For over 30 years now, or from the moment I earned my own money, I have faithfully paid income taxes to the tax collector. And for nearly 29 years now, or since we got married, my wife and I have dutifully filed a joint income statement as a couple. I cannot say that my relationship with the tax collector has been unpleasant. I might even say it was based on implicit trust – until recently, when he asked me to show proof of my birth and of my marriage.
In the past, he would occasionally summon me to his office to explain certain deductions I have claimed. And depending on his mood, sometimes these claims were allowed, and at other times they were sternly refused. In the end, he would ask what I could afford to pay in tax deficiency, and the matter is then settled quite amicably. I consider myself quite lucky, for I have heard of really horrendous extortion rackets at internal revenue offices. But in my case, I can say that nothing has ever gone to the tax collector’s private pocket; all the money has been paid directly to the Treasury.
As in all relationships of long standing, I have come to know what pleases or displeases the tax collector. And likewise, he has more or less formed an idea of what I must reasonably earn and pay in taxes from year to year. The last time he sent for me was when I left television for a year. My income dropped drastically, and he wondered what had happened to me. That was how I learned that, in his own inimitable way, he had been conscientiously plotting the ups and downs of my professional career against some notion of where I should be, income-wise, with the passage of time.
It is strangely comforting to be remembered like this even by someone you would hardly regard as a friend, whose only business with you is to collect some of the money you earn. But no matter, he somehow makes you feel that, by your payments, you are part of a larger family.
But what is this? Since June this year, our old friend, the tax collector, has been badgering me to produce a certified true copy of my birth certificate and of my marriage contract. He has also asked me to submit 2 copies of my most recent photograph. He said this is part of a new program to update and computerize the records of all taxpayers . This has caused me no small amount of anguish. For it has been a long time since I was last asked for my birth and marriage certificates. And I was aghast to discover that I did not have these on file.
My mother could not remember if my birth was registered in the town where I was born or in the municipality where I grew up. A check with both places yielded negative results. The clerks behind the counter in both towns recognized me from watching television. But, too bad, as far as their records were concerned, I did not officially exist. I encountered the same problem with the marriage certificate. I wasn’t sure where the officiating priest registered my marriage: in the city where my wife and I lived upon getting married, or in the town where the marriage took place. Finally, my wife did the logical thing: call the church and ask them where they register the marriages they solemnize, and hope that the town’s civil registry records are in order. Mercifully, they are, and we now have solid proof that indeed we are married.
My problem with the birth certificate remains, however. It is now past the deadline set by the tax collector for submitting these vital documents, and it troubles me no end to contemplate what may happen when it is time to collect taxes again. Will my dear friend, the tax collector, in the absence of a birth certificate, now deny that I exist and therefore refuse my tax payments? After collecting part of my income for the past 30 years, why does he suddenly insist that I must prove the fact of my birth? Shouldn’t he be using his time instead to document the existence of those who have expertly avoided paying taxes?
For almost the same length of time, the tax collector has known that my wife and I are a couple. Why is our dear friend suddenly concerned that we now show proof that we are married to each other?
And why is he suddenly gripped by the need to know what I look like?
Will it make any difference in the computation of the taxes I must pay?
After 30 years of dealing with one another, I think I can presume that the tax collector and I have had a long-standing professional relationship. If he just wanted to check or update his records, should it not suffice for him to directly ask for the dates and the information he needs? Why is he suddenly requiring the submission of the documents themselves? Does he realize, and does he care, what trouble many obedient taxpayers like me have to go through just to gather these documents? And, by the way, does he think these pieces of paper are any more trustworthy than the direct information that can be elicited by a straight question? If he does, then he has not seen the trade in Raon, where authentic-looking documents, from birth certificates to diplomas to income tax returns, can be purchased for a few pesos.
It therefore makes me wonder if the tax collector is not the front man for a project bigger than the record updating program that he claims is his sole purpose. Birth and marriage certificates contain far more information than is needed for the tax-collector to carry out his function. Why should he have access to such information? And why does he want my photo; why should it matter to him what the people he collects taxes from look like?
Is this an indirect way of gathering the information requirements of a National Identification System? Suddenly, I feel betrayed by my friend, the tax collector.
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