COULD it be that, this early, the current RATE Program has gotten the attention it needs to be successful? In the short span of less than two months, since P-Noy took his oath of office and delivered his inaugural address last June 30, my estate planning practice, which insists on the proposition that a taxpayer is bound to pay the correct amount of tax, no more and no less, suddenly woke up from its moribund state.
Clients who used to pooh-pooh my spiel on how trusts, properly established and managed, could save on both estate tax and income tax, suddenly wanted to buy my lunch. The obvious intent is still to try to get good legal advice at the least possible cost; but the resurgent interest on tax planning is like a burst of sunshine after weeks of dark clouds and heavy rains.
Just last week, a total stranger insisted getting a copy, despite my obvious reluctance, if not initial resistance, of my long out-of-print and extremely outdated book entitled, An Introduction to Estate Planning in the Philippines. That small handbook I had written more than fifteen years before the passage of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, which itself has been amended several time since it took effect. No amount of my telling him he was better off browsing through my more current website, www.thetrustguru.com, could temper the urgency of his suit.
And in between are clients who used to drag their feet answering the estate planning questionnaire I had asked them to fill out so as to enable me to present them a first (and undoubtedly not the last) estate planning suggestions. All of a sudden they have asked my secretary for an open slot in my calendar "to discuss how to move forward" our discussions on their estate plans.
The weekly filing of criminal cases, essentially for tax evasion, alternately by the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs, I am convinced, is the reason for my appointment book being filled up again. The RATE, it seems, has had its intended effect. It has, indeed, instilled in taxpayers the equivalent of the fear of the Lord which, I hasten to say lest I be accused of plagiarizing says the Good Book, is the beginning of wisdom.
What remains to be done, if I may suggest without having been asked, is to follow through the regular and weekly filings with consistent and successful prosecution, from the initiatory level at the Department of Justice all the way to the highest courts of the land. Otherwise, all of RATE's fire and fury could turn out to be no more than ningas kugon.
RATE has had a checkered history. Celebrities, from show biz naturally, have been its early "victims." Among them are Richard Gomez, Regine Velasquez, Judy Anne L. Santos, and Ruffa Gutierrez, to name only a few. The list that has come into my possession lists more. What is important is not the names; but rather, how the cases fared. And on that score, it was "win some; lose some."
To ensure that RATE wins more than it loses, moving forward, are, without meaning to overshadow the efforts of those below who provide from the ground the substance from which the charges are to be launched are BIR Commissioner Kim Henares and her Deputy Commissioner for Legal, Estella L. Valdez-Sales.
By dint of good fortune, I was at Kim's office one early morning in July before the usual visitors started their trek to offer their good wishes as well as press their private suits. In came Estella to take her oath as Kim's deputy. In one instant, I felt the feeling of community between the two officials suffuse the waiting room. When like an absent-minded professor I asked what the staff what was in the offing. Stella was to take her oath of Kim's deputy for legal.
Kim and Estella are not strangers to each other or to RATE. Both were in the 80s only two years apart at the Ateneo Law School where I taught each of them Taxation, each one respectively taking their turns to undergo the torture of having to suffer my teaching for two semesters. Both had worked on RATE prior to taking the respective Bureau positions they now hold.
Estella, if I am not mistaken, started at the Bureau, as chief of staff of the Deputy Commissioner in charge of the Criminal Prosecution Group. Then, in April 2005, she became an Assistant Commissioner. For about three years thereafter, she was in charge of internal control systems, internal audit, preliminary fact-finding investigation and prosecution as well as the formal investigation and hearing of administrative cases against revenue employees. She also at that time chaired the Bureau's Anti-Corruption Steering Group, its Integrity Development Committee and its Ad-Hoc Committee of the RATE program.
On May 2008, Estella was moved up the department ladder and was told to report at the vortex of the department's power as Undersecretary at the Department of Finance. There she was on top of Legal and Revenue Operations, exercising supervision over the Bureau of Internal Revenue's and Bureau of Customs' operations. She was OIC of RIPS ("Revenue Integrity Protection Service") which addressed corruption in the department. There Estella worked until she took on the assignment of helping out her friend.
It is heartening to see that RATE travels under the wings of these two archangels sworn to the service of the people, the most high. The two have a long history of working together for the same cause and in the same dedication. Taxpayers would do well, while there is still time, to examine their books, amend their tax returns, if needed, so as to be free from harm when these two of Michael's army pass over them.
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