New tax amnesty? No way, says House panel chief who frets it sends wrong signal

May 1, 2017 - 12:51 AM
People await their turn to pay taxes at a BIR regional office. A House committee chairman says government would be unfair to diligent taxpayers if it declares a tax amnesty. INTERAKSYON FILE

MANILA – The chairman of the House committee on good government and public accountability has rejected calls for Congress to pass a new  amnesty law for the benefit of corporations and individuals with unpaid tax obligations in prior years.

“Strong enforcement is the best strategy to ensure full compliance with our tax laws, and the grant of amnesties every now and then is totally inconsistent with tough application,” said Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel.

A tax amnesty provides an opportunity for a specified group of taxpayers to pay a defined amount, in exchange for forgiveness of a larger tax liability, including interest and penalties, incurred in prior years without fear of criminal prosecution.

“There should be no mixed signals from government. We cannot tell everybody to dutifully pay their taxes on one hand, and tell them don’t bother to pay your taxes now because we’ll absolve you later, on the other hand,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel made the statement not long after the Bureau of Internal Revenue filed a P9.5-billion tax-dodging case against homegrown cigarette manufacturer Mighty Corp.

Mighty was found using counterfeit cigarette tax stamps on its products to avoid payment of excise taxes.

The case against Mighty is consistent with robust enforcement, according to Pimentel.

In August last year, President Rodrigo Duterte warned tax evaders that they may be next in his shame campaign.

“I hope you guys who have not been paying your taxes, especially the rich, the oligarchs, kindly settle your tax cases. I would hate to read your names in public and maybe authorize your arrest,” he said in Davao City.

Duterte lambasted big-time tax evaders for feeding on public services without paying their fair share.

“Your debts to the government have piled up and you expect me to give you security? You expect me to [let you] use the roads, the ports, the airports and everything the government produces for the people? Nakikihalo kayo (You’re benefiting),” he added.

Several members of Congress have filed bills proposing a new tax amnesty on all unpaid internal revenue taxes imposed by the national government in previous years.

Pimentel warned, however, that an amnesty would only benefit a few wealthy individuals and large corporations, at the expense of tax compliance.

He said promises or hopes of an amnesty only tend to encourage tax avoidance.

“An amnesty would certainly not benefit the millions of salaried employees whose income taxes are already being automatically withheld from their monthly paychecks,” he said.

Pimentel also said an amnesty would be “totally unfair” to those who have been religiously paying their taxes.