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Metro

Suspension for Binay

- Jose Rodel Clapano, Michael Punongbayan -
Tension gripped Makati City Hall last night as the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) served a preventive suspension order against Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay.

Over a hundred policemen cordoned off city hall to secure the area after supporters of Binay formed a human shield for the mayor.

Binay, his wife and former mayor Elenita, and two former city officials are facing plunder charges before the Ombudsman in connection with the alleged unremitted P1.1 billion withholding taxes of 8,000 city employees from 1999 to 2002.

Former councilor Oscar Ibay filed the complaint in which he also sought the preventive suspension of Binay.

The tension eased when SWAT and policemen from the NCRPO decided to pull out to allow senior police officials to hold talks with the mayor.

DILG Undersecretary Marius Corpus and Gen. Reynaldo Varilla, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief, had a closed door meeting with Binay at the 21st floor of Makati City Hall near midnight.

At 11:30 p.m., Binay accepted the suspension order.

However, he said it was an illegal suspension order and stressed that he would not vacate city hall.

"I am still the mayor," he said, adding they would legally question the order on Monday.

Apart from the mayor and his wife, the other respondents in the case are former city treasurer Luz Yamane-Garcia and former accountant Dulce Cruz.

Ibay said the respondents violated Republic Act 8424 or "The Tax Code" and RA 7080 or the Plunder Law.

Ibay said he acknowledged the good compensation package for city employees but stressed there was wrongdoing on the part of the government when it failed to remit the taxes to the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

"As a taxpayer, I am also concerned that the taxes deducted from my compensation as a councilor in Makati are not properly remitted to the BIR," Ibay said.

"The city government employees have the impression that they have done their legal obligation of paying their taxes to the government after the same had been withheld from their salaries. Ironically, said amounts have not been remitted to the BIR," Ibay told the Ombudsman.

"The government is deprived of much-needed tax revenues to the prejudice of certain government projects dependent upon the taxes collected for their funding support," he added.

The respondents, he added, "have established a pattern of misappropriating the funds and amassed for themselves such substantial amount of money amounting to P1,150,331,321.81 over a period of four years."

Last Wednesday, BIR revenue officer Roberto Baquiran ordered the seizure of the accounts of Binay and the city government in 34 commercial and government-owned banks in Metro Manila to cover the unpaid withholding taxes.

Binay said the seizure could lead to a "shutdown of the Makati City government."

"This is a political move against me, but it is the people of Makati who will suffer. The national government will have to answer to the people," Binay said.

"I’m sorry to announce that we will not be able to release the mid-year bonuses of our employees as scheduled. If this continues for another 10 days, we might not be able to give the bonuses," Binay said.

For his part, Baquiran said he and his family have started receiving death threats since Thursday, or a day after he issued the warrant of garnishment on the bank accounts.

"I fear not only for my life but more so for the safety of my family. I am being harassed and accused of being a mere chess pawn in the political board game. But I assure you that there is nothing political here. I am not a politician nor do I aspire for any public office," Baquiran said.

Binay maintained that the city government had already settled its tax obligation when it entered into a P200-million tax settlement with BIR chief Jose Mario Buñag, who was then trying to meet his collection target.

He said they were never told that another body would review the settlement, and that they were surprised when told in November 2006 that the settlement had been rejected with the P200 million credited to the alleged liabilities.

"We were assured by Finance Secretary Margarito Teves in December 2006 that a meeting will be held to resolve the issue, but a notice was given on March 2 for the city to pay the amount of P332 million on or before March 31. In reply, city officials asked Buñag to convene the meeting, but the BIR issued the garnishment order on May 2," Binay said.

Binay said his political opponents knew of the garnishment order and was announcing it during their rallies a few days before the order was issued.

He said Baquiran issued the order even without the knowledge of his direct superior Revenue Director Nelson Aspe.

Binay added there was more than enough money to cover the P1.1 billion alleged unremitted withholding taxes in the Philippine Veterans Bank alone, the first bank to be served the warrant of garnishment. The city government has a P3.2 billion account in PVB.

"If, for the sake of argument, we owe BIR the P1.1 billion they are claiming, is the Philippine Veterans Bank account not more than enough to cover the deficit?" Binay asked. "What other reason does Baquiran have for freezing all our bank accounts and including private banks? For us, this is a clear act of political harassment."

Binay also questioned the inclusion of Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado in the notice of garnishment, saying BIR rules limit the liability to the city mayor and the city treasurer.

Binay said the garnishment deprived the city government of funds for its day-to-day operations.

"We only want a humane and fair treatment of this issue. Aspe told us that we will continue the talks after the elections. All banks have already told us that our accounts have already been garnished," Binay said.

Baquiran said earlier Binay and the former city treasurer may be facing lifetime prison terms for the P1.1 billion tax liabilities.

In a statement, Binay said BIR’s issuance of the garnishment has alarmed the business community.

"They are worried about the ramifications of this obvious political move, which are far-reaching and would impact even on the foreign business sector," Binay said.

Binay said it was the Arroyo administration that was behind the BIR order, in an effort to gain political control in Makati.

"They really don’t care if service to the public is lessened or totally disrupted. It is the largesse they are after which they are bent on getting through fair means or foul," Binay said.

Binay also appealed to all government employees not to leave their posts.

"These businessmen have high regard for the economic team of the national government, but now they are seeing for themselves how the BIR can be used for political demolition,’’ Binay said.

"They are seriously worried and their trust in the fiscal agencies of the national government has been eroded," Binay said.

"In a sense, I am glad about this recent development as it reveals the true evil intentions of the GMA administration for the general public to see," he said.

Binay recalled the previous attempts by the Arroyo government to unseat him, the latest of which was last October when the Department of the Interior and Local Government issued a suspension order.

"And now that it is clear their fielded candidate against me in the coming election cannot win, they have resorted to this garnishment to try and paralyze the city and me personally," Binay said.

Speaking from Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte, Team Unity senatorial candidate Joker Arroyo also assailed the BIR for its garnishment order.

"I believe the ones who will suffer are not the officials but the people," Arroyo, a former Makati congressman who is running under the pro-administration coalition, said.

"Government-to-government cases can be discussed. With the garnishment, you involve the delivery of basic services and the salaries of employees," Arroyo said.

"The national government does not always have to resort to that. I really think it is not doing right," he added. – With Aurea Calica

BAQUIRAN

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