How the BIR drove me insane during my 2014 income tax filing

Last week marked the most aggravating income tax filing I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing. The Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) implemented an electronic filing system supposedly to streamline services. Good in theory. Too bad it sucks.

I was done with my income tax return (Form 1701 for professionals and self-employed individuals) since mid-March. There are several reasons for this:

  1. I hate rushing.
  2. I only have two steady clients.
  3. I take the 40% optional standard deduction over the itemized deductions.

All this adds up to a really simple income tax return. But because of the rushed roll-out and the lousy infrastructure, the BIR’s eBIRForms  setup resulted in even MORE wasted time and effort. But how much time and effort?

NO, it is NOT that simple
NO, it is NOT that simple

I completed my tax return using the offline eBIRForms software package and printed three copies for manual filing. This is what I did for my previous 2251M (monthly percentage tax) and 1701Q (quarterly income tax) forms. The messenger for our family business was going to file my return along with my February 2015 2251M in RDO 52, except that the BIR refused to accept my tax return because it was a manual filing. I was supposed to register with the online eBIRForms website and file the return online. Okay, fair enough.

  1. Register with the online eBIRForms – done!
  2. Use the offline eBIRForms software to export my tax return to an XML file for upload to the online portal – done!
  3. Upload the XML file to the online portal – WAIT!

No matter how many re-export + uninstall-reinstall combos I did, the exported XML file was corrupt. No, the irony was not lost on me.

I had to wait until the second week of April to do the filing myself because you know, I was busy doing my job. A pro tip when visiting your RDO: get queue numbers for the line you think you should be in and for the Officer of the Day. The line to talk to the Officer of the Day usually goes fast – or at least faster than the lines for actual transactions – so you’ll get to double-check your documents with the OD before you get to the head of the transaction line.

I was ready to duke it out with the OD using non-stop arguments that they HAD to let me file my return manually because their software was buggy. Instead, my consultation with the OD left me speechless for several seconds. The BIR staff, or at least the ones in RDO 52, knew that the software was busted! As per the OD, the exported XML file for Form 1701 is corrupt because they “hadn’t finished” the form in the software. AND YOU DID NOT TELL PEOPLE THIS WHY?!?! They told me to print out the confirmation email from registering to the online eBIRForms site and attach it to my documents so that they’ll accept my manual filing.

Keeping frustration on the outside
How I felt like on the inside. Photo used under a CC-Attribution license.

Needless to say, I didn’t have a copy of that confirmation email on hand so I had to hunt for a nearby internet cafe. Thank you BIR security guard and the guard at the nearby pawnshop! When I went back to file at 12:15pm, the staff in the ITR receiving section were out to lunch! When I caught someone about to leave, he told me to wait for them to come back at 1pm.

Me: “Di ba may ‘No Noon Break’ policy?” [Isn’t there a ‘no noon break’ policy?]
BIR Employee With No Respect for Taxpayers: “Sa States lang yan kasi mga robot sila. Di pwedeng ganyan sa Pilipinas.” [That (policy) only applies to the United States because they’re robots. That can’t be done in the Philippines.]

WTF WAS THAT?!?! The “No Noon Break” policy means that you guys take turns eating lunch so that your desks are never unmanned! The guy had the gall to tell me to go out and eat lunch and come back later. Aww hell no! I skipped my lunch so that I could be the first to file when they came back.

I breathed a sigh of relief when another BIR employee finally accepted my manual filing. I found out much later that I breathed too soon. When I submitted my returns, the BIR guy removed the attached 2307 (certificate of tax withheld) forms, saying that they “weren’t needed”. I found that really weird because you attach the 2307 forms to all of the tax returns you submit as proof that you’ve already paid tax on your income. What the guy didn’t say was that the hardcopies of the 2307s weren’t needed because you are required to submit scanned softcopies on DVD! *headdesk headdesk headdesk*

I want to be a good citizen and pay the “correct” taxes as mandated by the law (whether the existing tax rate is fair is another topic entirely). I really, really, REALLY do. But how the heck am I supposed to do that when the BIR makes it so damned hard?! And bonus: the March 2551M, 2551Q, and 1st quarter 1701Q are due on April 20.

