There’s still time for Marcos tax probe – Pimentel
MANILA, Philippines — It’s a race against time in the Senate to muster the numbers to launch a potentially explosive inquiry into the P203 billion in estate tax liabilities of the heirs of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Tuesday said he was still securing a commitment from his peers to set the ball rolling on a Senate investigation in aid of legislation, but expressed optimism that there was enough time to open the inquiry even with a month left before the May 9 elections.
“I talked with SP (Senate President Vicente Sotto III) yesterday. I talked with Sen. [Richard] Gordon last night. Need to talk to one more senator, Pia [Cayetano],” Pimentel told the Inquirer.
“No idea which committee can handle it. But there is still time. [We have the] whole of April,” Pimentel said in a Viber message.
The problem, the senator told the Inquirer, was getting a quorum considering that many of his colleagues were on the campaign trail.
Gordon chairs the blue ribbon and justice and human rights committees, while Cayetano heads the ways and means panel, which is in charge of tax measures. Senate leaders, including committee chairs, are authorized under the chamber’s rules to open investigations on matters of national interest motu proprio, or on one’s own initiative, or on the strength of a proposed Senate resolution.
Pimentel earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 998, which seeks to direct the concerned Senate committee to probe the alleged failure of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to collect the taxes due on the Marcos estate since 1997.
In an interview on cable news channel ANC, the senator said he hoped to find out the “weaknesses in our tax laws,” particularly the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC), and “how come the BIR cannot seem to collect such a world-record tax amount, which the BIR has already won in a final decision.”
Pimentel, who leads a faction of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan supporting Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s presidential bid, denied his action was politically motivated against Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the front-runner in preelection surveys for the presidency and one of the registered co-administrators of the Marcos estate along with his mother, former first lady Imelda Marcos.
“This is a matter of national interest because of the amount involved, the effort put into the winning judgment, the powerful family inheriting the estate, plus the long time it has taken to satisfy this judgment,” he said.
Asked who the Senate should summon, Pimentel said past and present BIR commissioners, including those with custody of the records, should be invited as well as the “administrators of the estate.”
The unpaid Marcos estate tax became an election issue after presidential candidate Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso raised it during one of his campaign sorties.
Also on Tuesday, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III asserted that the “Department of Finance (DOF) and the (BIR) are intent on collecting all taxes due from the Marcos estate.”
President Duterte’s chief economic manager told reporters: “We have been in discussions—intense discussions— with the BIR on this issue, and they are studying the issue very carefully.”
Asked if there was no longer any legal impediment to collecting the estate tax, Dominguez replied: “As you know, this has a long history. Its history goes back to when the estate actually was created, when former President Marcos passed away. And it has been encrusted with a lot of court cases. And my understanding from the BIR is that they are trying to cut through all these issues in order to do the job.”
As for the various figures being floated around as estimates of the unpaid estate taxes, Dominguez said: “That is for the BIR to determine. There are several amounts that have been floated around. So which amount is going to be settled is in discussions now with BIR.”
BIR official statement
Former BIR Deputy Commissioner Jesus Clint Aranas told the Inquirer that “an official statement by the BIR can put the issue to rest, ending the speculations of many.”
Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Tuesday likewise rebuffed the claims of unnamed BIR officials that the Marcos heirs were not legally bound to settle their unpaid estate tax.
Carpio said Section 91 of the NIRC explicitly stated that the estate tax “shall be paid by the executor or administrator before delivery to any beneficiary of his distributive share of the estate.”
Obligation on heirs
He said this was also mentioned in BIR Revenue Regulations Nos. 12-2018 and 17-1993, which added that “where there are two or more executors or administrators, all of them are severally liable for the payment of the tax.”
“Clearly, the (NIRC) and its implementing regulations impose upon the co-administrators of the Marcos estate the primary obligation to pay the estate tax,” Carpio told the Inquirer.
“(T)he subsidiary obligation to pay the estate tax falls on all the heirs in proportion to their distributive share in the estate,” he said.
As to the claims that the litigation on the Marcos estate tax was still pending, Carpio said the Supreme Court declared in its March 9, 1999, ruling on the case, filed as GR No. 120880, was already “final and executory.”
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