Senator Sonny Angara believes the passage of a Freedom of Information (FOI) law will make more Filipino taxpayers pay the right taxes as the measure can shed light on how public funds are being used by the government.
The FOI bill he proposed mandates all government agencies to make available to the public for scrutiny, copying and reproduction all information pertaining to official acts, transactions or decisions, as well as government research data used as basis for policy development.
Angara noted that based on the data from the Department of Finance (DoF), self-employed and professionals' share in the government's annual collection of personal income taxes has declined from 34 percent in the 1980s to only 14 percent today.
“I sense there is some kind of dissatisfaction in the way the money is spent by the government,” said Angara in his statement on the first public hearing on the FOI bill.
“Our taxpayers feel that somehow their taxes perhaps do not go to the best of projects and best of decisions. That's why the country’s tax compliance is historically low,” Angara said.
He added: “Ayaw nila mapunta ang kanilang buwis sa bulsa lang ng mga nasa gobyerno. Kapag siguro nakita nila na napupunta sa tama at nagagastos sa mga proyekto tulad ng mga classroom, school building, feeding program, mas maeengganyo ang mga malalaking negosyante at mga propesyunal na magbayad ng tamang buwis.”
Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, said he saw over the years how compliance with taxes has been so poor especially among the sectors where tax compliance is voluntary.
“We’re talking about professionals, doctors, lawyers, accountants and the self-employed entrepreneurs whose taxes are not withheld at source unlike regular employees,” he said.
“An improvement in the tax compliance of our self-employed and professionals could be a potential byproduct of the passage of FOI law. I think that would be the major effect in instilling trust in the government,” he said.
Angara, one of the authors of the FOI bill since his days in Congress, stressed that the basis for right to know or the right to be informed is already in the Constitution, and that the bill is just a fleshing out or an implementing law to operationalize what is already provided for in the Constitution.
“It’s ironic that we’re the longest running democracy in the region and yet, many of our regular people or ordinary folk do not understand the workings of our government. And now, the government has become more complex, and the budget is getting bigger and bigger. How do we expect our countrymen to understand the workings of government if there are no enabling measures,” he said.