Book review: “The Hangman’s Revolution” by Eoin Colfer

hangman's revolution coverI’ll say this right now: The Hangman’s Revolution by Eoin Colfer, the second book in the WARP series, is the most enjoyable book I’ve read so far this 2014. (Whether that holds after The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan comes out tomorrow is another matter entirely. But I digress.)

Colfer hits another winner as The Hangman’s Revolution is even better than last year’s The Reluctant Assassin. It’s more fun, more action-packed, and an even better and tighter story overall.

The synopsis from the book jacket:

“Chevron Savano, a seventeen-year-old FBI agent not known for obeying the rules, has arrived home after a time-trip to Victorian London, where she helped an orphan boy named Riley escape his murderous master. Present-day London is very different from the one she left. England is being run by followers of a Colonel Box, who control the territory through intimidation and terror. Chevie is absorbed by this timeline and cannot remember fully the history she once belonged to. Though a part of her senses that something is wrong, she moves on with her life as a junior cadet in the Boxite police.

The day Chevie is ordered to confront Professor Charles Smart, the inventor of the time machine, she finds herself thrust into the past. There, with the help of Riley and a few unlikely allies, she must venture into London’s catacombs and derail the plans of the charismatic leader who is intent on using his knowledge of the future to seize power.”

[I have no problems with this synopsis because it’s accurate and gives a great overview of the overall story arc.]

Reasons why I’m so happy with this book:
1. Chevie is still awesome. Riley is still awesome. I love them both. Riley’s still haunted by his memories of Garrick but he doesn’t let that stop him from training to become the best magician he can be. He’s now the proud owner and headliner of The Orient and is determined to make a name for himself. In the meantime, Chevie’s not right in the head (having two sets of conflicting personalities and memories will do that to a person) but she still manages to literally kick some Thundercat ass.

2. Dumping FBI Chevie into Cadet Chevie’s body and having both personalities and memories duke it out for supremacy was a great plot point. I haven’t seen this consequence of time travel in recent books and movies, as they all just have the original personality take over the current body (e.g. Wolverine in X-Men: Days of Future Past as he wakes up in the new present where everyone is not dead). Seeing this tackled in The Hangman’s Revolution was a nice surprise. The plot point was also handled and written very well. You can feel Cadet Chevie’s confusion and desperation to silence Traitor (FBI) Chevie and FBI Chevie struggling to overcome Cadet Chevie’s ingrained fear of Colonel Box.

3. Colonel Clayton Box is a worthy successor to Albert Garrick’s villain mantle. A sociopath with an analytical mind, Colonel Box is willing to do whatever it takes to shape the world in his own image. If that includes genocide with some coup d’etat on then so be it.

4. The new characters of Thundercats Clover Vallicose and Lunka Witmeyer are pretty darned interesting. Colfer skirts that delicate edge between amusing caricature and annoying caricature with great success.

5. Chevie’s determination at the end of the book was especially poignant. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but is taking things one disaster at a time.

The (few) slightly negative things that I spotted:
1. The Hangman’s Revolution has minimal “this is what happened in the previous book” exposition. Now, whether this is actually a good thing or a bad thing is entirely depended on whether you read The Reluctant Assassin or not. Truth be told, I’d forgotten some of the details from Assassin so I had to Google and remind myself of some of the previous story points that Riley or Chevie mentioned. Bottom line: The Reluctant Assassin is required reading if you want to understand The Hangman’s Revolution.

2. The plot “twist” as to who Box’s inside man was was just okay. Colfer tried to play it off as a big surprise but I didn’t care that much about it.

3. While the Sisters were somewhere between amusing and annoying, Otto Malarkey steps over the edge and into annoying territory. While it wasn’t enough to stop me from reading the book, he does become grating at times, especially when he becomes especially grandiose. I’m not sure if Colfer meant for him to be annoying or annoying-endearing. He does have his redeeming scenes – like when he distracts the Boxites so Riley can get away – but he’s still annoying.

Overall rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars. Yes, my dislike of Otto Malarkey merits 0.25 stars. But otherwise, the book is excellent and worthy of every bit of time spent reading it 😀

WARP #2: The Hangman’s Revolution by Eoin Colfer is available from The Book Depository.

