THE recent report on the plan of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to check on the lifestyles of individual taxpayers may turn out to be another empty threat if it does not go serious on the plan's strict implementation.

As reported, the government's main tax collector says it will go after individual taxpayers who are "living beyond their legitimate means despite declaring relatively small incomes."

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First, the BIR need not go far as within its ranks, there are millionaires, multi- millionaires even, who may have amassed wealth by virtue of their positions especially in the Large Taxpayers' Group. If it wants to meet its annual targets, which by the way have been previously missed, then the agency should first scrutinize the financial standing and connections of its officers and men. Would it be superfluous to say some of them have unholy alliances with big taxpayers?

Only after saturating its officers' financial reports and sources can the agency have the moral ascendancy to go out and ferret out the tax evaders. It is not wanting in nice-sounding programs like the Run After the Tax Evaders or RATE, or its vaunted tax amnesty drives. But, lo and behold, despite these ideal-sounding programs, the BIR is still pathetic in its drive to collect more for the government.

One unsolicited advice to, and for, the beleaguered BIR: go beyond the tax returns and declarations. Vouch and validate every entry therein and check rigidly the books of the reporting taxpayers. For all we know, the figures reflected are the creation of the retained CPAs. And what about the non reporting and defaulting ones? Are they ever summoned duces tecum and, further, prosecuted if found lying?

Those who file their returns on time and pay religiously taxes due from them are a rarity in this country which is listed as 4th in the most corrupt in Asia, after Indonesia, which topped the list in a recent report.

Rarely do we find people who fear the law and thus pay voluntarily their tax liabilities. I'd say only 3 out of ten taxpayers are telling the truth and the rest submit fabrications.

After scraping through the bottom of its officers' files, the BIR must set its serious eye on contractors, DPWH officials and professionals who are moonlighting on lucrative enterprises. Then there are those engaged in underground businesses. Probably because of oversight or pure neglect, they remain untouched.

Lifestyle checks should be done regularly so that the government can zero in on those who own mansions and houses in different places, both here and abroad, several luxury cars and yachts, those who keep mistresses in exclusive villas and do travel with them overseas frequently, complete with their entourage.

Lifestyle checks should be done seriously by the BIR without fear or favor. This way, its shortfalls may be lessened. There are always ways to effectively skin the fat cats and the agency should know and implement them. Additionally, the tax laws should be amended so that as the government's tax watchdog, it can fiercely bite rather than lamelessly bark!

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It is only about fourteen days from today when the official campaign period for the aspirants for local positions begins on March 26. We are anxiously waiting for the PCOS machines and see if they really work as envisioned by the Comelec. In the meantime, candidates are doing secret meetings and causes in different areas as a way of persuading voters to vote for them.

May I again remind the voters that we wield the power to choose who will represent us. Let us use this sovereign power effectively and wisely.