Thursday, September 3, 2009

Batangueña refuses to pay taxes

A good friend of mine, Emma Alday, refuses to pay her taxes. She has not paid a cent for four years now. Emma is a guardian of the environment and has worked very, very hard to clean up rivers and other waterways in her hometown of San Jose , Batangas. I have seen for myself the efforts she has put into her advocacy.

A former nun, Emma is an NGO worker who has received a number of citations for her work among farmers. She runs Casa Rap, a small garden-restaurant that serves organically grown food plus art from nature’s excess. She is also a former municipal councilor who fought to get the local government and the citizenry to act on environmental issues, among them the severe pollution of rivers by poultry raisers.

I have written several articles to highlight the issues that plagued that part of Batangas. And so did many others in both print and broadcast media. The problems remain.

Lately, the Bureau of Internal revenue (BIR) has been knocking on Emma’s door to get her to pay her taxes. She was also asked to explain her refusal to pay. Many taxpayers would certainly sympathize with her. Here is Emma’s letter to the district revenue officer.

“Peace! This letter’s intent is to explain the reason why four years ago I stopped paying taxes, except the realestate tax. Long before Casa Rap was conceived, Susi Foundation, of which I am the chairperson, has been an advocate for environment protection and development.

“In the 1994 election, I ran and won as a member of the Sangguniang Bayan (SB), with the hope that I could help address the environment degradation caused by the massive livestock production owned by at least 30 percent of the residents.

“In 1998 we had a typhoid fever outbreak. President Fidel Ramos declared our town under a state of calamity. This caught the attention of the media. The issue was on the front pages of the dailies and was broadcast in almost all TV stations, but this did not move the hearts and political will of both the local and national government.

“All that the town got was a P500,000 check from President Ramos and the attachment of an automatic chlorinator to our water source, which more than doubled the chlorine content of our drinking water. Since then majority of the residents have stopped drinking tap water that comes from the Malaquing Tubig natural spring. Most resort to buying bottled water for health reasons. We now have four refilling stations in our town. This crisis provided livelihood opportunities for water station owners while poor residents (especially those who cannot afford bottled water and filters) are exposed to constant danger of all kinds of diseases. Considering that our water source is a natural spring, this neglect of the government is indeed a crime.

“As an SB kagawad I was a failure. My resolutions remained in the minutes. The environment ordinance passed in 1992 has never been implemented till the present. We appealed to the SB more than 10 times and to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) twice, but our voice fell on deaf ears. I have been trying to meet with Gov. Vilma Santos as early as when she was mayor of Lipa City through her secretary, common close friends, and the media, but I got no response. Now we have a party-list congressman representing the feed millers of the country but he and his family are major polluters of the Salaban River .

“For five years I was faithful in paying my business tax. It is hard to understand why the Department of Health is so concerned to have our lungs cleared but it does not do anything about the pollution that can make us sick.

“So I asked myself, why I am paying a government that does not care about the health of the people? There is no more point in lobbying, rallying, carrying placards, going around town, denouncing the apathy of the rich and the local government units. We have done all these and even more.

“We are cleaning rivers ourselves so that the poor residing nearby would have a place to bathe, do their laundry and have fish for their meals.

“But what awakened the local government? It was my non-payment of the business tax. So I am glad. Somehow something has been triggered, but they don’t dare ask why. All they discuss lengthily is that I am going against the law.

“Historically, Malaquing Tubig River is our town’s foundation. The river, with its generous ever-flowing springs, made travelers reside near it. Thus a town was born. Now this town has become the dump of volumes and volumes of chicken and hog manure. Worse, on our foundation day, the celebration was centered on the town’s recognition as the Egg Basket of the Philippines .

“A landmark at our town’s entrance was installed early this year. It is ONE BIG WHITE EGG. I can’t help but think of it as proof of the ignorance of our officials of our town’s history.

“At the SP meeting a board member said, ‘Don’t expect things to happen overnight. It will take time.’ Isn’t 17 years of lobbying not enough for them to respond to our urgent concerns? There is reason behind every law. Taxes are paid so that those who sought positions to govern would be able to render the necessary services to their constituents. Negligence, non-implementation of laws especially those that protect citizens from sickness and death is a bigger crime than refusing to pay taxes because of government’s non-performance.

“I welcome the consequences of my stand. My wish is that as a result of this, I would be able to witness during my lifetime the day when our town will regain the fresh air and clean rivers that we enjoyed when we were young.”