What’s in my summer bag

It’s summer! Summer! My favorite time of the year! A time to dream of the beach, get to the beach, swim in the ocean, and everything else that comes after 😀 As a proud veteran of 6+ years of island living, I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the art of packing for the beach 🙂 So here goes: what’s in my (waterproof) gear bag for Summer 2014!

Clockwise from top left:

theislandergirl gearbag_small

Dry Pak waterproof pouch – essential for all electronics. The pouch is padded so it floats when dropped in the water (awesome!). The yellow sealing clip makes it easy to spot too. Comes with a lanyard and a carabiner. You can still use your phone through the pouch (only a very slight muffling of the sound) though using a touchscreen takes some practice. Good thing I use a Blackberry Q10 then 😛

Aquazorb travel towel – superior water-absorbing capabilities at the fraction of the weight of a regular terrycloth towel

Panasonic Lumix TS4 camera – 12 megapixels, waterproof up to 12 meters, shockproof up to 5 feet, and dustproof. Easy to use too. The default “Underwater” white balance setting is excellent in shallow water though it does lose something as you go deeper. But since I use this mainly for beach and snorkeling photos versus a Canon S95 with Ikelite underwater housing for diving photos, it’s all good. This camera has seen action in Orlando, El Nido, Leyte, and La Union. And remember the #1 rule of traveling: take only pictures! 😀

VMV Hypoallergenics Armada Sport 70 sunblock – the best sunscreen you’ll ever use. Excellent protection from UVA and UVB rays, easy to apply, absorbs easily into the skin, no greasy feeling afterwards, and no smell so you can also apply it to your face. I’ve used this for the past 5 years and have no regrets.

VMV Hypoallergenics Essence Skin-Saving Milk Conditioner – something for after the beach. I have sensitive skin so I can’t use just any shampoo or conditioner since whatever I apply to my hair will eventually end up on my face as it washes off when I shower. I love this conditioner because it makes my hair all smooth and shiny and doesn’t cause my face to break out.

O’Neill Superkini – my favorite bikini ever. I have this one plus another Superkini in teal. It’s made of Nanofront fabric that develops 200% more grip between the suit and your skin when wet. Read my full review.

Rusty boardshorts – top tip: shop for boardshorts in SM’s Surplus Shop. They stock brands like Roxy, Volcom, O’Neill, and Rusty but selling at much lower prices compared to other retailers.

Not included in the photo are my Fluidsurf rashguards (Filipino brand, great quality, good price compared to rashguards from Billabong and Roxy) and Flopeds filpflops (the best flipflops ever IMHO).

I brought all the gear described to San Juan, La Union last April and they worked perfectly. I’ll also be bringing the same gear to El Nido and Sagay, Negros Oriental in June when I help MSI in the training of DENR personnel. Yay for thorough field testing 😀

Book review: “The Vintage Caper” and “The Marseille Caper” by Peter Mayle

At last, non-academic reading! I finally submitted my master’s thesis last April 8 (more on that in a separate post) and after several months, I had enough time to savor reading for fun. The occasional fanfiction chapter is a pick-me-up, but somehow not as satisfying as sitting down and reading a novel. Novels that were gathering dust in my do-read pile that I’ve since finished (huzzah!):

Star Wars X-Wing: Mercy Kill by Aaron Allston
Unnatural Creatures, a short story collection curated by Neil Gaiman (he also wrote the foreword)
The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle

This post is a review of The Vintage Caper and its sequel The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle. I got The Vintage Caper during Fully Booked‘s atrium sale last October but only got the chance to read it a few days ago. The Marseille Caper I got via e-book. Peter Mayle’s been one of my favorite writers ever since I read A Dog’s Life way back in high school so I had high expectations for his two newest books.

The Vintage Caper stars Sam Levitt, a former corporate lawyer turned crook turned white-collar crime consultant. He’s hired by ex-girlfriend Elena Morales of Knox Insurance to track down bottles of premiere wine and champagne worth $3 million that were stolen from their client, entertainment lawyer Danny Roth. The wine chase leads him to Paris, Bordeaux, and eventually to Marseille, France and the home of the possible thief.

