Inquirer ‘tax-case’ demonstrates awesome power of the press

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RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO

RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO

WHETHER President Duterte is right or wrong in accusing the owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), the Prieto-Rufino family, of evading payment of P1.5 billion in taxes that their other company, Golden Donuts (which operates Dunkin’ Donuts), owes government, this case gives us a vivid demonstration of the paper’s awesome power and that of the press in general—which isn’t at all good for the country.

The silver lining here is that this President is proving that he has the balls to go against oligarchs and even a powerful newspaper, despite anti-Duterte critics’ claim that he will not succeed where ousted President Joseph Estrada, who also went against the PDI, failed.

A President branding the owners of one of the biggest broadsheets, especially one which portrays itself as God’s gift to journalism and democracy, anywhere else in the world would undoubtedly have been earth-shaking news. PDI, if it were in the league of the New York Times or the Washington Post, would have devoted a big part of its frontpage to debunking Duterte’s allegations. Instead, it arrogantly ignored the President’s very serious claim.

Imagine if US President Donald Trump, after ranting at the Washington Post’s “fake news,” were to accuse its owner Jeff Bezos a few days later that his Amazon online bookseller owes the IRS billions of dollars in taxes, and maybe you’d get a better picture of what I mean.

Worse, all of media would have put it as either their No.1 or No. 2 story as it has profound implications. Duterte’s tirade could only mean either one of two things: PDI’s owners have been using their media power to evade taxes, or Duterte has launched an attack on the Fourth Estate, which therefore is an attack on our republican democracy. Whichever is the case, isn’t it important enough to put on the front page?

The PDI owners’ alleged tax evasion would have also undoubtedly sold a lot of newspaper copies (and therefore revenues) during this tax-paying season when Filipinos grumble and groan, as I did, at having to pay what they think to be a huge amount of taxes, much of which will just be pilfered by corrupt officials.

President Duterte (left) exposes PDI owners’ alleged sweetheart property deal in Doha; headlines like this, reproducing an article from a foreign newspaper, (right) probably got his goat.

Guess what? Newspapers buried the story deep inside their inside pages, if they even carried it at all. PDI reported it in a short, 250-word piece in its page 13. PDI’s arrogance was evident with the article’s dismissive statement that “The Inquirer doesn’t own Dunkin’ Donuts,” even as Duterte himself had pointed out that it is not the paper itself but its owners who owned the allegedly tax-evading firm that operates the doughnut store chain.

Only Duterte
Only Duterte seems to have the balls in this government to talk against PDI. Neither the Bureau of Internal Revenue head Caesar Dulay, nor his boss, the usually talkative Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, bothered to expound – as they should – on their boss’ allegations. Are they afraid of PDI?

Why did our media, which has been boastful of its fearlessness, practically ignore Duterte’s allegations that PDI owners were tax evaders? The answer would give us a glimpse of one major mechanism for oligarchic power in this country.

As my late boss Raul Locsin of Business Day often told us: “A newspaper is a gun in the holster in this Wild West of a country.” Owners of one newspaper wouldn’t want to attack or offend another paper or broadcast media, even if it’s a competitor: because it would hit back. It could even send a team of investigative journalists to uncover the sins of the businesses of the owners of the other paper, particularly if they are also tax evaders, or in violation of other regulations.

That gun is especially important for a magnate, who with his ownership of a media outfit in effect sends the message loud and clear: “Cross me or make life difficult for my companies, investigate my firms’ tax payments, and I draw my gun from my holster and point it at you, and even shoot.”

Thus, the Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim (known in this country as Manuel V. Pangilinan) was extremely smart in risking violating the Constitution by establishing a media empire consisting of the Philippine Star, ABC-5, BusinessWorld, and even PDI (where he has 20 percent ownership), and scores of radio stations.

That is a lot of guns in his holster: Would any politician dare to pursue such questions as why a foreigner through PLDT’s pension fund controls media, in which not a single peso of foreign money is allowed by the Constitution? Has the PDI, which claims to have the best business reporters, ever run a feature explaining who really owns the Metro Pacific Group, one of the country’s biggest conglomerates now, which controls strategic industries?

I don’t think the Lopezes, whom all of the past five Presidents loved or feared, would have been able to recover much of the companies they lost during martial law if they had not controlled ABS-CBN and, in the 1980s, the Manila Chronicle.

