All posts by: Cocoy

Cocoy is an Internet entrepreneur, technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter. He publishes a personal blog called The Geeking, a weblog on geekery, pop culture, and sometimes Apple, and technology. He writes for iPadPinas--- a site devoted to all things iPad.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project. He regularly contributes political commentary at BlogWatch.ph.

Cocoy is a founding member of democracy.net.ph, a think tank. Cocoy also helped draft the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

The BIR and Doctors

The Bureau of Internal Revenue embarked on a shame campaign to force doctors to pay their taxes. The ad campaign compares doctors to teachers. Not only does the ad campaign shame doctors, they try to compare two professions that have distinct training and suggests that the medical profession rides on the backs of other professions or people. The ad suggests one is better than the other. Which is a false assumption, and even false comparison.

The practice of medicine is an exacting one. It has to be because you have to take human life seriously. It is training that not only goes beyond the four years of collage, four years of proper, a year of internship, another four years of residency, four years of specialty training and pretty soon you find yourself an old person, with nary money in your wallet to show for it. That’s also not counting the thousands of hours in loss sleep, loss of friendship, partnership, because the medical profession is an exacting one that demands you think on your feet when you’re sleep deprived. That’s the whole point of going on duty. You can see why many from the medical profession find the whole ad— insulting.

To compare this to the teaching profession for example, is not only comparing apples to oranges but inflicts an insult to both profession. There is without doubt that teachers are important. They shape young minds. People who grow up to be doctors, to be exact. Yes, they spend the traditional four years of collage, and non of the bootcamp like conditions required of the practice of medicine, but again— to compare the level of training between two professions is a false comparison. Teachers too have to prepare lesson plans, find ways to captivate young minds, go through days filled with kids of all sort of personality that is certain to test the greatest of resolve, and deepest of patience. And with nary money to show for it.

It is like comparing two different lives, and the troubles they encounter. It is like saying the person to your right had it better, and his life is greener than yours when you haven’t walked on the other’s shoes.

The practice of medicine in the Philippines— to set up your own clinic— has more in common with the calling of small businesses, or a small law firm or design studio. Even when the clinic is attached to a hospital, this is how doctors make their bread and cheese. Profit rises and falls depending on how many people get sick, or how hard the doctor works. A surgeon gets pay with how many people he cuts open. An anesthesiologist gets paid depending how many operations happen. A psychiatrist gets paid with how many crazy people there are. So it is a mom and pop operation. And yes, like in every profession there are those who do skip in paying their taxes or those who don’t declare their income.

For the teacher, as an example— they have no choice. The same goes with the office grunt, the secretary, the mailman, the police and so many other people whose lives depend on an assured salary, no matter how much the school, the business, the government makes money. They get paid no matter what. (Well, most of the time, anyway). So the revenue collector has already cut of the monies from the teacher long before the teacher gets it. There is a clear cut revenue stream.

A doctor can teach, and many do since that profession requires some doctors to be teachers and lecturers too, but a teacher can’t be a doctor without first going through the extensive training processes. So there is already a specialization.

So again, to compare one over the other is a false comparison. It is apples or oranges and the required training, and subsequent pay bracket are different.

Hence, why it is both insulting to medical profession, and sets a different, and rather false tone. Why incite jealousy and differentiation between different people? Obviously they choose different path.

Yes, there is a connotation that doctors are rich. They drive expensive cars, take fancy trips. There is without doubt that there are rich doctors. And there is without doubt doctors who slave away like grunts especially in far flung areas. Obviously the training and required degree of labor while different in each, is no less hard on both. Don’t teachers slave away? Don’t surgeons spend hours and hours on the operating table?

There is no doubt that the government needs its fair share of the revenue. How else to pay for all the social service and infrastructure needs of the people. That’s why income is taxed. That’s why we have VAT and so many other taxes.

If we stared to blame doctors for not paying their taxes pretty soon people are going to ask, oh, hey, why single us out when the Philippine underground economy averaged 34.8% of GDP? How nearly 4 billion dollars were lost due to smuggling in 2011 alone. Pretty soon the blame game will descend to the lost of income due to the alleged wastes of the Pork Barrel scam. How many billions of pesos were lost in ghost projects.

The doctors and lawyers and other professions will ask: why us when you got all this waste that you can’t patch up? Do that first, then we’ll pay taxes. Don’t you think it is a chicken and egg problem? One does not preclude the other, after all doesn’t it?

Just because others aren’t good, why should you be good?

