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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

Happiness & sadness!

When you’re reading this post my son Aaron is on his way traveling to the USA. He started his journey last night (Wednesday). He left Davao at 10:15 pm, and arrived in Manila at a little after midnight. He will be in Manila for a few hours, then he will be starting his journey to the USA today Thursday (today) here in the Philippines. He will be arriving in Portland, Oregon (Thursday there in that part of the world) almost 24 hours after he left Manila .

This trip, it all started almost 2 years ago. My mother-in-law got seriously ill. Aaron at that time was just a few months shy of his high school graduation. Part of his high school graduation gift, Bob and I decided on sending him to the USA to see his grandma and bond with her. When we talked to Aaron about our plan, we got a big “NO” from him. So Bob and I didn’t push him, we just dropped the subject, sort of mentioning once in awile. 6 months after, Aaron decided that he was ready. He told us that he wanted to visit his granny by June. He was just few months shy of his 17th birthday. So we gathered lots of his papers for the travel plan. We found out that there was so much stuff to do for him since he will be traveling alone and underage. When we went to some Philippine government agency for some paper work, Aaron got frustrated. As usual everything was so slow. Just to get something you will be standing in line for literary hours at a time.

The many faces of Aaron Martin
The many faces of Aaron Martin

He told us then that he wants to wait to travel after his 18th birthday. Less hassles. So after his 18th birthday, we then started gathering his papers. We went to Manila for his passport renewal from the US embassy. Apply some local paper work. Finally it was finished a few weeks ago. So we started looking for cheap tickets. We also thought that he will be traveling around the month of April or May. The tickets for April and May were much more expensive. When we tried to get good tickets, this week is really the best price ticket to travel already. Bob saw a cheap ticket a week or so ago. We thought that it will still be okay to wait. When we tried to book, it’s already full. Luckily we got another cheaper ticket. We got him a round trip ticket. He will be there for a little over 7 months. If he wants to extend he will try to re-book the ticket again for later return, which will incur a fee of course. I’m sure we will pay some for that. :-)

He is really excited to go and see his Granny. It’s been a few years since he last saw her. They already made plans on what to do there. They will be seeing Bob’s extended family there from different States. This will be a good memory maker for both of them to last Aaron a lifetime. We know he will be okay there. This is Aaron’s first time ever being away from us for a long time. It will be hard for all of us here at the house and him too. But it will be good for him to experience and start a new life away from us. I’m not worried about it because he is in good hands with his Granny being there for him. Thank you Mother for taking Aaron and loving him. Bob and I really appreciate that very much.

To you my dear Aaron: Enjoy your stay with your Granny. Have fun exploring the land that you were born and grow up with until the time we left. Enjoy bonding with your cousins and family there. Don’t forget to see the people that we used to hangout with there before. We love you so much son. It’s going to be hard on all of us but we are so happy for you at the same time. Tears are flowing already from me hon while writing this post. I love you forever and beyond.

Message from Dad: Aaron, have a wonderful trip!  This will be a big learning experience for you.  The learning will start right away as you embark on your first time traveling alone, and it will continue as you get reintroduced to the land of your birth.  I am sad to see you leaving, but I am also happy that you will go back to the USA and experience life there.  I am happy that you can have some time to re-connect with my culture and with my side of the family.  You are a good kid, and I love you dearly, son!  Bon voyage!

Heard ‘Round the Block

I’ll have to start with admitting out loud:  The Title Is Misleading.  Well, just a little bit. Here I am in my corner of paradise – a bucolic agricultural area, and I casually throw out the word “Block” for your eyes to catch.

mapOur house is right on the National Highway – a trail of many names:  “Maharlika Highway” (my all-time favorite), “Pan-Philippine Highway,” “Manila North Highway” (don’t know how that one got onto the road map – we’re closer to Taiwan than we are Manila), and the latest and greatest in road identification, “Highway A26.”

The point here is a “two-fer” –

  1. the closest “Block” is about 2 blocks north of the house in the paratong (the built-up residential area of the barangay which also has many names); and
  2. all of these different names for the same location or road are quite commonplace here.