Oligarchic control of media has been a feature of our history: The Manila Chronicle and ABS-CBN were so notoriously powerful before martial law that they controlled the nation’s agenda, and casually pulverized the Lopezes’ enemies – except Marcos of course who closed them down.

The fact that the foreign oligarch Salim and the local oligarchs Lopezes who had five Presidents behind them control a big chunk of our media shatters the myth that we have had an ideal independent press since Marcos was toppled in 1986.

Free press?
How can we have a free press, when our biggest media magnates have businesses—telecoms, power, infrastructure— in industries that are officially heavily regulated by government, or have crucial deals with government? Contrast that with the US where most owners of the biggest newspapers are only in media.

One of the crowns in the Prieto-Rufino family’s property empire is their control over the three-hectare lucrative Creekside/Mile Long commercial complex whose lease from a government firm had expired in 2002. Duterte in a speech in Qatar a few days ago claimed that the family’s possession of the land which started in 1986 was a “sweetheart deal as they went for Cory against Marcos”.

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration tried to revert the prime property back to government hands in 2009. The Prieto-Rufino family refused to return the land to government, and managed to get a court to block the government move, a case which is still pending in the courts. It was a year earlier in 2008, that former BIR officer Othello Dalanon submitted his report to his superiors alleging that Dunking Donuts evaded P1.5 billion in taxes by understating its sales and other income, and Arroyo did nothing to stop the BIR investigations. The PDI had been so vitriolic in its attacks against Arroyo in the last half of her administration.

Former BIR commissioner Kim Henares must explain, through a congressional investigation if necessary, why she had not enforced her staff’s findings that the Prieto-Rufino firm must pay immediately P1.5 billion, representing tax due and penalties. Didn’t she boast that she had gone after even such a popular figure, practically a national hero, as Manny Pacquiao to make an example of him for everyone to pay the right taxes?

Dalanon — who filed a complaint against Henares in 2014 allegedly for sitting on the Dunkin’ Donuts case — claims that the assessment became “final, executory and demandable” on January 29, 2011. I emailed PDI president Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez requesting her to get her family’s or their lawyers’ explanation or comments on this matter. I had not received a reply as of the deadline for submitting this column.

What demonstrates PDI’s power stares us in the face: Filipinos learned of the Dunkin’ Donuts’ tax case and the Mile Long controversy only now, when this had first emerged nine years ago. It would not have even entered public awareness if the President of the Republic had not exposed it.

A confession
Again, this is explained by the gun-in-the-holster theory, and I have a personal experience of it, which is a confession. I had been given a bunch of documents on the Dunkin’ Donuts tax case two years ago, when I already was a columnist for this paper. After some reflection though I didn’t write about the issue.

Why? Because I not only feared PDI’s gun in its holster, but was awed by it. What if in the future I get into trouble, and PDI front-pages my face? More importantly though, which explains why reporters and columnists shirk from ever criticizing the PDI, is the thought that maybe it could recruit me for some high position there someday, or get me to be a thrice-a-week columnist (I had written a once-a-week column there and gave it up when an old friend and colleague Dante Ang offered me a thrice-a-week one.).

But now I have realized I have to do my job as a professional journalist, with the President’s allegations requiring me to write a column on the topic so as to inform the nation.

In an interview, a few days ago at the Salim-controlled Bloomberg Philippines, PDI president Alexandra Prieto narrated the saga of how her paper survived the advertising boycott which the besieged Estrada had called against it, as it had been so critical of him.

I can’t help feeling that the timing of the interview and the mention of that topic was a message that if PDI wasn’t killed by Estrada and even became stronger, it would also emerge victorious over Duterte.

But then, Estrada’s attack against PDI was abruptly halted by his flight from Malacañang, when a people-power kind of outrage broke out during his impeachment. Would there be a similar impeachment against Duterte that would trigger outrage against him? At this time, and at least this year, that’s very unlikely.

And more importantly, in 2001, there was no such thing as social media, which any knowledgeable and objective observer would see as having overtaken in power and influence traditional media like the PDI. For some reason, social media so far it appears to be a DDS media.

Duterte’s fight with the Inquirer — largely ignored by mainstream media for reasons I explained above — could be his most crucial battle in his war against the Philippine oligarchy.

On Friday: Details of the Prieto-Rufino clan’s tax-case and its controversial control of the Creekside/Mile Long government property.

Email: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao

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63 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing about this! It’s great that there are still people like you who are true to your profession.

