Would you buy?

I was just walking at the downtown area just here in the city with my son, Jared too. We saw a kid (might be around 11-13 years old) coming towards us, as soon as he was a few feet from us. He opened his hands, inside his hand was a small box. I think he was really offering it for me thinking I’m the one that would pay if ever. When he opened the  box it shows a gold chain with pendant in it. It looks real. He was offering for me to buy the jewelry. I turned around and told him I’m not interested. I think he was shocked that I didn’t even try to see the jewelry and also I refused to buy the item. Immediately played in my head where did this kid get this nice piece of jewelry and offering around. Of course it went through my mind that, that piece of jewelry could be stolen, snatched or taken from the jewelry store. I don’t really know. Everything was just playing my head.

Street Vendors are common in the Philippines
Street Vendors are common in the Philippines

Just then a lady was looking at the kid and she seems interested. As soon as she got out from the bank the kid offered it to her. She was checking it and brought the kid to her car. She also had 3 other ladies inside the car and they were really checking the item. I think the first lady were negotiating with the kid. I just didn’t bother to checked them out. To be honest that really shocked me that she’s thinking of buying the item.

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While those people negotiating with the kid. I asked my son, Jared if he will buy any kind of items offered to him like that. He said immediately “No Way, I’m not buying anything like that, I’m not sure where those items comes from. It could be stolen or being snatched from somebody else. I don’t want to be involved with that kind of stuff”. Wow, that answers from my kid really made me happy.

That incident reminds me of what I witnessed in Manila almost a decade ago. I went there for a business. My friends brother (Jun) was my tour guide. He was taking me to the place for my meeting and other areas there that I needed to shop. Somewhere in Greenhills we were waiting for the stop light. Jun reminded me to be very careful with my purse and my cell phone. He told me to hugged tight my purse and put my cell phone away inside the secret pocket in my purse. Which I obliged. He knows Manila than I do. While waiting a teenager approached us and offered a cell phone. I didn’t even pay attention that much to the kid, plus I don’t intend to buy cell phone on the street. I guess Jun was asked by these kind of people a thousand times while his traveling the city. Just for me to see, and to proved to me why he said to be careful and pay attention. He asked the kid: Where’s the cell phone that that person was talking about? The teen’s lips pointed to the person just a few feet away from us. He said that cell phone. It was the newest phone model at that time. I guess what the kid would do, if we said yes he will snatched the cell phone and sell that to us. My mouthed just went wide open and my eyeballs just about to pop out hearing the kid. I said “What?”. I was gonna say some bad words. Jun knows that I’m like his sister will say what’s in our mind. He pinched my arm and his making a gesture for me to shut up. Which I did. Jun was scared those people might hurt us if ever I said too much.

Jun then turned towards me and said see what the snatcher will do here. That’s why you have to be very careful here. Just then I was thinking, why would people buy such items if offered to them that you know that those people took it from somebody else for you to have them? Are you not feeling guilty about it?

Anyway, just some thoughts. I know too that those kid will do anything out of desperation. Especially if living with irresponsible parents or other family members. Felt sorry for the kids, they were manipulated and used. Some are being force to do for them to have a better life and to have lots of stuff. Really as the saying goes in America “Just to keep up with the JONES or in the Philippines to keep up with the AYALA’S “. :-)

Cheers!!!

First Impressions of the States

So I’ve been here in the USA about 3 weeks or so now, and overall it’s been pretty cool, I’m not fully adjusted, but some things I’m somewhat used to now.

One of the first things I noticed when I got here, the traffic. I’m used to the controlled chaos of Philippine traffic with everyone being mere inches apart, aggressive driving, 2-lanes magically becoming 4 or more, and so on and so forth. Here, however, almost everyone is orderly and they know what to do and what not to do.

WowPhilippines Gift Delivery in the Philippines

They also have freeways here, which are cool, and the first time is kind of shocking because my Grandma was driving and she went from 25-30 mph to 60. At first it was kind of confusing, having to figure out how people know which exit to take, but now I think I got it figured out (and Google Maps helps out too, lol).

Welcome to AmericaIn the Philippines, there are certain car models that are everywhere, you see Civics, Vioses, Adventures, basically Hondas, Toyotas, Isuzus, Mitsubishis, there is barely any variety. Here, there’s a ton of variety, I’ve seen anything from really old ‘I’m surprised that’s still running’ cars, to really cool cars (mostly Mustangs, there are a ton of Mustangs), there are also a lot of trucks (pickups, mostly).

