Will BBM’s huge investigative lead crumble in this Marcos estate tax case?

It’s the biggest question that won’t be answered until Election Day, 34 days from today. This final, binding property tax is perhaps the biggest and final charge against the dictator’s son, now on the verge of becoming our next president.

It is ironic that we, the public, do not know all the relevant and important facts of this issue when we vote on May 9. The simple reason is that all BIR tax matters are strictly confidential and cannot be disclosed. From 1991 until today, no past or present government official, BIR or PCGG or the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court has disclosed the basis and details of the initial valuation of BIR 23 billion on the domain of Marcos. Even the 203 billion pesos after penalties and surcharges extrapolated by retired SC senior assistant judge Antonio Carpio are all hot air.

Why didn’t the former BIR commissioners collect inheritance tax despite the SC’s final and unappealable decision? No one has filed charges against the Marcos heirs, who have refused to pay since 1997. By my count, there are at least 10 former Ramos BIR commissioners named – Liwayway Vinzons Chato, Estrada named – Beethoven Rualo and Dakila Fonacier, Arroyo named – Atty. Rene G. Bañez, former Customs Commissioner Guillermo Parayno Jr., Atty. José Mario C. Buñag, Lilian B. Hefti, Sixto Esquivias IV, Joel L. Tan Torres. During Pnoy’s time, BIR Commissioner Kim Jacinto S. Henares now says she decided not to criminally indict Marcos’ heirs to prevent her office from being overwhelmed with challenges from their lawyers. She added that Marcos’ estate is qualified to benefit from tax amnesty under the TRAIN Act (RA 11213) until 2023, a statement disputed by several tax experts.

A Tuesday Club colleague, former BIR commissioner Jose Mario S. Buñag in our chatroom, gave his “blunt truth” which I find very interesting. “On the death of FM in 1989, the heirs are required to file the inheritance tax declaration and pay the inheritance tax within 6 months. No statement was filed. In 1992, Ramos was elected president and appointed Liwayway Chato as commissioner of the BIR. Under the tax code, when a tax return is supposed to be filed and it is not filed, the commissioner is authorized to make the return to the best of his knowledge and file it with the BIR. Since no declaration has been filed on the estate of FM, Comm. Chato made the statement and filed it based on, I believe, what was declared as FM’s assets. Also, since no taxes were paid, the BIR issued an assessment of P23-B based on the return Chato prepared and filed. Marcos’ lawyer then made a fatal mistake. Instead of taking the case to the Court of Appeal within the required 30 days, he instead took it to the Court of Appeal. Predictably, the CA dismissed the motion as filed in the wrong court. Instead of rushing to the CTA to meet the deadline, the Marcos went all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the CA’s decision. With the 30 days to go to CTA over, the Marcos were out of action and the assessment became final and binding.

“True or false, the valuation is now indisputable. So even if Chato has included non-FM properties in the calculation, it can no longer be questioned. This vessel has sailed. A final valuation is like the final judgment of a court It can be enforced by seizing bank accounts and levying on properties The reason why BIR did not collect is that the Marcos did not pay, FM does not have an account bank and the only known real estate in his name is the Ortega property in San Juan where he lived. Believe it or not, FM did not put any properties in his name. Even the properties in New York were in the name of other people. Other assets, like the Swiss accounts, paintings, etc. have been claimed by the PCGG as ill-gotten and therefore do not belong to FM but to the Philippine government. So what to do?”

Regarding the total taxes payable after surcharges and penalties, Buñag states, “If the estate tax is P23B, the net taxable estate may be around P115-B. So max that’s it. And the properties that PCGG recovers from the Marcos should be turned over to the BIR to settle the tax”.

Obviously, Buñag says it’s not 203 billion pesos, but only a maximum of 115 billion pesos to collect. And if the properties recovered by PCGG are handed over to the BIR, then the Marcos heirs probably have nothing to settle.

Wow, the plot thickens even further.

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