  2. Mr. Tiglao,

    When Trillanes accused the president of owning billions in bank accounts you placed the burden of proof to the accuser and justified the President’s obfuscations despite previous political posturing of signing a waiver on Bank Secrecy Law. Now, when tables are turned and the president is now the one accusing, you ask the accused to explain itself? Talk about double standards and hypocrisy.

  3. Thank you very much for writing about PDI/Dunkin Donuts crooks Bobi! This is not only Duterte’s and your fight against those crooks. It is the people’s fight. How many poor sick people could have been given the necessary medical attention and medicines if oligarchs did not steal people’s money in the billions!

  4. Rolando Pinuela on

    Sir you did our beloved Philippines a good service by writing on this piece. Before I retired as a government employee we are paying our taxes dutifully through deductions in our payslip monthly. These people would rather choose paying their tax accountant handsomely than paying their taxes correctly. We have heard so much about volunteer against corruption. What about volunteers against tax evasion?

  5. Lets pray for our country to deliver us from evil Oligarch and corruption. Let pray for our president. I agree with Mr. Tiglao

  6. What made this article credible was Mr. Tiglao’s confession for not writing about Dunkin Donut’s (DD) tax issue two years ago, having bunch of documents in his possession proving DD’s tax case! That alone makes him the most reliable columnist in this business. More power and don’t be afraid exposing shenigans henceforth!

  7. kailangan ba talaga ng isang bastos ng bunganga ng isang pinuno para magkaroon ng lakas loob ang mga periyodismo o taga pamamahayag upang isiwalat ang mga kabuluktutan ng mga kilala’t makapangyarihang indibidwal o organisasyon para ito mag lathalta ng mga katotothanan na matagal na nilang alam???

  8. That’s why 3months ago, am getting as much PDI newspaper sa Mcdo and other newsstand para itapon sa basurahan.. B4 am sending any newspapers to our ships sama ang PDI but lately, pina-collect ko lahat ng PDI and throw it all in trash can..

    It’s now a garbage for me..

  9. Timothy Nobowlski on

    The grip of.these detestable oligarchs must come to an abrupt end now under the leadership of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. He has the full support of a majority of Filpinos who are throroughly disgusted with the rigmarole of a discredited greedy oligarchy. The lies and innuendoes spewed by such so called news publications make comics and sleazy tabloid news more credible! It’s time to not just boycott the distrustful paper, but to haul those sleazy lapdog “reporters” and the owners into court to,answer to LIBEL SUITS! Shame on that so called news publication an obvious tool of cacique pique, loathesome to the core! It only is useful for cleaning up animal excreta!

  10. Isn’t it the BIR or D. Finance job to collect taxes. If PDI, ABS CBN, Lucio T aren’t paying the correct taxes, shouldn’t the head of these administration’s agencies be on the chopping block?

  11. I enjoy Mr. Tiglao’s column as much as the commentaries which are a magnet for whistle-blowers with a wealth of information, seemingly direct knowledge to support his investigative exposes.

    By the way PDI survived Erap’s advertisement boycott by peddling “Eraption tabloids” the scandal marketing helped, but in the end they lost so much business they could not help but trim down their broadsheet by a few inches and narrow the print font as an austerity measure, so as PDI’s credibility shrinks so will the size of their newspaper, watch for it.

  12. Call it bad journalism the way some do it in most tabloids is what they call attack-collect/defend collect (AC/DC) system. But here is one I long held in high esteem as indeed “balanced news, fearless views”, a leading newspaper is now being revealed to have been largely biased in order to protect or fortify its other business interests. I guess there was one time Kris Aquino was top tax payer but noticeably she was not among the Forbes list of super rich Filipinos during that same period. So it might be that even from our top tax payers some are not necessarily paying their taxes to the full short changing the government.

  13. Wala silang maibabala kay PRRD. Ang matatakot lang naman magsulat laban sa PDI ay yung may sariling baho din. Kaya vocal si duterte kasi wala silang maisusulat na baho kundi EJK at ibang fabricated at sensationalize na stories.

  14. jess nazario on

    Isn’t the road built OVER (not alongside) a creek or an estero along the entire length of the Mile Long complex ILLEGAL. Ganoon ba sila kalakas talaga ? Sino sa Makati government approved this construction ? This must be investigated.

  15. If I am not mistaken, even Mr. Joker seemed to have lawyered to get that contract awarded to that group during the quo rhee dictatorship. What I know is that nobody should be able to build a structure beneath a National Power Corp. transmission line. How a company was able to build underneath can be a case study at AIM.

