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Revealed: Aquino’s fake anti-graft campaign

Every once in a while, especially in slow news days, Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) chief Kim Henares would appear in a televised press conference announcing the filing of charges against an unknown taxpayer (a Greenbelt bar, a beauty parlor, a Valenzuela factory) or against a prominent personality (actor Zoren Legaspi, former Chief Justice Renato Corona, and even national boxing hero Manny Pacquiao).

A similar ritual has ensued at the Bureau of Customs especially during the time of Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon when he would open container vans in front of media cameras, and show all those supposedly smuggled goods. Flanked by his subordinates, he would announce the filing of smuggling charges. The Finance Department in a similar manner would issue press releases regularly, saying that its Revenue Integrity

Protection Service has proven again a case of unexplained wealth against a Finance official.

And like a broken record, President Aquino in his coming State of the Nation Address would claim that he is winning his fight against corruption. He would ad nauseum cite the charges against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (conveniently forgetting how one by one the charges have been dismissed), and his latest boast of course would be the incarceration of the three pork-barrel senators Enrile, Revilla, and Estrada.

This he would say is his biggest legacy to the nation. Unfortunately, this is all a fraud. At its best – if you are a yellow believer and want to assume that Aquino did not deliberately lie to the Filipino people – this shows the idiocy and ineptness of Aquino and his cabinet.

What are the facts behind this “anti-corruption” hype? How many of the tax evaders, smugglers, and corrupt officials the Aquino administration has gone after have been actually convicted?

Zero. Zilch. Not one. After four years of shouting “Kung walang corupt, walang mahirap.” Even a Department of Finance report in February 2013 revealed that only 6 percent of the BIR’s tax evasion cases even reached the courts.

It is the same sad story as the one I had written about Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and the cases her office has been filing since 2010 (“Morales: All bark, no bite.” Manila Times, June 16). Aquino’s anti-graft campaign is all smoke and mirrors.

Let’s start with tax evasion cases, and on Monday I will deal with smugglers and the inexplicably rich government officials.

Based on the BIR’s “Profile of RATE Cases” (referring to its Run After Tax Evaders program), it “filed” 132 cases against tax evaders from 2010 to 2012, and another 95 (based on its press releases) in the past two years. (Interestingly, 13 out of the 31 filed in 2014 involved the cases against former chief justice Renato Corona, his wife, and daughter.)

Out of these 231 cases that the BIR filed under Mr. Aquino’s watch, how many did it win, how many tax evaders did it get to pay their right taxes, and send to jail under our “stiff” tax laws?

None. Not a single tax evader.

Most cases are still being heard at the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA), which is still even hearing cases filed as early as 1995. And those cases filed since 2010 that it had already decided on, the CTA’s decision was a mere dismissal.

According to the BIR’s own report, out of the 132 cases filed from 2010 to 2012, 16 percent were dismissed either by the CTA or by the BIR itself after its own review, while 78 or 70 percent are still “For Resolution.”

Amazingly, there were still 36 out of the 132 cases filed in 2010-2012 cases that were either still with the BIR undertaking “preliminary investigation,” or awaiting assignment of a lawyer to handle the case. Most of the cases the BIR “filed” in 2013 and 2014 are still being investigated at the level of the BIR or by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

There were three notable exceptions in which the tax evasion cases moved swiftly from the BIR to the DOJ to the CTA.

These were the cases against Social Security System chairman during President Arroyo’s term Romulo Neri, against Chief Justice Corona whom Arroyo appointed, former First Gentleman Miguel Arroyo’s lawyer Jesus Santos, and comic-strip creator and scriptwriter Carlo Caparas, whom Arroyo gave a National Artist Award. The cases against the latter two, however, were swiftly dismissed by the CTA. Tax cases as a tool for persecuting political enemies? Of course, it’s way too obvious.

The BIR also joined the mob against pork queen Janet Napoles by filing a tax evasion case against Napoles and her husband. The DOJ, already busy with its own plunder cases against the couple, will of course have to handle the case. On the basis of Facebook posts of her inside a limousine and in a posh New York apartment, the BIR also filed tax cases against the Napoles daughter.

Of course the tax court since 2010 had convicted accused tax evaders, which BIR head Henares has been boasting about. But these were all cases filed in the last decade, mostly when former President Arroyo first launched the BIR’s Run After Tax Evaders’ program, which Aquino has been falsely claiming as his own program.

For instance, the most celebrated case recently decided by the court involved actress Judy Ann Santos, whom the court convicted as guilty of tax evasion in January 16 last year. But that case was filed eight years ago in 2005, during President Arroyo’s watch. (Santos was acquitted of the criminal charge, but ordered to pay P3.4 million plus a 20 percent interest from 2008.)

Another case, about which this BIR had been boasting, was the case of “beauty doctor” Joel Mendez who runs a chain of dermatological clinics, and was charged for not filing income taxes from 2001 to 2003. But the case was filed nine years ago, and the decision a rather strange one: He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, although ordered to pay a fine of only P20,000. Dura lex, sed lex (“The law is hard, but it is the law”) indeed but probably only if you don’t get good lawyers.

The reality is that the campaign against tax evasion is seriously blocked by the weakness of our justice system, and Aquino has done nothing to strengthen the capacity of our courts to hear these cases. There are only 9 justices in 3 divisions in the Court of tax appeals; there pending cases every year have been increasing to the 900 this year. (Quite strangely though, the cases the BIR files are almost all against this contractor or other small to big businessmen, this actor, this merchant in the provinces. Apparently our oligarchs and top 500 tax payers are paying their taxes religiously.)

It is not the Court’s fault alone. The BIR has no prosecutorial body, but is required to get the Justice Department to file tax evasion cases at the CTA. But the DOJ has been involved in so many cases, most of them obviously politically motivated.

Most of its lawyers are also bogged down by the pork barrel scam cases, which would tie them down for years.

DOJ lawyers, I was told, have been complaining that cases are being filed at the department with very little documentation by the BIR. “They’ve been looking good in the press in announcing tax evasion cases. But we are the ones given the huge work,” one DOJ lawyer. “Worse, we’re the ones blamed if the case is dismissed, when those rich BIR officials did sloppy jobs,” one source said.

This could be the reason – or another more pecuniary reason – why several CTA cases I’ve pored through were dismissed on the following rather strange grounds:

“For failure of the prosecutor to comply, despite notice… requiring her to submit to this Court the original or certified true copies of the duly signed approval for criminal prosecution of the accused on all other records in her possession… the case is hereby DISMISSED.” (Duly capitalized in the original.)

This means the prosecutor simply abandoned the case, and didn’t even appear during the hearing.

Two other cases I’ve read were dismissed for the following intriguing reason:

“For failure of prosecutor to comply… with the Resolution requiring her to submit to this Court the original or certified true copies of the written authority from the Commissioner of Internal Revenue to file the case and the records of the preliminary investigation, the case is hereby DISMISSED.” (Duly capitalized in the original.)

Such cases could be explained only by the following reasons:

1. The prosecutor felt the BIR case handed over to her (or him) was too stupid that he or she didn’t want to waste time on it. Refusing the Court’s order to submit certain documents was the easiest way to relieve her of that stupid case.

2. He or she was paid off by the accused not to submit the documents the Court asked for so the case would be dismissed.

3. Especially in the second case, it was all “press release” by the BIR head: She never really authorized that the case be brought to the court.

Do you still wonder why Aquino has moved heaven and earth to put the three senators in jail? That’s the only thing he is holding on to claim that he has won victories against corruption.