Town fathers look into fraud
The Balamban municipal council is taking up the newly discovered land tax scam in its regular session tomorrow.
They invited the municipal assessor, who reportedly received tax payments with two other clerks, but didn’t remit them to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
“The mayor has given us a free hand to decide if we want to conduct an investigation or not,” said Councilor Dave John Karamihan.
“This is entirely internal, in aid of legislation,” he said.
Municipal Assessor Tita Yray and two of her staff Sharee Melgar and Lucille Agua, were invited to appear to shed light.
Policemen were also invited to “maintain peace and order” in the public session, which is expected to draw townsfolk who fell victim to the irregularities involving the use of tampered BIR bank deposit slips to reflect payment.
The council received an anonymous written complaint, which Karamihan said, would “jump start” the inquiry.
Provincial Assessor Anthony Sususco was also invited to clarify tomorrow the status of the validity of tax declarations and related documents.
BIR representatives visited Mayor Ace Stefan Binghay last Friday to get copies of documents on questionable land transactions for a separate inquiry by the agency.
The BIR and Office of the Visayas Ombudsman are conducting their own fact-finding after the scam was reported in Cebu Daily News on June 30.
The scam, confirmed by the mayor, was based on the discovery in mid-June by several Balamban land owners and buyers that their capital gains tax and documentary stamp payments were not received by the BIR in Mandaue City after they had coursed cash payments to Yray and two of her staff.
An initial check ordered by Mayor Binghay showed irregularities in at least 100 out of 300 land sale transactions since 2009, involving payments from P3,000 to P30,000.
Victims found out that that filled-up deposit slips of the Land Bank of the Philippines, which they were given as proof of payment, were misleading. Transaction codes on the slips were not valid, indicating the records were fake.
The full extent of the swindling and non-collection of at least P3 million in tax payments has yet to be determined.
Mayor Binghay cut short his inquiry on June 29, reassigned the three employees and referred the case to the Civil Service Commission (CSC) for investigation to avoid doubts of bias after some victims said they were “not satisfied” with the Balamban officials’ handling. They wanted to hold the assessor and her staff liable.
As of Friday, it was not confirmed whether Yray and the two other staff would show up.
“It’s up to them. The Sangguniang Bayan can invite but we can’t subpoena them. I’m sure they know their responsibilities,” said Karamihan.
CDN learned that Yray has already retained the services of a prominent Cebu City lawyer. She was made to go on leave for two weeks after Balamban residents flocked to the town hall on June 15 demanding answers.
“The investigation will proceed even without them, but it would be best if they attend so they can shed light on the matter,” said Karamihan about the assessor, who has been reassigned to the Balamban municipal council secretariat.
He said police security would be provided for Yray and her two former staffers if this is needed.
Karamihan is a nephew of Mayor Binghay. The mayor’s father, Provincial Board Member Alex Binghay, was the mayor of Balamban from 2007 to 2010.
At least 11 victims last Friday went to the Office of the Ombudsman in the Visayas for advice. Two submitted affidavits, the same ones given to the BIR Mandaue office.
One of the women complainants urged other victims to surface.
“I hope they will come into the open. Is it all right for them to lose money?” she said.
In her affidavit, the Balamban resident said she paid Melgar, an assessor’s clerk, P8,500 on Jan. 6, 2011 to pay for BIR taxes arising from a land purchase on behalf of buyers Victoria an Ronnie Robison.
Two days later, she was given as receipt a Land Bank BIR Tax Payment Deposit slip which appeared to be validated in the amount of P14,580 for capital gains tax and P3,645 for documentary stamp tax.
When word got around about cases of land tax fraud, she went to the BIR in Mandaue and found out that the “transfer transaction was not processed and the government is deprived of the collection.”
Balamban town on the west coast of Cebu is under the jurisdiction of the BIR revenue district office in Mandaue City. /Carmel Loise Matus and Ador Vincent S. Mayol
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