The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has found discrepancies in the tax declarations of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa made the disclosure during the resumption of the hearing of the House Committee on Justice on the impeachment complaint against Sereno.
“The investigation is ongoing. We noticed discrepancies in the figures. But we can’t disclose it yet because of the prohibition under Section 270 of our tax code,” Guballa said.
Guballa was referring to the provision of the National Internal Revenue Code that prohibits the disclosure of information on taxpayers, which is punishable by a fine of P50,000 to P100,000 or imprisonment of two to five years, or both.
“The BIR is of the belief that we cannot give the information on any finding [at this point]. There are exemptions, namely, if there is waiver on the part of the individual concerned, [and]by order of the judicial court or the Senate impeachment court during an impeachment trial. We are still in the committee hearing,” the BIR official said.
The impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon accuses Sereno of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, because of her supposed failure to declare P37 million in income as a legal counsel for the government in the international arbitration dispute over the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 with terminal builder Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (Piatco).
In her verified answer to the impeachment complaint, Sereno said she received P30 million as government counsel for the Piatco case and that her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth reflected her earnings.
Guballa said the BIR would help in prosecuting Sereno, if needed.
“If the impeachment court issues us an order [to make our findings public], then by all means, we will provide them to the [impeachment]court,” he said.
Guballa also disclosed that the BIR had sent a letter to the Office of the President asking for authority to disclose its findings on Sereno’s income tax returns and tax declarations before the House justice panel.
Guballa, however, was able to reveal Sereno’s income tax payments from 2004 to 2008. Based on BIR records, Sereno paid P7.2 million in income taxes in 2004, P12 million in 2005, P1.4 million in 2006, P3.6 million for 2007 and P4.5 million in 2008.
Guballa later clarified that these amounts did not necessarily come from Sereno’s earnings as government counsel for the Piatco case.
Lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, spokesman for the Sereno, said the BIR’s disclosures just proved that the chief justice paid the right taxes.
“The chief justice is not a tax evader. The chief justice paid the taxes she had to pay for. She has declared all the income that she has to declare. That I can assure you,” he said in a chance interview.
Lacanilao, however, said Guballa’s pronouncements were premature.
“Why such conclusion when the probe is not yet done? The chief justice should be given a chance to respond to whatever conclusion they may have. It is alarming that these conclusions are being [disclosed]at this point which is in violation of due process,” Lacanilao added.
Leonen, Bernabe no shows
Supreme Court Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Estela Perlas Bernabe did not testify in the impeachment hearing against Sereno on Monday.
In a letter sent to the House Committee on Justice, the magistrates said they sat as vice chairmen of the Supreme Court’s Committee on Computerization and Library in July 2014, after the chief justice hired Helen Macasaet as information technology (IT) consultant for P250,000 a month.
Rep. Reynaldo Umali of Mindoro Oriental, chairman of the House Committee on Justice, did not contest the justices’ reasoning.
“Macasaet was already hired before July 2014 when the [Committee on Computerization and Library] was reorganized [and Leonen and Bernabe]became members, so the justices had no personal knowledge on the matter or participation in the hiring of Ms. Macasaet,” Umali said.
Leonen and Bernabe, like Sereno, were appointed Supreme Court justices by former president Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Associate Justice Teresita de Castro earlier questioned Sereno’s hiring of Macasaet to implement the Supreme Court’s Enterprise Information System Plan, noting that Macasaet was paid P250,000 a month even if she did not have a diploma in computer science or any information technology-related course and her hiring was not approved by the Supreme Court en banc, or the Supreme Court as a collegial body.
Lawyer Michael Ocampo, who works under the Office of the Chief Justice, justified Macasaet’s hiring, saying it was based on extensive research and did not need the Supreme Court en banc’s approval, because her contract was less than P2 million.