Friday, February 04, 2005

Revenues and expenditures of Aguinaldo government

Revenues and expenditures of Aguinaldo government

Posted 01:22am (Mla time) Feb 04, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the February 4, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

SOME readers have sent appreciative e-mail regarding the way this column makes history relevant by connecting it to current events. I wish some of my critics feel the same way, particularly the constipated ones who told me directly that this column could be better used to comment on current social issues. Writing history, they say, is like aping an ostrich that hides its head in the sand but leaves its body in full view. When I replied that the past can also be a way of addressing the present as well as the uncertain future, they countered that I wrote in a colonial language, English, and that my columns hardly deal with the masses or women, sectors that are marginalized both in the present and in the past.

Perhaps my view of history is skewed because of the primary sources that are often written by men for men. I envy novelists who are not limited by the documents and have license to use the imagination freely to develop a story.

Today being the 106th anniversary of the beginning of the Filipino-American War, I tried to find something new by browsing over the hefty volumes of "The Philippine Insurrection against the United States," these being a mass of documents compiled by J.R.M. Taylor at the turn of the last century. It is the second time that the commemoration is being held in Manila, after the marker and the site were moved from San Juan Bridge last year. I have covered and used most of the material on the first shot fired in 1899 that resulted in the ratification of the 1898 Treaty of Paris and eventually the purchase of the Philippines by the United States from Spain -- land and people -- lock, stock, and barrel for $20 million.

Then serendipity struck again. One of the folded pages opened up to reveal the sources of revenue for the Emilio Aguinaldo government in 1898 as reported from the provinces of Pampanga and Pangasinan. This may be stale data now, but in the light of the current debates on value-added tax (VAT) the material gains some significance, at least for me.

I didn't really mind the progress of the VAT bill in Congress until they exempted doctors and lawyers. That made me see red, but that wasn't as bad as imposing VAT on books. You would think that books and book paper should be considered basic commodities like rice and exempted, but the desire to bring in more revenue for the government overrides the more important task of forming better citizens through reading. Some people in the finance department and Congress should be forced to view that arresting National Bookstore advertisement on investing in your mind. This shows a man spending money and time in a gym resulting in a buff body but a small mind. Maybe the exemptions should be restudied and books considered nourishment for the mind as food and drink is for the body.

The long document of 1898 from Pampanga was more detailed than the one from Pangasinan, with two separate columns clearly stating income from taxes and the expenditures of government. The funds came from taxes -- direct, indirect, local, and "voluntary" (which in those days could be interpreted as a patriotic duty if voluntary and extortion if one was forced and thus gave reluctantly). General obligations of government covered salaries and supplies for government employees and offices. Obligations also covered prisons (both for criminals and for the Spanish prisoners of war) as well as "church servants," an allocation that today would raise howls about the separation of church and state.

Citizens paid some sort of direct tax, though it is not so clear what this is and how much was required. Perhaps it was a poll tax or “cedula.” What is interesting though is the breakdown for indirect taxes: civil suits, revenue from lands (confiscated) from the religious orders, rental from land and buildings, fines, and taxes on forestry products. Local taxes included carriage licenses, fees on the operation of slaughterhouses and public markets, and inscription of births, deaths, marriage contracts and marriage banns in the civil registry. Fees were collected for the ownership of large cattle, as well as personal and real property. Fishing rights were given out and became a source of revenue, the same as the operation of ferries. One half of a “centimo” [centavo] was charged for each pound of meat sold.

Expenses of the government were arranged according to department. Local headquarters meant salaries for personnel, office supplies, books and even "illumination," suggesting that offices were open till dark. Funds were allotted for communications, police, public health (supplies and salaries for “mediquillos”), military officers and public instruction (salaries for teachers of primary instruction of both sexes, supplies and rental of school houses). There seems to have been no budget for intermediate grades and college. Public works got money for construction and repair of buildings but none for roads and bridges. "Church servants" happened to be a bell-ringer and two singers for religious services.

Our budget today is more complicated and bigger than that of 1898, but the effort to balance the books and keep the government afloat remains a problem to be addressed annually.


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