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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

entry arrow4:59 PM | Taxing Day

Over lunch in Jutsz Cafe, where I have my favorite dish of garlic fish fillet with salad, I begin filling out the calculations for my red mixed income form from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, which came with the regular income tax return. Michael, our English Department secretary who knows his accounting stuff, had earlier done the complicated mathematics for me—all those numbers swimming in my eyes signifying nothing.

Already that morning, I had dutifully made my annual pilgrimage to City Hall to get my CTC, my cedula.

In my head, the route for the rest of the afternoon is well-laid. I’d stop over at the BIR main office near the Capitol to have my documents checked. Then I’d scoot over to the nearest bank and pay whatever penalties I am supposed to pay. I’ve done this ritual every April for so many years. The only hassle I have ever encountered was once forgetting the filing deadline in 2007, and I had to frantically do the required legwork precious minutes before the banks closed. Afterwards, I think, I’d go home, pick up my laptop, go straight to class, lecture on Contemporary Philippine Literature, go to the gym, go home and shower, go to Maoai Benitez’s birthday party, and then watch Broken Hearts Club with The Hive. Perfect.

The BIR office is friendly enough. Entering its premises, I find a gigantic poster of the BIR head commissioner in a pose gesturing welcome. I think it funny how our high officials find it always necessary to put their visages on such things.

Inside the BIR, I joke around with fellow Silliman University employees who are, like me, doing their filing at the 11th hour. The nice BIR office lady tells me everything in my documents seems in order, but tells me only to change my entries in my red form from pencil marks to ink. I say thank you, and I proceed to redo the form in ink.

“Where can I pay my mixed income tax?” I ask later.

She smiles and says, “Well, there’s Landbank, and there’s DBP.”

I think: DBP is just a little too far, near the Boulevard. Landbank, on the other hand, is only a stone’s throw away from the Capitol Area. So I go down from the BIR building to the highway—and there I realize that there is no tricycle headed in the direction of Landbank. The DPWH has closed the strip to do repairs on the road, and public transportation has been routed somewhere else. “Great,” I think of the public works being demonstrated right in front of me. “This is my tax pesos at work.”

I decide to walk the length between the Capitol Area and Landbank. It’s not too far, I think. Under the 1:30 sun, I walk and brown in the sweltering summer heat.

I arrive in Landbank. I ask the guard on duty, “Where do I file my income tax?”

He nods towards the teller, “Go straight over there.”

I go to the teller. “Is this where I file my income tax?”

She says, “Go to the BIR representative over there. He will first approve your documents.” She points at his direction with her lips formed into a snout.

The BIR representative stationed in Landbank turns out to be an overeager asshole who gives me an unnecessary hard time.

I give him my forms, the same forms the people in the BIR main office have already gone over.

“You need to change this red form to the blue form,” he says, in a tone of such bright overeagerness it borders on the infuriating know-it-all.

“But I’ve always used this red form for my mixed income.”

“No,” he insists, “you have to.”

I look over the new form. “But the calculations are not the same anymore then, and my accountant has already filled in the calculations. Do you expect me to recalculate all this?”

“It’s the same,” he insists.

“But I have always used this form.”

“If you insist on using the red form, you will be liable for a tax audit.”

A tax audit? On a fixed income?

I sit down and study the difference between the two forms.

I text Michael at the department and my friend Jacqueline at the Silliman Business and Finance. These people will know what to do, I think. They breathe these things. But they tell me to just follow the BIR rep’s suggestion.

I study the forms some more. “But the boxes for the amounts are no longer the same,” I tell the overeager BIR rep.

This goes on for more than ten minutes.

“But they are the same,” he says.

“They’re not.”

“They are.”

“They’re not.” I become exasperated. I sit down, and try to fill out the new blue form anyway. They are not the same.

I think: I can get out of the bank, and have Michael recalculate this. Or, or...

Or go to another bank.

I immediately stand up and get out of Landbank, planning on a quick transfer to DBP.

Thirty minutes have elapsed.

There are no tricycles headed that way. So I walk again, under the heat of the sun, from Landbank to the Boulevard Area. I tan with each ticking second.

I arrive at the DBP. It is past 2 pm. The guard stops me. I tell him I am there to file my taxes. He asks, “How many sets of payments?”

I blink. “What do you mean?”

He takes my forms and starts counting. “One...,” he intones, “two... three... You have to fill out these three individual payment forms.”

An older guard suddenly comes out of the bank’s doors. “Are you sure?” he asks the first guard. He, too, counts my forms. “He only needs one payment form to fill,” he says.

“Oh,” the first guard says. “Okay then.”

I take the new form.

“Here’s your number,” the first guard says. “They will call you with this number.”

My number is 82.

“Do you have a cellphone?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. “Why?”

“Leave it here with me. You can’t bring it inside,” he says, and then gives me another number. It is a claim tag. It is numbered 8.

“Okay,” I say, giving him my cellphone. “Where do I go after this?”

“Fill out the payment form first, and then go to that BIR representative stationed over there,” he says.

Yes, another BIR representative.

“Okay,” I say.

I sit down at the nearest couch and fill out the new form. It is mercifully short.

Then I go to the BIR representative seated at her table. She looks over my forms, including the OLD red one I had refused to change, and then she tells me, “Everything is in order. Please wait for your number to be called.”

In my head, I am screaming: What? What? What? What exactly was the problem with that other BIR representative in Landbank? How can two BIR representatives disagree on procedure?

I sit down and wait for my return. It turns out to be a long, long, long wait. But the electronic call number above the tellers’ heads does not seem to be working, and the numbers they are calling out do not seem to make sense with my own number. I am 82. They are calling out digits immediately after 10. Surely I am not supposed to be here in the bank forever! I go back to the guard outside.

“Are you sure this is the right number?” I ask.

He looks down at his work station—and on top of it was a merry pile of other numbers. He picks out a smaller one. Now I am No. 38.

Such system! I laugh inside. I am slowly being torn to pieces by the madness of it all.

I go back to the air-conditioned interiors of the DBP, wanting only to laugh at the absurdity, at the randomness of everything. I feel like I am in a Kafka story.

The minutes drag. I fall asleep where I sit.

I must have been inside that bank for more or less two hours.

And then finally, a voice rings out. “Number 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40...” and so on and so forth.

I rush towards where the voice is, and the kind-looking teller takes my form. “Please wait to be called again, sir,” she says.

I wait for thirty more minutes.

And then finally, my name, ringing out from another teller’s mouth.

I pay my taxes.

Soon I drag my feet out of the bank. I claim my cellphone from the guard’s desk. I begin to send out cranky messages to the rest of the world. I look at my watch. It is past 3:30. I am late for my class. And I no longer have any plans for going, or partying later in the night. I am exhausted.

While I pause to take a breather right outside the bank, a motorcycle screeches to a stop outside the entrance. An old woman alights from the passenger’s side, and goes straight to the doors.

She knocks.

The bank guard peeks out. “Ma’am, sorry. The bank closes at 3 pm.”

“But,” she begins with a voice laced with worry, “I have to pay this. This is my BIR income tax form. If I don’t pay this today, I will have to pay the penalty.”

“Ma’am, sorry,” the guard insists. “The bank closes at 3 pm.”

I quickly walk away from the scene, hoping for a quick tricycle ride home.

Under the heat of the midafternoon sun, I melt.

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