Another thing that impressed me was the convenience. In the Philippines, there are drive-thrus, a lot of fast food restaurants have them. When a Krispy Kreme in Davao opened up with a  drive-thru, it was news. Here, even banks have drive-thrus for their ATMs, that seemed cool.

When I came here, I brought a Cherry Mobile phone that wasn’t the greatest phone, but it did what I needed it to do while in the Philippines. Here, I got a new phone within 5 to 10 minutes of entering the AT&T shop and their employees were really nice and helpful. I got not just any phone, but a Samsung Galaxy S5, which is amazing. I’ve heard a ton of horror stories about the Philippine service providers, like being given the wrong phone even though the customer told them several times which phone they wanted.  No communication with the customer even when they told him/her to expect a call or text, you get the idea. The level of customer service is amazing.

Another thing is while the Philippines does have mobile internet, I’ve always found it finicky and slow, so I never used it, here it’s so simple and fast (faster than any internet speeds in the Philippines, I’d bet), so I’ve been using it while out and about.

I got an ID card recently, not a driver’s licence, just a state ID. We went to the place and it was so easy. At first it didn’t work out because I didn’t know my Social Security number, but thankfully I got it from my Dad real easily (and with the help of mobile internet), we walked back in and didn’t have to wait long, they gave me a temporary ID and the real one arrived about 2 weeks later. I don’t think there are any IDs in the Philippines you can get within 1 day.

There might be a few other things, but these are the things that I found amazing from day 2 (was too tired on day 1).

A Diplomatic Solution

“Who are these two people who are waiving their rights to the lot to Second Cousin’s mother in this document?” I asked my wife as I looked over the documents my wife had obtained from the municipal offices in Cortes, Bohol.  My wife went on to tell a tale that went back to the late 1970’s. My wife had lived in a house with her mom, dad, 4 brothers and 4 sisters. One night there was a terrible typhoon and a coconut tree fell and destroyed their home. The family escaped before the tree hit. I assumed that my wife told me this because Mama’s family decided they did not want to rebuild on the same land. I knew Mama’s family owned land on the other side of the main highway on a steep hill. I figured they traded for the good flat lot where Mama’s house now sits about 30 meters off the main road that was previously owned by the two sisters whose names were on the document in my hand. All parties in the trade were poor, so no legal document reflected the trade, but it was common knowledge that the trade had been made. Recently my wife was talking about the situation and said they had never lived on the other side of the road and that the land trade was made at or just before her birth in the early 1970’s. I guess she told the other story because it was more interesting. I left it in this article for the same reason. I figured if push came to shove the document would be legally considered null and void because Mama had as much a right to the land as Second Cousin’s mom. The problem is the land would legally revert to the two sisters that I had not known existed before seeing the document. There was some good news in the documents. We had receipts that showed my wife’s Papa had paid the real estate tax in 1998 and 1999. Other receipts showed Mama had paid the tax 4 years in the 2000’s. My thinking is that this was recognition between the Municipality of Cortes and Mama that she was owner of the lot, since a person does not pay tax on property they don’t own. My wife told me she and her older sister would go to Second Cousin’s mom in the morning to get her to agree to a survey and a division of the lot. We agreed it would be best if I did not attend this meeting.

Diplomatic Solution
Diplomatic Solution

My wife and her older sister returned from their meeting with good, bad and worse news. The good news was that it was agreed that the lot was to be divided. The bad news was that Second Cousin’s mom’s side of the family would not share in paying the surveyor. I already knew that we would be paying the bill. The worse news was that there was a third Lola who had an equal stake in the lot whose family had never used any of the lot. We had not been aware of her legal claim. We now had to get 3rd Lola on board and the lot needed to be divided 3 ways, so Mama was only entitled to only 1/3 of the lot.

Flowers from WowPhilippines

The next morning before it got too hot, my wife, her older sister, my two boys, and I walked to 3rd Lola’s house.  We walked past fairly substantial houses on the road that leads to the church. Then we walked on a path that could only be used for walking or riding a bike or motorcycle past very modest homes. The people living in these homes would look at jeepney and trike drivers as well to do. I thought to myself how many of these people could produce legal written documentation that they owned the land they lived on was it none, some, all. I honestly don’t know and I am not saying they were squatters. I just wondered about it because of what we were trying to accomplish. We walked about 15 minutes and arrived at 3rd Lola’s home.