The Marseille Caper starts immediately after The Vintage Caper. How immediately? The first chapter of TMC is basically a continuation of the last chapter of TVC. Sam finds himself back in Marseille with an unexpected partner. He must convince a group of bureaucrats to approve his partner’s business proposal while dodging the shenanigans caused by an unscrupulous rival.


Review of The Vintage Caper:

peter mayle - vintage caper2A cute and funny read but not up to the standards of Mayle’s previous books. The Vintage Caper features a great lineup of characters. Sam Levitt is a likeable protagonist, as are his supporting cast of Sophie (his contact in Bordeaux) and Philippe (a journalist). Even the thief is likeable! You’ll end up siding with him instead of the egotistical Danny Roth. Mayle also does an excellent job of setting up the locations such that Paris, Bordeaux, and Marseille  become characters in their own right. His writing makes you feel as if you’re right there with Sam, eating spectacular food and drinking Petrus. The gratuitous vintage-dropping was lost on non-wine enthusiast me but it also served the purpose of setting the tone of the book.

So what’s the downside to the book? That would be the souffle-light plot that holds this book together. It’s rather simplistic and silly, even with the twist at the end. It definitely lives up to the definition of “caper”. It feels more appropriate to call TVC a novella instead of a novel.

Rating: 3/5 stars. Epitome of the summer beach read, best enjoyed in the shade with something alcoholic in hand.

Review of The Marseille Caper:

peter mayle - marseilles caperThe Marseille Caper fares much better compared to TVC. Everything that made TVC worth reading is also in TMC – the characters, the setting, and the breezy writing style – but amped up. It’s a more satisfying and substantial read. Lots of food and wine porn but that’s to be expected.There’s no whodunnit element so it avoids that pitfall.

However, make no mistake: this book is still light, fluffy, and is held together by copious amounts of rosé. The plot is pretty straightforward – Sam has to fool a bunch of people – but that’s it. The villains are inept, Sam triumphs over them, the end. As long as you’re not expecting a “serious” book about the hero outsmarting the villain, it’s all good.

Rating: 3.5/stars. Better than its predecessor but it’s not as if that was a difficult standard to beat.

The third book in the series The Corsican Caper will be released in May 2014.

The O’Neill Superkini – the island girl’s best friend

I stumbled upon the O’Neill Superkini when I was browsing through the main R.O.X. branch in Bonifacio High Street. I knew I wanted a new swimsuit – just “wanted” because my trusty Speedo suit was still in excellent shape and didn’t need replacing – but didn’t have anything in particular in mind. There I was, walking among the racks of suits and idly pulling out the ones that caught my eye when I spotted a small sign in the O’Neill section that just said “Introducing the Superkini”. Okay, catchy name that one. Checked out the information tag. Non-slip Nanofront fabric that develops 200% more grip between your skin and the suit when wet compared to ordinary Lycra? Sold! Well, not quite that fast. I Googled and looked it up (never heard of it before!) and boom! I wanted the Superkini. I wanted it so much that I ended up getting two of them – black and striped one from the O’Neill online shop (it was on sale and my balikbayan aunt and uncle brought it home for me) and the teal one from R.O.X.

superkini flat

The verdict after more than a year of swimming, snorkeling, diving, and surfing? The O’Neill Superkini is officially the Islander Girl’s best friend.

macy1_edited
Loving my Superkini!

Okay, so I only had my first-ever surfing lessons last weekend in La Union (which deserves its own blog post!) but I did swim and snorkel regularly in El Nido and El Nido’s waves can get a bit rough at times. I’ve also been the unfortunate victim of a bikini top that slid up when I jumped in the water. I tested the Superkini by doing what their models did – I jumped in and the suit stayed put! Huzzah! I’ve also tested it by swimming straight into incoming waves and feeling them crash over me. The Superkini felt so comfortable and so lightweight – like a second skin even – that during its first field test, my frantic brain insisted that I peek every five minutes to check if the suit was still there. Ironic that a suit that was designed to give me piece of mind made me even more anxious because it worked too well 😛 Luckily, my brain quieted down after the first few field tests as the suit proved itself. I also wore it when I went surfing but can’t say how it fared because I covered it with a rash guard to protect against myself against scratches.

superkini hanging to dry
Hanging out to dry

The only downside I can think of is the price. It’s definitely more expensive compared to other bikinis, as it’s easily about twice what a non-branded bikini would cost. I had no guilty feelings about the black suit because I got it during the O’Neill clearance sale. In comparison, I turned away when the ROX cashier swiped my credit card to pay for the teal suit. I kept telling myself that these will be my bikinis for at least the next three years. Based on the minimal wear and tear even after sitting on a banca, there’s a good chance that this will be true.

