(UPDATED – 2:38 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines — The House Committee on Justice has ordered the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to produce a copy of its report on the tax payment records of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who is facing an impeachment complaint.
A subpoena will be issued to the BIR after it refused to furnish the House panel a copy of its investigation on Sereno’s records.
BIR deputy commissioner Arnel Guballa cited Section 270 of the National Internal Revenue Code, which states that, “BIR personnel cannot divulge information collected from taxpayers concerning the latter’s business, income or estate, as well as the secrets, operation, style or work, or apparatus of any manufacturer or producer, or confidential information regarding the business of any taxpayer.”
There are exceptions, however, including a waiver to be executed by the person whose records are under scrutiny.
Guballa said that in the course of their investigation, some discrepancies were observed between Sereno’s statement of assets liabilities and net worth (SALN) and her tax payment. However, he said, the bureau must examine other documents to verify the supposed discrepancies.
Last week, the House committee directed the BIR to look into the possible tax liabilities of Sereno amid her alleged failure to file her SALNs for 17 years when she was still a law professor at the University of the Philippines.
Among the allegations in the impeachment complaint against Sereno was her failure to declare in her SALN from 2010 to 2016 the P30 million she earned as one of the private counsels of the government in the arbitration case involving the expropriation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
CJ’s camp says Sereno paid all her taxes
Meanwhile, Sereno’s camp said “any investigation into her tax records would prove that she had paid the corresponding taxes for the income she earned for serving as government counsel in the arbitration case against the Philippine International Air Terminals Co. Inc. (PIATCO).”
“Chief Justice Sereno faithfully paid the tax due to her earnings covering the years 2004 to 2009 when she was the co-legal counsel of the Republic of the Philippines in the PIATCO case,” said lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, one of Sereno’s spokespersons, in a statement issued Monday.
Lacanilao said Sereno had “accurately and properly” declared all her earnings or attorney’s fees from the PIATCO case, which could easily be verified.
“The issue is a non-starter. Lahat ng kailangang bayaran, binayaran ni Chief Justice. Wala po silang makikitang tax evasion,” he said.
He noted that records from the BIR would bear that she had paid “all her taxes accurately to the tune of P8.67 million.”
Lacanilao also took exception to insinuations by some members of the House committee on the supposed “discrepancies” observed by the BIR with regard to Sereno’s tax records.
“May mga conclusion na pero hindi pa tapos ang investigation. Wala pa man ding reply si Chief Justice, may mga conclusion na,” he said.
The lawyer said that while the Chief Justice could easily explain those discrepancies, it was quite alarming that some lawmakers were already “jumping into premature conclusions” that tend to violate her right to due process.
“Nakababahala na mayroon na silang conclusion, nawala na ang due process,” he said.