  16. I salute your bravery in exposing the evil doings of the Oligarchs. Very few journalists have the guts like you have. We need more journalists like you, Mr. Tiglao.

    If you notice Inquirer write only negative news about the present government but refuses to write an article about the positive performance of the government.

    Exposé pa more, Mr. Tiglao!

  17. “The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. For to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves – and the better the teacher, the better the student body.”
    Warren Buffett

    “Journalists prize independence – not teamwork.”
    Ken Auletta

    Thank you Mr. Tiglao, for your very informative article.

  18. The Great Defiant on

    talagang matuwid ang daan ng pera…
    at mas lalong matuwid ang mga kamay sa pag tanggap ng pera….

    Dunking Donuts ang pagkain na pumapatay sa taong bayan…
    expect sells to drop…nose dive!!!!

    • The Great Defiant…..DUNKIN’ DONUTS and not DUNKING! SALES and not SELLS The former is a noun while the latter is a verb.

  19. Another Classic PDI as an attack media, when it rolled out its daily headline banners against Binay. Very PDI. Now that they became successful eliminating him from the last election they cannot even cover or write up a single story about him even in the last page of their newspaper.

  20. WHOOA! At last somebody will stand up against these bullies. PDI and ABS-CBN has long been paid and biased media trying to control and persuade people to go against presidents and institution that attacks them. Good thing SOCMED takes over them which they cannot control. People are now wide awake not to trust news from PDI and ABS

    • Felipe Magcalas on

      Very well said!!!..let’s all express our ultimate right thru socmed…let’s all boycott the biased media..

  21. That’s why the philippine daily inquirer and ab(ia)s-cbn love the yellows very much that it will use their media “business” to be the attack dog of the yellows. The present government should continue revealing the evils of these yellow media.

  22. back in 1996 up to 2005 na ako ay tumigil sa pagiging newsboy sa tagum, davao dahil nakatapos na sa pag-aaral sa sariling sikap ang PDI ay napakalakas ibinta sa lahat ng broadsheet ito ang gusto ng lahat ng subscribers ko noon at alam ko ang lakas ng kanilang impluwensiya sa tao, pero nag iba na ngayon dahil sa social media.

  23. From the foulest of mouths comes the cleanest moves. A million salutes to our Tatay Digong. I hope he comes harder on such irresponsible media and their journos.

  24. Wow, they really did it. We all know that media really runs because of money and power, but of course we trust them to really do their part honestly – like paying the right tax. We also know that once you become a well know journalist or broadcaster then you have the power. The very wrong thing to do is to use it to instill fear to people, in order for them to know that you are untouchable – yes, the government must dig deeper especially the BIR, they must check the owners if the pay the right amount of their tax including all their businesses.

  25. Shots fired! This is a good read.. Can’t wait to get to the juicy part on Friday. Go Mr. Tiglao.. It’s time this Tax evaders face some wrath.

  26. I’m sorry but the sign is there for the typical persecution agenda of any government against people or companies who unwittingly dare to criticize it. A confident administration will never resort to this type of muzzling or pressure for it believes in its positive course and reliable public support.

    • The Great Defiant on

      it is the other way around.
      they are trying to oust DU30 to keep their plunder…

      blink once and think twice….

    • Felipe Magcalas on

      I beg to disagree that exposing wrongdoings like tax evasion and biased journalism is considered as “persecution”..I call it a sign of good governance for he’s (Digong) sincere in his pre election promises in weeding out the so-called bad eggs!!!…

  27. You have hit a sensitive nerve with your article. Inquirer is no longer invincible. It’s time for introspection and humility on its part. Go Mr Tiglao! Love your column. Mabuhay ka!

  28. Limang taon pa si PDU30 at marami pa siyang ibulgar na mga oligarch na tax evaders. Go go go Sir Bobbi Tiglao and Pres DU30. 95% of Pinoys are behind you incl.me….

  29. God bless our President in this fight. God bless the people alongside D30 exposing the evils of the oligarchs. I salute you, Mr. Bobi Tiglao!

  30. PDI then was attacked by a President with a lot of baggage of his own, Estrada. But a popular and perceived to be honest President like Duterte would be a tougher nut to crack. He should continue his expose on the PDI and its owners’ tax evasion schemes. It is high time this excuse of a newspaper got its comeuppance for being politically biased no matter what. It is one thing to support a good government, but playing cozy with a corrupt one like Noynoy’s and the Liberal Party is another thing. Give them hell Rody.