The verdict? The O’Neill Superkini is my favorite bikini and it’s absolutely worth the price I paid for it. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to switch to a different one. Incidentally, the black design is part of the 2012 collection (hence why it was on sale) so I’m not sure if it’s still available. Call me picky, but I didn’t like the 2013 prints. The 2014 print is a nice combination of purple and pink and looks cute.

My horrible customer service experience with VMV Hypoallergenics

Disclaimers before this post:
1. I love VMV Hypoallergenics‘ products. Theirs is the only sunblock I use. They produce the only makeup I can use. Love their hair conditioner and moisturizing milk lotion too. So I’m writing this because while their products are fantastic and worth every peso, bad customer service can happen anywhere.

2. This has been settled. They apologized and gave me a certificate for a free facial BUT STILL. This experience needs to be told so that there’s a record of this event. Hopefully it doesn’t happen ever again.

The situation:
Late December 2013, I placed two separate orders in VMV Hypoallergenics Philippines’ online store. I placed two orders because the 2nd item I ordered (Armada Face and Body Shield 60 sunblock) wasn’t available the first time around. My first order of the Armada Sport 70 sunblock arrived in January 2014 but the Shield 60 did not. I called the VMV office and after their CS agent checked, found out that 1) both orders were accidentally tagged with the same shipping number, resulting in my second order being classified as “shipped” even though it was not, and 2) the Shield 60 was already out of stock again. Okay, no problem with that. Slip-ups happen occasionally. I asked for a refund for the Shield 60 since I’d changed my mind and wanted to get the Face Cover 30 instead. Here comes the shitty part.

VMV refund

As you can see in the email notification, VMV’s customer service unit recorded my request for refund on January 8. The email said the refund would take 2-4 weeks, although the agent on the phone said that it would actually take 4-6 weeks. She said this was an issue with their payment gateway. Okay, fine. Well, not exactly fine since it meant waiting for 4-6 weeks to get my refund but what can you do, right?

Come February 3, I still hadn’t received the refund. I call VMV’s customer service again. Their agent said that they’d prioritize it.

I call again on February 14 to follow up. The agent apologized, said she’d call me back within the day. She never did.

Come February 18, I was royally pissed already. I called VMV again to follow up. Their agent was useless, didn’t give me a straight answer as to why I hadn’t received it yet. I post and tweet pissed-off messages on the official VMV Hypoallergenics Philippines Facebook page and Twitter. These posts get me very apologetic replies within a few hours. The same agent says that the refund request was submitted to their payment gateway last February 14 (HUWAW, February 14 lang?!) and that I should get the refund by next week. She also offered me a coupon for 25% off and a free yacht bag as an apology.

By February 28, I still hadn’t received the refund!!! I called BPI to check if they’d received the refund request. The BPI agent said that she couldn’t check the status from where she was. She could only see if it had been reflected in my account and no, I hadn’t received it yet. Cue ANOTHER angry Facebook post. They replied via Facebook, said that BPI said that there’s usually a 5-7 day wait then a charge slip is issued to authorize the charge reversal. By my count, if they’d submitted the refund request by February 18, then the 7-working day deadline was February 27. Adrianne, the head of the web team for VMV, called me to apologize again and said that if BPI still has not reflected the refund by next week, then she’ll submit a request to her superiors to authorize a cash refund instead. She also said that VMV was offering me a certificate for a free facial for the hassle and apologized again (Adrianne sounded sincere and I like her more than the previous CS agent I talked to).