Respect
Respect

Before entering 3rd Lola’s home I removed my leather sandals even though I was told I didn’t have to by a member of 3rd Lola’s family. The floor of her home was part cement and part earth. I walked to 3rd Lola a frail lady of about eighty years with a warm kind smile; I blessed her in the traditional Filipino way, the mano.  My 10 year old son followed my lead and blessed 3rd Lola. Then my 6 year old son did the same followed by my wife and her older sister. I don’t know if I have ever been prouder of my boys. Next my wife and her older sister talked in Bisayan with 3rd Lola and her family as I smiled still feeling really good about how my boys had shown proper respect to 3rd Lola, which is not just a Filipino thing, but a part of my Southern USA upbringing as well. After a fairly short discussion my wife looked at me and said, “It’s done.” We returned to Mama’s house the three Lolas were in agreement the land was to be divided 3 ways.

Want Some
Want Some

The next day the same diplomatic group embarked at 5:45 am to the home of a relative of the two sisters whose names were on the waiver that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. The two sisters had both moved to Manila many years ago. Our intent was to get their phone numbers, since they would need to sign off on the division of the lot. I was concerned about going to someone’s house that we really did not know unannounced at 6 am, but my concerns were relieved when we arrived. A voice boomed out, “Are you an American?” I said I was and we were welcome to a breakfast of dried fish, eggs, rice and coffee. My wife was astonished that I sat and ate the dried fish with rice and coffee. I have frequently complained about dried fish stinking up the house, but it actually does not taste bad. It just for me is not worth the smell. Diplomacy sometimes stinks. The Filipino man who called out to me had been working in Southern California for 20 years and just happened to be visiting his family when we came. My wife got the needed phone numbers and we were reassured that the two sisters would agree to the plan. We were invited to return with Mama and my wife’s eldest brother in the evening so we could sing karaoke. We accepted the invitation. We left made our calls and got verbal commitments from the two sisters to sign the legal document after it was prepared.

I always try to learn from my experiences. What I learned from this experience was that the people who hold the written legal title to a lot may not be the owners of the lot in the Philippines. The two sisters who live in Manila probably still have the written legal title to the lot Mama lives on, but they have not owned the land for over 40 years. Land has been bought, sold and traded sometimes with only a verbal contract and a handshake. If you want to buy land in the Philippines you need to be Filipino and then you better do your research and not just on a computer or at an office. I strongly advise you to go in person to talk to the people living on and near the land, because the people holding the written legal title to the land may not actually be the owners. That is just my advice based on my experience and as always you can take it or leave it. What do you think? I would very much like to learn from the thoughts and experiences of the readers of this site.  I will finish this series by explaining how we had the lot divided and made the division legally documented in my next article: A Land Divided.

A Mountain View

You know the feeling.  Every now and then, you just want a break from the norm, the routine, the day-to-day experiences and adventures that you’ve learned to master over your tenure as an island resident.

A higher calling of new adventure, new experiences, and “getting away for a while” can certainly be a powerful motivator.  This is especially true if your daily routine includes dealing with income taxes and other “desk-bound” drudgery.  So it was for Baket ko (Asawa ko) [my Wife] and me the other Wednesday.

th (13)Yes, Wednesday – “Hump Day” for working stiffs, when “making it over the hump” in the work week takes Priority One over all tasks awaiting their immediate attention in the “In Basket.” The perfect day for a break in the action, and feeling more like a human being than the labor troll that you had somehow turned into.  But, what to do?

ROAD TRIP! 

Over the past few years, your humble scribe has heard rumors of something exquisite; something out of the ordinary that’s also just very slightly off the beaten path of the National Highway.  Something that awaited that special moment in life when you’re only concern becomes “treating yourself” to something special for absolutely no reason at all.

Climbing into our vehicle of choice, dear wife and I quickly sped away from the overly familiar surroundings of home, heading north to the top of Luzon. Our destination?  The municipality of th (12)Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.  There, just to the east of the town proper, was our intended respite from things dull and mundane.  There, where “different” was a new experience for more than just one or two of the senses, was our immediate future – a restaurant.  And not just any restaurant, but a German restaurant. 

