PGTW: BIR’s controversial ad



POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 6 March 2014, Thursday

BIR’s controversial ad

By now everyone has seen the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s March 2 print advertisement that shows a woman in a white lab coat straddling a woman with a piece of chalk in her hand.

The ad copy shows the income of a doctor and a teacher. The former did not pay taxes while the latter did. At the bottom, the ad declares, “When you don’t pay your taxes, you’re a burden to those who do.”

The Philippine Medical Association is up in arms over this “unfair” depiction of doctors. In an open letter posted on his Facebook page, PMA President Leo Olarte (who is both a physician and a lawyer) said “the callous categorization of the BIR of medical professionals as tax evaders is both contemptuous and distasteful.

“There is no justice to the saying, ‘the end justifies the means’. If BIR wants to collect more taxes, this is not the way to do it.”

At least two senators have registered their criticism of the ad. Antonio Trillanes IV called it a “publicity gimmick” that Henares is resorting to “because she is running out of more effective ideas to improve tax collection.” Francis Escudero remarked that the ad should be revised to “avoid stereotyping and to make it less offensive.”

The ad employs shaming, a social mechanism that regulates the activities of individuals or group and enforces conformance to established social or cultural norms; it is also a leveling mechanism that ensures social equality.

Guilt and shame have powerful effects on behavior, and this was precisely what Henares had in mind when she approved the series of ads. “If you’re paying the right taxes,” she said in a recent TV interview, “then it’s not alluding to you. If you’re not paying the right taxes then it’s talking to you.”

However, what Henares seems to have overlooked is that in the Philippines, “shame” translates to hiya, and the campaign is namamahiya. Hiya has deeper nuances of meaning than in the West, because it involves the loss of face and casts a deliberate insult – certainly not the best way to promote a positive change in behavior.

Any communication scholar and advertising person will tell you that it is the hardest thing to plan a communication campaign that will bring about behavioral change, especially when it involves sensitive and controversial issues, such as taxpaying.

Taxes are a controversial issue because the average employee is already groaning under the burden of taxes and lamenting their meager take-home pay. Everyone hates the idea of the government taking their money especially after the pork barrel fund scandal broke, because no one wants their hard-earned money to line the pockets of greedy politicians and facilitators like Janet Napoles and her ilk.

No one wants any exemptions to the law, either, because that would be unfair.

As expected, the issue has exploded in social media, with both sides having their defenders. On the one hand, doctors decry the negative depiction of their profession while on the other there are commenters who say it is only right that everyone should pay their taxes. Some have even said that when they pay their doctors for consultation or such services, they were not given receipts.

Doctors in general, said Olarte, are not shirking the payment of taxes. “It is the obligation,” he said, “of all Filipino citizens to pay the right taxes. A good proportion of doctors do pay the correct taxes. I do not see the BIR acknowledging and praising these individuals. If a few individuals are falling short of what is expected of them, it cannot be used to make a sweeping statement and smear the name of the medical profession.”

At the moment, Henares seems pleased with the reactions to the ad and its no-holds-barred position. “The BIR is 100-plus years old. We have always been approaching taxpayers with love for 100 years. Has it ever gotten the country anywhere?”

This tussle between the BIR and the PMA is like an interesting tennis match. Both sides have made their point. What remains to be seen is whether the ad will be effective. Henares will know soon enough – after April 15, in fact.


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