in dealing with each other – even calling somebody, who we barely know, as our “friend” in Facebook.
Some businesses have become more commercial in advocating for the environment, the poor or a better world but couldn’t even take care of their waste management, their employees, or provide a conducive work environment for everyone. And the best strategy applied is cost-cutting on salaries, benefits, overhead and even on taxes.
Is business really just for profit? Is corporate social responsibility just a marketing ploy?
These are the questions I ask not only the CEOs of big conglomerates but also entrepreneurs like myself.
While we celebrate acts of heroism, kindness, and other good deeds of others shared online, we regularly bash our government leaders, our church, our employers and anyone we dislike.
There’s no more respect or discretion in expressing what’s in our mind.
While we advocate for equal rights, anti-discrimination and anti-racism, we bully online those who choose to have a different view or opinion especially in politics. We create memes of those who look ugly and stupid. We are obsessed to have social media presence, to gain more likes and followers – even trolls. Gossiping became a trend via group chats. Twitter, along with other social media, became a public forum to discuss and share fake news, sex videos, and investment scams.
In this time of crisis, we should really ask what we can do to help.
The big conglomerates heed the call of the President to release the 13th month pay of their employees. Others even gave more than the basic and reassured their employees of getting their regular pay even during the month-long Enhanced Community Quarantine.
Individual and corporate donations are flooding as usual, but I wish to make an appeal and remind those who are generously donating:
First, like what some corporations have already one, prioritize your employees and family (for individual donors). Let’s secure first the needs of our employees. Small businesses may not be able to release the 13th month pay early, but at least find a way to release the basic salaries without delay;
Second, even if the deadline of filing annual income tax return (ITR) has been extended, those of us who can pay online, must file and pay early to help the government collect the target revenues for the month of April. This is especially for the large taxpayers who contribute at least 60% of the total income tax collections.
Even if the micro and small businesses won’t be able to pay on April 15, the tax payments of the big conglomerates will be more than enough. That’s why we need them together with all other large taxpayers to pay first their income taxes before donating millions of pesos.
Third, while it is our obligation to pay taxes, charitable contributions or donations given during this time of crisis are also tax deductible. Individual and corporate donors must document and file it to avoid the 6% donor’s tax.
Any donation in excess of P250,000 without certificate of donation will be subject to 6% donor’s tax due thirty (30) days after the date of the donation is made.
With or without tax due, donors must file BIR Form 1800 to claim the charitable contribution as a deduction from gross income subject to income tax.
‘Mahirap maging mahirap’
My opinion about the Duterte administration has nothing to do with my realization after my two-week hiatus. As a taxpayer and a Filipino citizen, I still feel we pay first world taxes and get third world services from our government, especially the poorest of the poor who need it desperately.
Sometimes I wonder, if the rich donating to the poor is a sign of charity or a show of power. While some of us are at the comforts of our home watching Netflix (myself included), the poor and powerless are queueing and waiting for relief goods which may not even last for a day. And we expect them to observe social distancing?
But why do we need donations from the private sector when we have paid so much taxes?
And here come our elected officials from barangay to national government acting as if we owe them for doing what they’re supposed to do. I know it’s a thankless job, but you chose it. Please don’t make us feel as if we owe you. You ask for our votes, and fortunately or unfortunately, we elected you to serve us.
We pay taxes! We deserve better services.
I don’t intend to discredit those who are really working hard in government from our President, Vice President, Cabinet Secretaries especially DOH, DTI, DOST, and DILG (DSWD?), including local executives like Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, and many others, but please stop giving us excuses when you don’t do your job well.
Please don’t brag about the relief goods and financial assistance you give to poor families – they’re all from the taxes we pay to the government.
Sometimes I blame the poor who keep voting the corrupt and incompetent Barangay chairperson, mayors, congressmen and even senators who are only after power, money and VIP testing. At the same time, I feel sorry for them who never benefitted from these traditional politicians. As one poor soul cried out loud, “mahirap talaga maging mahirap!”
In 2022, let’s all vote for those who perform and serve us well during this time of crisis.
Let’s stop electing representatives and senators who only distribute relief goods or who are more present in social media than in sessions. We need independent legislators who are intelligent, honest and capable to make laws which will better serve and protect our people e.g. healthcare system, efficient tax system, etc.
No need for emergency power
In my honest opinion, the President does not need emergency power.
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “this is, above all, a human crisis that calls for solidarity.” We need solidarity, hope and political will to see this crisis through together.
Filipino people are staying at home. Our doctors and nurses are taking care of the patients.
What we need is a mass testing especially for those who are high-risk and exposed to COVID-19 virus. What we need is a fast and efficient distribution of food, water and vitamins for all poor families gravely affected by the lockdown. What we need is to stop the spread of the virus before we shut down businesses due to a prolonged community quarantine.
What we need is to stop spreading fake news.
We trust our President, our Vice President and all public servants, especially our mayors and barangay officials to handle our health crisis with proper care, caution and circumspection.
Lessons to be learned
The young generation can learn from this crisis. They can find creative ways to learn or unlearn habits which can make them more confident but unassuming. In the meantime, stay at home, practice good hygiene and talk to your parents.
Employees can make use of this free time to learn new skills, improve performance and clear backlogs to focus on creating values. Work from home can be proven effective if employees will manage their time and discipline themselves to finish specific deliverables before the deadline. Help your employers keep you and the business through these trying times.
Self-employed and professionals including freelancers may use this time to revisit their vision, mission and core values. What’s in it for big companies to work with them? Don’t operate like politicians who don’t keep their promises. Deliver results on schedule.
It’s time for the rich and big businesses to step up. After paying your income taxes, donate not just your extra money but share your expertise, resources and even people who can help us stop the virus.
The President doesn’t need to carry the burden by himself. Both government and private sector must work together to fight COVID-19!
We need people power, not emergency power. – Rappler.com
Mon Abrea is the Co-Chair of the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Task Force on Paying Taxes. He was recognized as one of the 2017 Outstanding Young Persons of the World, 2016 Digital Mover, one of the 2015 The Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM), and an Asia CEO Young Leader because of his tax advocacy. Currently, he is the Chairman and Senior Tax Advisor of the Asian Consulting Group (ACG) and founding Trustee of the Center for Strategic Reforms of the Philippines (CSR Philippines).