  31. You have hit on an important movement. Journalists should become more professional and report true facts about what is happening.

    • With so many mediocre pseudo-journalists around, Philippine media will still have a long way to go. When they just write about what the media owners want them to, it is goodbye investigative journalism. We hope indeed that the Duterte admin will change the mood and mode of those in the journo profession.

  32. I’m sure those oligarchs on the crosshair of President Duterte’s bazooka are running out of time. Unless they pay what is due, likewise let go of their ambition to grab government’s property, they will be in deep trouble.

  33. Great article Mr. Tiglao. Thanks for exposing the ills of PDI and the hypocrisy of the nation’s oligarchs.

  34. s come to tell the true stories of the back and neck breaking hold .of the oligarchs to the nation, it’s economy, affairs and mind. Congratulations!!.

  35. Its about time the real truth on Phillippine journalism is exposed Mr. Tiglao, Digong finally confirmed they are NOT PAYING THE RIGHT TAXES or face the gun in their holster (gangsterism?), if the past Prez did not succeed against PDI, maybe the ‘Al Capone’ method (tax evasion) will do them in finally ,the billionaire “magbobote” , and the rest of non paying tax oligarchs as well as those in the Pinoy Fortunes rich list are shaking now that gamechanger Eliot Ness is in town. Busy days ahead for BIR and BJMP . But let me be clear that newspapers nor journalism are not the enemy – its their interests!

    • Giovanni Delrosario on

      Mr Agila
      Don’t be naive about who owns the media. They become the tool of what your call “their interests” so the newspapers nor the media can be objective. Take your head out of the sand and smell the roses.

  36. Sir Rigo, Inaabangan ko palagi ang iyong susunod na kabanata. Gusto ko next time malutong na pagka-Pri(e)to yung isda. Ang sarap papakin!

  37. Ogie de Guzman on

    It’s about time that the Oligarchs and oligarch-owned and operated media get their due. If they are, indeed faultless why do they need to worry. If, on the other hand, they have skeletons, lots of it, in their closet then it’s time to do some spring cleaning. Anyway, the FIlipinos of today are not as easily swayed into siding with mainstream media like in the 90s or even way back then. Major broadsheets and TV media can be likened to guns for hire. They can liquidate or annihilate a person’s character if they go against them, to hell with genuine journalism and the truth ! Btw, i do not buy Dunkin’ Donuts anymore, mas masarap Krispy Kreme and mas masarap coffee ng Mister Donut …a little pun there hahaha .

  38. “Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration tried to revert the prime property (Creekside/Mile Long commercial complex ) back to government hands in 2009. The Prieto-Rufino family refused to return the land to government..”

    kaya pala dinemonize si Gloria sa media at kung ano anong corruption issues ang inakusa sa kanya. napakalaki pala talaga ng utang na loob ng mga Prieto sa pamilya ni Cory Aquino, kaya pala ganon na lang at negative news ang pini-feature dati ng Inquirer sa kalaban sa pulitika ni Pres. Noynoy Aquino.

    I remember how Inquirer described in details the alleged torture and death of labor leader Rolando Olalia by RAM soldiers during Pres. Cory’s administration. I wondered then, if there were witnesses to the grisly crime, how come the suspects could not be jailed and convicted? so most probably there was really no witness and Inquirer just concocted the details described in the newspaper so that people would hate the RAM.

    • “source” na hindi pinapangalanan ng isang tagabalita ang kanyang kalasag laban sa pagbuwelta ng sino mang kanyang gustong siraan sa isang istorya o artikulo…. “source” na may karaptan siyang hindi panglanan…. kahit na ang layon lamang ng may akda ay sirain ang isang pagkatao….. nawawala na ang propesyonalismo ng pamamahayag….

  39. And this article shows that there is no hope for the country since the oligarchs are here to stay while Duterte only has 5 more years to go.

    • The Great Defiant on

      that’s why Federalism should be in place…
      the oligarchs cannot survive under federalism…

  40. ABANGAN! Ang galing! huwag kang titigil. Kailangan ng Bayan na malaman ang totoo! Ang lakas ng loob at tapang na ibalita ang gawain ng may-ari ng PDI.

    Hindi ka natakot na i-blacklist ng mga ibang newspapers. Sana mahawa sa iyo ang iba na journalit. Sana mag-ingat ka!

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