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MANILA, Philippines – For the third time, former Chief Justice Renato Corona on Monday failed to appear at the preliminary investigation of the P150-million tax evasion case filed against him, his daughter and son-in-law, prompting the Department of Justice panel to issue an ultimatum.
Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Roseanne Baluag conceded that the DOJ panel had been very lax with Corona, but warned his lawyers such “leniency” should not be equated with softness, because the DOJ merely wanted to give him all the leeway to air his side.
"The chief justice should be here on October 25 for him to submit the counter affidavit as required because [we’ve] overextended the period, so we're giving him another 10 days [only] as a way of compromise, Baluag said.
“[He had] three chances already, because we also want to hear what he has to say to rebut the accusations or answer all the allegations against him filed by the BIR
so [let’s wait for his reply],” he added.
Earlier Monday, radio reports said the former chief justice, impeached by a 20-3 vote on May 29 by the Senate after a four-month trial, was marking his birthday October 15.
Earlier requests granted
Last September 25, Baluag granted the request of the Corona camp to give it more time to study the case filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) against the former chief magistrate, his daughter Ma. Carla Corona-Castillo and husband Constantino Castillo III.
Reynhard Sanchez, counsel for the Coronas, said that the more than 300-page case was too technical and thus he and his clients needed more time to study the BIR's allegations.
Baluag rescheduled the investigation on October 5 and required the Coronas to appear during the hearing.
Last month, the BIR sued the Coronas for P150.68 million, three months after the May 29 ouster of Corona by the Senate impeachment court.
According to the BIR, the former chief justice failed to file his income tax return for several years starting 2003 to 2005, and again on 2005, 2007 to 2008, and 2010.
Also, the bureau claimed that Corona had underdeclared bank accounts, deeds of sale, among others in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth.
The former chief justice also failed to declare two properties worth P12.75 million, as well as underdeclared cash assets worth P134.44 million in his SALN for 2010.
His total tax deficiency ran to P120.5 million, inclusive of surcharges and interest, Henares said.
A registered taxpayer of Revenue District Office No. 32 covering Sampaloc, Sta Mesa and San Miguel in Manila, Corona served as former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s chief of staff, spokesman and acting executive secretary before she appointed him as associate justice in the Supreme Court and as chief justice.
As a public official from 2002 to 2010, Corona is required to submit under oath his SALN every year, including that of his spouse and children under 18 years of age. In his SALNs, Corona’s networth ranged from P7 million to P22 million over the nine-year period.
According to the BIR, Corona’s daughter violated Section 254 of the National Internal Revenue Code for attempting to evade taxes in 2010, and Section 255 for failing to file an income tax return for the same year.
Her husband allegedly violated Section 254 for attempting to evade taxes in 2003 and 2009, and Section 255 for failing to file a return in 2003.
The BIR said the former chief justice’s son-in-law registered in 1998 but filed his income tax returns only from 2005 to 2009, declaring a total income of only P1.933 million for the five-year period.
His wife only filed income tax returns for 2008 and 2009, declaring a total income of only P228,040.
The Castillo couple’s declared income amounted to less than P3 million, but had acquired the following properties: a P10.5-million property in Project 3, Quezon City; a P15-million commercial property in Kalayaan Avenue, Quezon City; and an P18-million mansion in La Vista, Quezon City.
The BIR said Mr. Castillo owed the government P20.25 million, while his wife owed P9.93 million.