Impeachment committee rushes BIR to find ‘anomaly’ in Sereno’s tax payments

Lian Buan
(UPDATED) 'They still have nothing on the Chief Justice. The mere fact that it is only now that the BIR is looking into the matter shows that they saw nothing irregular,' says Sereno's spokesperson

TAX COMPLIANCE. BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa attends the 14th hearing on the impeachhment complaint against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – House justice committee chairman Representative Reynaldo Umali ordered the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to investigate and determine in two weeks whether or not Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno paid the correct taxes.

BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa opened the 14th hearing at the House justice committee on Wednesday, February 7, bringing with him Sereno’s Income Tax Returns or ITRs from 2004 to 2009.

But Guballa said the documents do not show adverse findings, pending a more formal investigation. Umali gave the order to the BIR to investigate Sereno’s “compliance”, setting a deadline for the submission of a report by the week of February 19. 

Umali initially wanted a result in one week, but Guballa asked for more time.

“I will try my best to come up with a proposed deficiency or whatever we can find regarding the income that the Chief Justice had made,” Guballa said.

Guballa was excused early in the hearing, so he could come back to the BIR headquarters to start the investigation.

No anomaly yet

The timeframe covers the years when Sereno worked as a lawyer for the government’s Philippine International Air Terminals Company Incorporated (Piatco) case. A recurring accusation that has hounded Sereno in all her years in the Supreme Court is that she did not declare her Piatco earnings.

Sereno had explained that in 2010 when she first filed her Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) as an SC justice, her P30-million Piatco earning was no longer intact. (READ: Sereno impachment: Summary of the Chief Justice’s earnings, expenses)

Quezon City 6th District Representative Kit Belmonte asked Guballa if they have found an “anomaly” of any sort in the documents that they have collated so far.

“As of now, we cannot tell if there’s an anomaly regarding the income of the Chief Justice,” Guballa said.

ABS Partylist Representative Eugene Michael De Vera pressed Guballa to make an analysis on whether Sereno paid the right taxes, even the Value Added Tax (VAT), equivalent to her earnings.

“All your queries and observation regarding the supposed income of the Chief Justice, right now the Bureau has no formal inquiry yet on the Chief Justice so we are just collating all the records, so we can answer all your questions if we conduct a formal investigation,” Guballa said.

Fishing expedition

Lawyer Josa Deinla, one of Sereno’s spokespersons said the effort to find fault in the Piatco earnings is “absurd” because “the income came from the government itself, such that it’s absurd to even imagine how she could have kept it from the government.”

“She declared all her fees from services faithfully rendered to the Philippine government in her income tax returns and paid the corresponding taxes to the BIR from 2004 to 2009,” Deinla said.

Sereno has also earlier explained that because her client in the Piatco case was the government, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) paid her taxes to the BIR.

“The fishing expedition continues,” Deinla said.

She added: “They’re digging for some dirt because up to this point they still have nothing on the Chief Justice. The mere fact that it is only now that the BIR is looking into the matter shows that they saw nothing irregular,” Deinla said. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.