I finally got my refund on March 6 after two freaking months. Texted Adrianne to tell her that I got the refund. She called, said that she was glad that I got the refund and that the offer for the free facial was still open. I accepted it (heck, I went through all that trouble so why not accept it?) and the certificate arrived in the mail last March 8.

vmv certificate1

Moral of the story? Keep following up with companies. Seriously. It pains me that this happened with VMV Hypoallergenics, a company whose products I actually love (perhaps I shall post a nice story about their awesomesauce skincare products when I get the time). I placed orders after after the second one and they all arrived complete and on time, so it looks like this fiasco was a very unusual occurrence. Hopefully it stays that way.

My Shopping Box versus Johnny Air Cargo – the ultimate comparison chart

Online shopping addicts in the Philippines usually have two go-to freight forwarders for their precious hauls: My Shopping Box and Johnny Air Cargo.These companies offer the same services: they accept your packages in the US then forward them to you here in the Philippines. But which company offers the better value? Let’s find out through the My Shopping Box versus Johnny Air Cargo ultimate comparison chart!

*Note: The MSB info comes from their website. The JAC info was given to me by their representative, Ms. Analyn, via email.

SERVICES AND CHARGESMy Shopping Box (MSB)
Johnny Air Cargo (JAC)
Airfreight Class 1
(Clothes, shoes, toys, books, kitchen appliances, sporting goods, etc.)
$5.99/lb$5.99/lb (Metro Manila)
$6.49/lb (Provincial)
Airfreight Class 2
(consumer electronics, costume jewelry and accessories, designer handbags, electrical spare parts, precision instruments)
$8.50/lb$6.50/lb (Metro Manila)
$7.00/lb (Provincial)
Sea freight
(all allowed products)
$2.50/lb

All fragile electrical devices packed below 30 lbs chargeable weight with additional charge of $1.25/lb based on chargeable weight.

All items >30 lbs are considered “oversized”, with extra charge of 30% of the chargeable weight
none
Minimum shipping chargenone2 lbs
Extra feesnone$50 per laptop
$25 per electronic item (tablets, e-readers, mp3 player, phone)
$25 per other item worth $500 and above
Fixed fees$25 annual subscription fee$5 per shipment
ConsolidationNone. Packages are individually tagged and tracked even if they arrive on the same dayNone, unless the packages arrive at their office on the same day
Storage15 days free of charge, $0.20/lb/day afterwardsNone. Items are shipped as soon as they arrive in their office
Door-to-door deliveryIncluded in the shipping feeAdditional charge of $5-$20. Shipping fee only includes pickup at JAC branches.
Delivery time for air freight10-12 days from their California warehouse to Manila (as per MSB)

My previous order timeline:
Oct 19: arrival at MSB California warehouse
Oct 22: scanned into MSB system, authorized shipment
Oct 31: delivery to Manila address
5 to 7 days from New York office to Manila (as per JAC)

My previous order timeline:
Jan 2: arrival at JAC New Jersey office, transfer to New York office
Jan 7: shipped from JAC NY office
Jan 15: arrival in JAC Makati branch for pickup
PaymentOnline via credit card when you authorize the shipment from their warehouseCash or credit card upon pickup at JAC branch. Charges are converted at the airline rate on the day you pick it up + 12% VAT
Ongoing promos (as of November 2013)Free annual subscription when you sign up using Globe GCash American Express Virtual Pay or BDO Credit CardThe JAC website says they offer provincial door-to-door shipping for only $5 extra but Analyn didn't mention this in her email.

Another thing to remember: the per pound shipping cost refers to chargeable shipping weight. “Chargeable shipping weight” can either be 1) the actual weight of the item or 2) the volumetric weight, whichever is larger. Volumetric weight is calculated using LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT (in inches) of the package ÷ 166. In short, a heavy book will likely be charged according to its actual weight while a stuffed toy will be charged according to the volumetric weight. If there’s a difference between the weight indicated in your package tracking information and the weight calculated by MBS and JAC, that’s because USPS, FedEx, and UPS usually display the actual weight of the package and not the volumetric weight.

Which company is for you? I’ve tried both companies and didn’t have any trouble with either of them, though it was only one shipment per company. Just take the time to calculate at least a rough figure for the shipping cost to prevent any nasty surprises when the bill comes.