Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno “held hostage” a case of business tycoon Lucio Co involving tax smuggling raps filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) by holding to its release and promulgation.
A document obtained by The Manila Times showed that Sereno withheld the release of the decision, for almost three months, despite the case having been voted upon by the SC 3rd Division since June 22, 2015.
The decision, penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., was released only by the Chief Justice on September 1, 2015.
It was contained in the one-page letter dated August 1, 2015, signed by Sereno, and was sent and received by the 14 associate justices of the High Court on September 1, 2015.
In her “Dear Colleagues” letter to the associate justices, the Chief Justice asked that the decided case of Co be referred to the SC en banc.
“May I refer the above case to the court en banc? It is my position that the present case must be acted upon by the court en banc,… not by the Third Division alone. Allow me to explain the reasons for this referral verbally,” the letter read in part.
According to a source of this paper in the SC, Sereno’s plea was junked by the justices and she was even “scolded” for holding the release of the Puregold case as well as those of other SC cases.
The source said Sereno’s motive for holding the release of the Puregold case was to please BIR Commissioner Kim Jacinto-Henares in order to protect herself from possible tax evasion raps for not paying the correct taxes from her attorney’s fees in the Piatco case involving Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airort.
Her latest Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for 2014 did not reflect her earnings or attorney’ fees from the controversial Piatco case.
Sereno’s assets grew from P18,143,104.01 in 2012 to P19,012,648.21 in 2013 to P19,584,104.34 in 2014.
In 2011, she declared a net worth of P18.029 million, much higher compared to the P17.9 million she declared in 2010, when she entered the SC.
Sereno’s attorney’s fees coming from Piatco was also declared illegal by a local court.
In the SC 3rd Division majority ruling, Co was able to escape paying P6.6 billion in “sin taxes” such as excise tax and value-added tax.
He had been tagged for smuggling activities in the importation of tobacco and alcohol.
In a close 3-2 voting of the SC 3rd Division, majority of the SC justices ruled that Co is covered with tax amnesty and is exempted from taxation in his Puregold Duty Free business since it is within the Clark Economic Zone.
Two SC justices, Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr and. Jose Mendoza, held that Co was involved in smuggling activities .
“If this is not smuggling, I do not know what it is,” Villarama said in his separate dissenting opinion on the case.
The majority ruling penned by Velasco said Puregold did not commit smuggling when Co did not pay P2,780,610,174.51-billion deficiency in VAT and excise taxes being assessed by the BIR.
The P2.7-billion tax assessment has reached around P6.6 billion in view of surcharge and interest, plus 20 percent deficiency interest.
The magistrates who voted in favor of Co were Velasco, Diosdado Peralta and Bienvenido Reyes.
Those who dissented were Villarama Jr. and Jose Catral Mendoza.