Why us, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, and Juan Ponce Enrile asked too in the Senate for all the persecution they get from the pork barrel scam. Guess, the doctors have been singled out simply because the BIR can’t get Manny Pacquiao to pay. Or Janet Napoles. Or politicians involved in scam after scam. Why us, the doctors and lawyers and other professions ask? Well, because it doesn’t take much to screw you over, just like the teachers, policemen, soldiers, office grunts, you’re easy prey to be screwed over. Because the real thieves and abusers are unpunished by society that feeds on the small. Because when the taxman comes, if you don’t pay, you go to jail. Do you want to go to jail? Well, except if you are richer than doctors, and powerful swimming in wealth. Except when you’re old, handsome, or sexy. Tough luck. That’s the real shame campaign. Whoever said that life was fair?

Report: GovPH cheated by at least US$4B taxes due to smuggling in 2011

Global Financial Integrity: “The report estimated the size of the Philippine underground economy averaged 34.8% of GDP over the study period, and 29.7% of GDP in 2011. Larger underground economies facilitate crime and corruption and decrease tax revenue collection.

Illicit flows were found to both drive the underground economy and be driven by it, a result also found in country profiles of India, Mexico and Russia.”

The full report is here.

The Black Nazarene

A sea of people each year would pour out of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene to accompany the dark statue of Jesus Christ— the Black Nazarene— in a procession around the district of Quiapo in Manila. Devotees believe the statue to be miraculous, and Pope Pius VII in 1880 granted plenary indulgence to devotees praying before it. Thousands of people partake in this tradition.

The original statue came from Mexico, sculpted by an unknown artist who originally painted it mulato. Legend has it the original burned and so you have the black Jesus Christ.

It is an interesting to watch how all this transpires. It has taken a life of its own, of course. From the individual, each have their own stories to tell. Each have a reason for going to the feast, and to join in the procession.

From a logical, calculating mind, there is much absurdity in it. Why spend a full day in the heat, in the crowd, and a pretty high chance of getting crushed in a sea of people, just as you will have a chance to get dehydrated? It doesn’t make sense.

From the perspective of a believer, the journey is a deeply spiritual one.

“Faith, after all, is still a private affair,” writes Karl de Mesa in Days Underground: Inside the Devotion of the Black Nazarene. “Even if you can’t drop a pin on Feast day, the heart of the practice isn’t joining the crowd; it’s the yearning for a benevolent force bigger than yourself. The Senyor fills this religious hunger like a boundless fount.”

A Bloody New Year

Each year, for as long as I could remember, the new year would always bring more injuries and sometimes, death. From firecracker injuries to stray bullet victims, like clockwork it comes in and out.

When I was younger, my aunt, was standing by their door watching firecrackers explode in the sky. She was shot by a stray bullet. We never found out where it came from. She lived, but she was not the first, nor last victim. This year, a two year old boy became the second fatality.

The state of injuries from New Year’s day has somewhat improved in the last decade, though still counting in the hundreds. It used to be that leading up to midnight, firecrackers would explode everywhere. It had somewhat waned. The loudest explosions happen when right before the clock strikes twelve. The best years of reduced fatalities are when the health department would run a campaign to discourage firecracker use.

There have been suggestions, for years really, of a firecracker ban. Other jurisdictions have banned firecrackers. Davao has had a firecracker ban for 12 years running. The ban had measured success like in Zamboanga, and Davao with zero casualties.

Exploding firecrackers seem to be in our culture. It can’t seem to be stopped. Leading up to the New Year, for example, the lines going to Bulacan to buy firecrackers were long. There is an industry that revolves around firecrackers. It does employ people. Perhaps, an alternative to a total ban would be to charge higher prices. Perhaps, higher prices would mean better quality, and higher profit margins for the firecracker industry. Perhaps, an requiring insurance from buyers, and to penalize businesses who sell to people who do not have firecracker insurance would help reduce accidents and injuries. Insurance for use by people who fall victim to firecracker injuries. Insurance to pay not only for surgery and the emergency rooms, but also for rehabilitation, post new year. Added taxes could also be used to pay for PhilHealth coverage.

The same could, and should be required of gun owners. Bullets may kill, but irresponsible gun owners are the ones who pull the trigger. And with the state of police, few, if at all, could find the culprit.

It can also be argued that the all the fireworks help add to our already polluted air. Perhaps, a portion of those taxes could be spent in cleaning up the air as well. Like a carbon tax.

If car owners are required to pay for insurance, why shouldn’t people who own guns or who wish to spend money on firecrackers? If people are willing to burn their hard earned pesos for a few seconds to celebrate the coming of the New Year, why not put an added burden on them and not on taxpayers who wind up paying for a polluted air, not to mention paying government workers in hospitals to be on alert. Not to mention the grief and trouble inflicted on others. The onus should be on people willing to pay for firecrackers. It is only fair, don’t you think?