MARY GRACE COSTA WRITES – Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach may have won the 2015 Miss Universe crown, along with the hearts of her fellow countrymen and women, but she won’t be charming her way out of her taxes. Upon her homecoming on January 23, Pia received a warm welcome and friendly reminder from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) of her duties as a Philippine citizen.
BIR chief, Kim Henares, contacted Wurtzbach to inform her that her Miss Universe Pageant prizes were still subject to taxation and requested that she pay the proper amount to the Philippines government.
According to a tax treaty between the Philippines and United States, the IRS can tax Pia’s winnings at a reduced rate because she is a Philippine citizen earning income in America. The Philippine BIR, however, still expects Pia to pay taxes on her Miss Universe winnings at the maximum 32% rate. Pia’s winnings include $300,000 in cash (almost 1.4 million Philippine Pesos), a modeling contract, an annual salary, and a scholarship.
There’s been overwhelming support, however, for a movement to exempt Pia from taxation on her Miss Universe winnings. Among the supporters is Presidential Communications Undersecretary, Manolo Quezon III, who maintains that “there have been few things that have united our society and I think [Pia’s] success is one of them.”
Indeed, it has been nearly four decades since a contestant from the Philippines last won the Miss Universe pageant, and Pia’s victory resulted in a surge of national pride. Some lawmakers sensibly maintain that Pia’s outstanding representation of the Philippine people makes her a wonderful ambassador deserving of special treatment.
Back then, Philippine Congress granted a tax exemption to Gloria Diaz, Miss Universe 1969, and, presumably, could still do the same for Pia today. In late January, in fact, the Philippine House of Representatives approved House Bill 6367, resolving to exempt Pia’s winnings from taxation.
But Pia isn’t off the hook just yet.
Henares still isn’t convinced and the steadfast BIR chief reports that a House-approved resolution is not yet a law, which needs a ¾ vote from both the House and the Senate to go into effect. Whether pride or principle will rule the day is still to be determined. Poor Pia – so uneasy lies this lovely head that wears this crown.