So, those are but some examples of what one hears “’round the block.” It’s interesting to not only blockshear such distant references to the same, extremely immediate place, but to also observe their use in action.  One rather “different” aspect is that all who live here know all of these names and, depending upon whom they are engaged with in a conversation, they exercise great care in using their “chat-mate’s” preferred name for whatever they’re discussing.

This may seem a little whimsical, but to the “Kano” trying to learn to “speak like the locals,” it is pure confusion, to say the least.

MORE THAN JUST NAMES 

Situations and daily occurrences also bring out the best of the conglomeration of confusing communications.  These little vignettes bring back memories of the comics of old who took pleasure in turning near-tragedy into instant comedy.

Somehow, I think that I am sometimes treated to these little sideshows of semantics by caring folks who, deep down inside, have a streak of humor a mile 1.667 kilometers wide, and perhaps are frustrated comedians in search of an audience.  Upon seeing me, they break into Sunday English and turn up the volume.

What say we sit back and enjoy some actual banter (these are real episodes – you can’t make this stuff up):

th (8)The scene: a very small construction site.  The players: a carpenter (C) wielding a hammer and a young school girl (G) watching the activity instead of attending class. The setup: a wayward blow of a distracted and pestered carpenter’s hammer finds flesh and bone at the end of the hand being used to steady a nail.

C: Waahhh!  %&@#=~*+!

G: Oooooo.  Sir, does your finger really hurt real bad?

C: No. Only when I nail it with the hammer instead of hammering the nail’s head.

I think this is where the stage drummer inserts the rimshot – baddabing!  Well, I saw some humor in the carpenter’s way of controlling his anger and controlling that wayward hammer and keeping it from nailing another “little head.”

Like I said, I’m sure that the play was for the benefit of the poor puraw onlooker.

“BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE” 

th (7)Ah, the eternally memorable catch phrase of one of late night television’s best pitchmen, the late Billy Mays.

I’ve been trying to work that pitch line into one of my articles for a long, long time.  What better place for this minor tribute to the king of 3:00 A.M. Salesmanship than a piece on things heard?  And being able to headline it as a section header?

The “More” involves your humble scribe, trying to climb and surpass the mountain of obstacles he faces when trying to make himself understood. I must be truthful – it’s me, and not any others, who gallantly but foolishly plays the clown.

clownUsing what probably appears to my neighbors and new acquaintances as a circus full of failed clown routines, I often find myself with a small audience as I pantomime and pidgin talk my way into being the last comic standing.  

Then, there’s Baket ko (Asawa ko) [my Wife], who’s been known to chime in every now and then with the four words that have become the bane of my vocabulary, “Honey, where are you?”  At first glance (or when first heard, if you’re in the neighborhood), one could get the impression that I’m lost or hiding.  While that second option would come in handy to fend off those four words, it’s unnecessary.  Baket ko knows exactly where I am.  Yet, that quad of words makes me queasy.

It seems that being “direct” in communications – especially when posing a question or requesting a favor – is a faux pas here in the Philippines.  You can’t come in the front door, but you have to circle the bahay before entering by the side.  Barging in, or sneaking in through the front is, at the very least, impolite.  (Front doors are for visitors.)

ASIDE:  Even a simple question (I love simple questions – they’re the easiest to answer, or so I thought).  Specifically, a simple Yes/No question.  While it’s almost impossible to ynhear the word “No” as a response to any request, the Yes/No question is even more complex than trying to extract a “No.”  Ask a simple Yes/No question, any you receive an unabridged story from lifetime experiences that are in some jaded way connected to the question.  Usually, a few minutes of jabber must be confronted with “So what is it?  Yes or No?” What follows is usually a second rendition of the first, complete with the “Didn’t you hear me say …” line tossed in for good measure.  Sometimes, you scribe takes a long time to learn a lesson.

Here’s where the fearsome foursome come into play.  “Honey, where are you?” is the introductory line to a job, an errand, a task, a question, or some other instance of breaking your daydream of life in paradise.  It’s usually followed by, “Can you, ah, ah, …, (fill in the blank) for me?” And even if it’s honeynot, the “high is buzzed.” Only when you’ve completed whatever was asked of you do you receive the “Oh, Thaaannnk  Yooou, Honey.”

I’ve learned what those sweet code words mean:  “But wait, there’s more.”