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The Philippines' chief tax collector is constantly thinking about targets. Sometimes she picks up an assault rifle and hits them.
The Philippines' chief tax collector is constantly thinking about targets. Sometimes she picks up an assault rifle and hits them.

Tax chief aims to collect from Filipino dodgers

Kim Henares was appointed commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) because president Benigno Aquino wanted a tough tax sheriff - and he got one.

MANILA // The Philippines' chief tax collector is constantly thinking about targets. Sometimes she picks up an assault rifle and hits them.

In July 2010, the newly elected president, Benigno Aquino, made Kim Henares commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) because he wanted a tough tax sheriff - and he got one who's taking aim at the country's legion of tax cheats.

Mr Aquino gave Ms Henares presidential guards, but the lawyer and accountant said: "I should know how to shoot their guns, just in case".

Her no-nonsense approach appears to be helping pull in more tax, which is pivotal to meeting a government goal - getting rating agencies to award the Philippines investment-grade status.

Historically, tax collection has sometimes been a "let's make a deal" game between taxpayers and bribable officials.

Ms Henares, 52, BIR's deputy commissioner from 2003 to 2005, has been chasing evaders and crooked bureaucrats to clean up the image of the bureau, perceived to be one of the country's most corrupt institutions.

She is also trying to make taxpaying synonymous with patriotism. The chief, who amended BIR's vision statement to call it a partner in nation-building, makes sure her staff attend weekly flag-raising ceremonies. She often wears a T-shirt sporting BIR's 2012 slogan: "I love Philippines. I pay taxes."

Her approach isn't just touchy-feely.

"We are changing ourselves from being primarily a customer service institution to a law enforcement institution," said Ms Henares. "We were collecting taxes at the pace the taxpayer dictates."

Now, the bureau, which collects nearly 70 per cent of all government revenue, is taking the initiative, and it wants taxpayers to be afraid of ignoring laws. "If you look at the psyche of the Filipino, if you do not put fear in them they will not obey," she said.

Ms Henares, when promoted, revived a BIR campaign to catch cheats and promised no let-up.

She quickly filed her first case, against a pawnshop chain owner who bought a Lamborghini for 26 million pesos (Dh10.8m) during a year in which he and his wife allegedly did not pay tax. The case is pending in a tax-appeal court, with the accused out on bail.

The cases filed at the department of justice can lead to arrests, but only a court can convict. To date, only five tax cheats have been convicted.

While Henares may have to wait years to get her first criminal conviction, she has filed 135 evasion cases so far. They include a 120 million peso suit against an impeached supreme court chief justice and a 5.5 billion peso claim against a billionaire businessman.

"I take pride in all the cases we file, they are fully backed by data and evidence," said Ms Henares.

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