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A Tribute To Our Tax Collectors
 
By Elson T. Elizaga
 

In 2008, two of my aunts, my grandfather, and several people I know -- including a friend named Elson -- died one after the other, and life went on as usual in the bustling city of Cagayan de Oro.

But when businessmen organized passive resistance in October against the alleged “abusive and oppressive assessments” of regional director Mustapha Gandarosa of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), a semblance of deathly emptiness descended on almost the entire metropolis. Even Limketket Center became as desolate as Greenhills Memorial Park.

A column by Ramon Tulfo described the event as “a first” in Philippine history. But this appears to have a precedent centuries ago. A book by Dr. Antonio J. Montalvan II narrated that before the Spaniards came to Mindanao, the animist community in Himologan -- now Huluga -- was reluctantly giving tributes to a Maguindanao ruler named Bwisan, who apparently invented the first BIR in Mindanao.

In the Heritage Conservation Advocates egroup, I asked Montalvan if the root word of “buhis” and “buhisan” is “Bwisan”. He replied, “Probably, yes.”

Taxation by Bwisan was practiced by his descendants up until 1622, when the first Spanish missionaries arrived in Himologan. At that time, the director of the BIR was Sultan Kudarat.

In 1626, the Portuguese priest, Fr. Fray Agustin de San Pedro, who studied theology and military tactics in the University of Salamanca, convinced the residents of Himologan to migrate to the estuary of Cagayan River in the area now occupied by Gaston Park, City Hall, and St. Augustine Cathedral.

Here, the migrants were converted to Christianity. Their new fortress was repeatedly attacked by Kudarat’s warriors, but it held on under the leadership of Fray Agustin. Years passed and this area developed into what is now the center of Cagayan de Oro.

Last month, Cagayan de Oro businessmen made history by organizing “Sera Protesta”, a form of passive resistance against the BIR. Let me congratulate our entrepreneurs for this endeavor, and especially for exceeding their goal. Their plan was simply to oust director Gandarosa. Instead, Gandarosa claimed on TV that because of the protest, he was “promoted” to the position of chief of staff of the BIR commissioner in Manila.

As of this writing, however, Gandarosa has remained in his post because the letter he received from Finance Secretary Margarito Teves does not state the date of his transfer -- which indicates that Teves is not eager to have Gandarosa promoted, which explains why Gandarosa is not excited to accept his promotion.

This is confusing because, from articles I read about Gandarosa, he does have exceptional abilities, so I don’t see any reason why Teves should be vague. I hope Gandarosa is promoted to an office higher than the BIR. If he could be sent back to Saudi Arabia, that would better. The World Bank would be nice, too.

Meanwhile, the Mindanao Polytechnic State College (MPSC) might consider giving Gandarosa an honorary degree in public administration, partly to erase the bad image MPSC earned when it gave former mayor Vicente Yap Emano an honorary degree in humanities, even though Emano destroyed a huge portion of Huluga -- an act even our Maguindanao brothers failed to achieve.

This would certainly help promote MPSC to the status of a university, a long dream of the Mindanao people who want to get university diplomas -- even though we know it’s still best to have political connections in this country to get jobs, to get promoted, or to drive a bulldozer to a heritage site.

 
Published in Mindanews on November 11, 2008. Copyright © Elson T. Elizaga.