What the …? ” you may be asking yourselves at this point in time.  “A German restaurant in the northern reaches of Ilocos Norte?  Impossible!” the retorts sing out. Yes, a German restaurant with real home cooked German fare and accompanied by real German beer! And just a half hour’s pleasant drive from the house.

We easily found it – right where all of those rumors placed it. A beautiful, out of the hustle and bustle way location that begged for all passing by to stop in, relax, and enjoy life in a different way.  We obligingly did. Stepping away from our parked car and looking out from the restaurant to the other side of the road, was the restaurant’s namesake:  a beautiful Mountain View.

BergBlick

Meine Damen und Herren, BergBlick Willkommen!!!  (That’s pretty much pushing my linguistic talents to the edge of the envelope.)

DSC_0042The BergBlick Restaurant welcomes you, ladies and gentlemen, to a taste of the Old World with a little Ilocano twist. It’s name, truly, is German for Mountain View, and what a view of the mountain it has.

Of course, we didn’t come here just to take in the scenery. We came to eat, drink, and be merry; and we were not disappointed at all. But as the old saw says, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  I’ll provide just a few more printed words, and thousands of the virtual kind.

 

 

A quaint little place, like others on the outside, but a continent away on the inside. The iced tea was an organic green tea with a sprig of organic, home-grown mint.

Sharing a Caesar’s Salad for two, then on to the main course that we also shared – one of the house specialties, the “Sausage Feast.”

With dinner devoured and wisely leaving room for desert, what else could have been our choice of “sweets,” but Creme Brulee (and no sharing this time!).  The top was glazed at the table.

Following the meal, it was outside for me, to the front terrace for a little extra enjoyment.  Being rainy season in this part of Luzon, I was most happy to have a covered terrace to relax in and enjoy a half liter glass of Erdinger Weissbräu weibbier (wheat beer).

The service at the BergBlick is worthy of immense recognition and praise. The premises are spotless, as is customary back in the owner’s home of Munich. The staff and the owner find a way to periodically visit you during your meal to inquire about quality and your enjoyment without being overly intrusive, and they show true concern that your dining is a wonderful experience, well worth repeating.

RECOMMENDATION

Oh, the highest. We’re planning another road trip to Munich East within the next week or two, and we’re going to take friends along so that they can experience something exquisite and different from the humdrum, everyday routine.

If you find yourself in Luzon with a spirit of adventure and a taste for the Old Country, definitely visit the BergBlick Restaurant and sample the mix of Old World and Ilocano hospitality as well as the food and drink.  (I didn’t want to mention it, but the restaurant also serve wondering Ilocano cuisine; and foodstuffs are all organic and fresh.  I confess, I didn’t want to focus on anything outside of the German.)

WHAT THE FATCA ! ? !

We’re sure in the depths of tax season – deep in the season.  Yet, most of my “work” is taking place on the telephone and not at the computer keyboard.  Client tax information is only trickling in this year, with most looking to take advantage of the overseas automatic two-month extension of time to file their tax returns.

No, most of my work for the past few days has been answering the phone, answering the questions, and doing a lot of informal training and explaining to clients, soon-to-be clients, former clients looking for a graceful way to rejoin the client list, and even you, dear readers.

I don’t mind it one bit.  The gift of gab (and of Blarney – belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day) is one (or two) that I don’t mind sharing.  Make the topic tax-related, and overdrive, here we come. But the topic of choice these past few days has been near unanimous.  I’m talking about F.A.T.C.A.

F.A.T.C.A – What It Is

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, better known as F.A.T.C.A. – or for this article “FATCA” to speed up my keyboard poking a little bit – is the child of the 2010 Hiring Incentives to Restore th (9)Employment – or “HIRE” – Act.  Unlike its parent’s name, however, it’s proving to be more of a “disincentive” than any form of incentive that could possibly be related to restoring employment.

This two-pronged sword of economic justice has certain financial accounts and assets that are held in financial institutions outside of the United States as it’s reason for being. I say two-pronged because it’s wielded against the U.S. taxpayer and against the financial institutions outside of the U.S. that have U.S. taxpayers as customers. Both victims are prodded into compliance with the non-compliant being the target for draconian thrusts and slashes of its terribly sharp, uncaring blades.

