Remember the oft-repeated saying about nothing being certain in this world except death and taxes? Doesn’t matter who said it first, but in this Tax Awareness Month of March, it certainly rings true, as reminders about taxes are like a flea in your ear—you just can’t ignore them.
Observing a Tax Awareness Month is good, but it would perhaps be better if the subject of Taxes is included in our high school curriculum. Because the government could be fleecing you alive with your consent by making you pay taxes you don’t understand. It happened to me.
One fine day in March I was paying the usual taxes on our property when I was told by the lady tax officer that I owed the government 262,000 pesos, supposedly back taxes on idle land since 1999. I was shocked speechless. So I politely asked her, “But we pay taxes every year on this land—nobody ever told us it’s idle, or that we had to pay for its being idle. In fact, it’s not idle at all, we’re using it.”
The lady said what I was paying for yearly was the “basic tax”, which is different from the “ad valorem” for idle lands. She said the land is vacant—“it has no improvements”—meaning it has no building standing on it, ergo, it’s idle. She added that the law says owners of idle lands should pay taxes for not using their lands.
Not knowing that’s there’s a the law on this, or what the law says, I pleaded for consideration and defended my point, armed with nothing but common sense, while making a sketch of the property in question. “It seems to me a very unjust law,” I said. “The land that you say is idle is this 200-sqm lot adjacent to the 330 sqm meter lot where our house stands. It is vacant but it is not idle. We are using it. We have a mango tree there, a jackfruit tree—both fruit bearing. We have malunggay, alugbati, kamote, kalamansi,tanglad, and siling labuyo here and there—all of which we share with our neighbors. Against the wall we have heliconia and gardenia—natural air freshener and perfect floral offering for our altar. In front of our house we have lots of lantana to attract butterflies, and we also have a goldfish pond—watching the goldfish is conducive to meditation. Under the mango tree we dine al fresco, enjoy barbecues, and hang a hammock for afternoon naps. Down by the street is our carport. In fact, our place is a favorite venue for clan reunions because we have developed it so—‘para kang nasa probinsya sa kalagitnaan ng Maynila’ is a frequent observation from guests. You call that idle land?”
“Mommy, that’s what the law says,” the lady almost sympathetically said, “it has to have a structure, a building, for it not to be called idle.” Because she called me “Mommy” and she was smiling, I had the guts to say, “Somebody ought to change that law. Ang idle land, nakatiwangwang, napapabayaan, hindi pinapakinabangan. Keeping the lot vacant was a deliberate decision for us. We wanted space, to plant vegetables and flowers and trees. We want our little house to breathe—unlike our neighbors, sagad sa pader ang mga bahay nila, hindi ba yun ang against the law? Tapos sisingilin nyo kami ng 262,000—why didn’t you tell us from the start? We could have erected a bahay-kubo there just to comply with the law’s requirements.”
“Mommy, hindi puwede bahay kubo, nabubuhat yon; it has to be a real, permanent building, concrete and livable, and it has to occupy 60 percent of the lot area.”Whaaaat? Now it’s a crime to want some space and grow trees to clean the air?
I didn’t argue. I didn’t pay either. I told her I’d consult a lawyer first to explain to me my obligations and rights as a taxpayer. Idle land tax, bah! And should my inquiry find me at fault, then fine, I am willing to be doubly taxed for the “idle land”—the 200 sqm of land that contains no man-made structure but only God-made wonders, the “empty” space which has given me countless hours of communing with the Creator, a home without roof and walls that gives me refuge that no palace can match. Yes, why not, I’ll keep the lot idle and face the tax attacks. For in its very idleness resides its usefulness. And that’s the truth.