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MANILA, Philippines – It took a while for President Benigno Aquino III and world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao to meet after the athlete’s victory. But after 3 weeks and an ugly word war later, they finally manage to meet in a closed-door courtesy call at Malacañang Palace on Wednesday, December 18.
Aquino insisted the delayed meeting had nothing to do with politics, but was merely caused by a conflict in schedule.
“We were at the height of [recovering from] Yolanda. He himself went there to help. So I think he was busy and I think you’ve all seen I was even busier. So there’s no other reason but scheduling conflict,” he told reporters.
The Aquino administration and Pacquiao have not been on good terms since the boxer returned from his Macau victory against American fighter Brandon Rios on November 24. The private meeting on Wednesday comes as Pacquiao faces tax evasion charges.
Upon Pacquiao’s arrival, the national hero – whose win uplifted the spirits of Super Typhoon Yolanda victims – was faced with allegations from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) he owes US$50 million in unpaid taxes in 2008 and 2009.
A word war then ensued between the Sarangani congressman and the tax bureau, compelling a Philippine court to slap a gag order on Pacquiao and the BIR as they battle over his allegedly unpaid taxes.
When the tax case first broke out, Aquino himself advised Pacquiao in an interview to settle the issue through the BIR and not through media. The Palace also recently voiced its disapproval over a proposed bill in Congress seeking lifetime tax exemption for Pacquiao.
‘Ready to listen’
Before the meeting, Aquino said he was willing to listen to Pacquiao’s side if he chose to talk about the case. “I’m ready to listen to whatever he wants to talk about,” he said.
Pacquiao, who was listed by Forbes magazine last year as the 14th highest-paid athlete globally with an estimated $34 million in earnings, had accused the tax bureau of freezing his bank accounts and forcing him to borrow money to pay his staff. (Read: Pacquiao asset freeze: ‘Below the belt’)
He said he paid taxes in the United States on earnings from his fights there. But the United States’ Internal Revenue Services (IRS) is also reportedly on his case for his alleged failure to pay $18 million from 2006 to 2010.
The boxer, who has parlayed his sports fame into election to Congress and has expressed ambitions to run for president, has also accused the tax bureau of harassing him for political purposes.
But Internal Revenue commissioner Kim Henares has said only two bank accounts had been frozen. Henares said the bureau had been giving Pacquiao enough leeway to pay back his taxes but that he has not complied. – Rappler.com