[OPINION] On the Marcos non-payment of taxes: A case of double standard?

Daniel Agoncillo
[OPINION] On the Marcos non-payment of taxes: A case of double standard?

Alejandro Edoria/Rappler

'Does the current tax chief have the guts to ask the President to follow his own advice to Filipino taxpayers?'

How shameless is the call of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Filipino citizens to pay the right amount of taxes on time when he and his family have refused to do so for the past 32 years.

To this day, the estate of the President’s family owes the government a whopping P203 billion in estate tax, including late payment penalties and surcharges that have accumulated since 1991, the year the right amount of tax owed by the Marcoses was supposedly due.

Is the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) collecting this tax? Is it filing a case? Lillia Guillermo, whom the newly-elected President had appointed to head the BIR last July, declared that she would collect the tax from the Marcoses if provided with the correct figures, and that she would ask the President to be “a role model for Filipinos.” Five months later, Guillermo was replaced by her deputy commissioner, Romeo Lumagui Jr., a tax lawyer reportedly close to First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos and a member of the Marcos Jr. presidential campaign.

Lumagui has so far remained quiet on the Marcos tax case but has declared that in its campaign against tax evasion, his agency would make taxpayers feel that it was “on their side.” Does this mean that the BIR will be applying the country’s tax laws equally to all, including the Marcoses?

Marcos Jr. made the eyebrow-raising call for timely payment of correct taxes at the launching of the BIR’s latest anti-tax evasion drive at the Philippine International Convention Center last February 7. At that event, he endorsed the campaign and lauded the BIR for the filing last year of 115 cases before the Department of Justice and 38 cases before Court of Tax Appeals in pursuit of tax liabilities totalling P110.42 billion.

The BIR would have achieved more last year if it included the P203-billion estate tax of the Marcoses among the cases it has already filed. Apparently it wasn’t included. It is not clear if this case, one of the largest if not the largest of its kind in the country on record, will be included in the BIR annual tax collection target of P2.6 trillion for this year.

The President has shown no indication that his family will be settling their tax obligations anytime soon. He previously said that it remained unclear how much estate tax the Marcoses really owe the government and that his family was not given a chance to air their side because they were still in exile in Hawaii when the tax assessment was made. He has insisted that the case should be reopened.  


[PODCAST] Law of Duterte Land: Explaining Marcos’ P203-B estate tax debt

[PODCAST] Law of Duterte Land: Explaining Marcos’ P203-B estate tax debt

He has actually been fudging the facts: the Marcoses returned to the Philippines from exile in Hawaii in 1991, the same year the BIR made an official assessment of the Marcos estate tax, then totaling P23 billion. The BIR sent the notices of tax assessment to former First Lady Imelda Marcos’s last known address in San Juan City, Metro Manila in November 1991. The Marcoses were given 30 days to file a formal protest but they didn’t.

Marcos Jr. was congressman of the second district of Ilocos Norte when the BIR issued 30 notices of levy on 11 Marcos real estate properties for the settlement of the outstanding estate tax in February and May 1993. The properties were later forfeited in favor of the government. This compelled the congressman to file a petition questioning the BIR tax assessment before the Court of Appeals on June 25, 1993.  

On November 24, 1994, the Court of Appeals dismissed Marcos Jr.’s petition, stating that “the manner and method in which the tax collection is sought to be enforced can no longer be questioned” because the assessment had become final and unappealable.

The case was then elevated to the Supreme Court. On June 5, 1997, the Third Division of the High Court upheld the decision of the appellate court. Marcos Jr. and his mother, former First Lady Imelda Marcos, filed motions for reconsideration on the ruling, the last one dismissed with finality by the High Court Third Division on January 13, 1999.

Former Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez had revealed that the Duterte administration already sent the Marcoses demand letters on the estate tax case, the last in December 2021.

All that remains is for the government tax collection agency to file the case. If it finally does and succeeds in doing it right, the BIR can get from this single case a huge chunk of its target tax collection for the year.

But does the agency have enough backbone and smarts to get this done? Does the current tax chief have the guts to ask the President to follow his own advice to Filipino taxpayers and thereby set the example for the entire country by finally settling his family’s outstanding and overdue tax obligations? Or will he instead turn a blind eye to the case and apply a double standard in enforcing the country’s tax laws: one favoring the Marcoses and the other punishing the rest? –

Daniel Agoncillo has worked as an editor for various newspapers for 17 years. He is currently writing and editing for the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC).

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