All it really is can be simply called administrative reporting, for the most part, with a little tax implication for those who hold massive wealth outside of the U.S. and don’t report any of the income generated by that wealth in the form of interest, dividends, and royalties.  That’s all. The “disincentive” comes into play with the various, uncoordinated processes around the world to implement it.

FATCA – The Problem 

The problem with FATCA – the one that is giving your humble scribe cauliflower ear and hoarse voice – is its widespread misinterpretation and resulting error prone implementation around the world.  Plagued with swarms of complaints, the Treasury Department has started to issue letter containing the proper forms and instructions to U.S. taxpayers known to reside outside of the United States.  Still, Joe, Jane, Juan, and Precious Q. Taxpayer are confused, perplexed, and at their wits’ ends trying to comply.

th (10)Though signed into law some 5 years ago, it is only now being implemented in earnest. The reason for the delay can be found in both a desire by the Treasury Department and the IRS to avoid the snarled catastrophe that happened anyway with regard to a simple, easy implementation; and in those same departments and agencies not being prepared themselves to receive and process all of the Tetra-TerraBytes of information that they will be receiving annually for years to come from sources all across the globe.

The result?  One living overseas can see it up close and personal whenever they visit their neighborhood bank. The Philippines is no exception.  Each bank appears to have their own locally generated ideas of what the requirements are, who has what requirement to meet, and how the requirements are to be met.  Thus, for the fellow on the other end of the finger madly poking away at the virtual keyboard of his tablet, the telephone calls come.  The names and locations are different, but the reason for the calls is the same for each bending of the ear. The taxpayers are seeking sanity in an insane situation.

FATCA – What Is Required 

th (11)For U.S. taxpayers who have a Social Security Number as their U.S. Tax Identification Number (TIN), the requirement placed on them (as far as interactions with their “foreign financial institution” goes) is simply to provide their foreign financial institutions with their TIN. This is accomplished by completing and signing an IRS Form W-9, and delivering that form to their foreign financial institutions.  Simple, huh?

405057cd3165f65eeae1fe58bb585884370e2bd7_largeFor U.S. taxpayers who have an IRS provided Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) as their U.S. TIN, and for others who do not have a U.S. TIN at all, the requirement placed on them is simply to provide their foreign financial institutions with their TIN, as well.  They, however, accomplish this by completing and signing an IRS Form W-8BEN, and delivering that form to their foreign financial institutions.  See the difference?  Huh?  See it?

I’m sure that all of you, dear readers, see the difference.  Why is it that all of these financial institutions – the people you entrust with your hard-earned savings and other funds – cannot see it?  Not only the small difference, they appear blind to the entire requirement.

Horror stories of numerous forms and IDs, and go here and go there, and even one instruction to have everything notarized — they abound. Additionally, there are the threats of dire consequences if the procedures aren’t followed to the letter, and if that letter is a “T” or an “I,” it better be crossed or dotted.

Most often, the threat involves the immediate closing of the account, freezing its contents until after they’ve been officially audited and certified, and then a “clearance” period of “X” number of business days (holidays, official or otherwise do not count) before the funds can be released to the owner of the closed account.  “You are the owner, sir, are you not?”

FATCA – In Closing 

DSC_0008Yes, you are between a rock and a hard place, and yes it’s the rock you’ll find yourself having to deal with.  My advice, however, is just as simple as those requirements that I presented.  “Don’t worry, be happy.” Fully complete and sign your appropriate form and, with a smile on your face and a pleasant attitude being emitted from every pore of your body, deliver your form to your financial institution of choice, thank them for their service, and try very daintily to slip away.

DSC_0007If you encounter any difficulties with the staff, keep smiling while you firmly ask to speak with the branch or office manager.  Don’t settle for an assistant – you want to speak with the real deal.  When you do speak with the manager, let the manager know – through your smiling and pleasant demeanor – that you have fully complied with the requirements of FATCA, and that the financial institution will not be mandated by the IRS to withhold 30% of your interest income from your account, wire the withholding to the IRS, and file the additional report of noncompliance associated with that withholding.  All because you have complied in full with FATCA.

(I was going to provide a pleasant travelogue for this week’s article, but …… you know, it’s tax season.)