Marcos ill-gotten wealth and unpaid tax on estate

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

As the nation recalled the imposition of martial law and dictatorship by Ferdinand Marcos 49 years ago, amid calls that it should “Never Again” happen, two retired Supreme Court jurists reminded us about certain historical facts that the Marcoses are trying to erase.

To the question, “Do the Marcoses have ill-gotten wealth?” former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, says: “In many decisions, the Supreme Court answered…with a clear and unqualified ‘Yes’.”

Writing in his regular column in the Inquirer on Sept. 26, Panganiban cited five SC rulings adverse to the Marcoses, issued during the presidencies of Corazon C. Aquino, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno S. Aquino III and Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Some cases were lost, however, because of the government prosecutors’ “utter failure to observe simple procedural and evidentiary rules,” allowing the Marcoses to win.

In a related discussion, on Sept. 30 in the same newspaper, retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio revealed the enormous tax debt of the Marcos estate, “in effect continuing to defraud the Filipino people decades after his death in 1989. His heirs (Imelda, Bongbong, Imee and Irene) violated the law which requires them to file the estate tax return with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). But that’s not all they failed – or adamantly refused – to do in compliance with law.

“Neither did they pay any estate tax,” Carpio wrote. “(They) simply ignored all the notices sent by the BIR,” he pointed out, such that their “tax debt to the Filipino people now aggregate(s) P203.819 billion.”

It’s crucial to take into account what the two retired jurists have written, in light of the presidential elections in May 2022. All too evident is the Marcoses’ ambition to return to Malacañang, with Bongbong running for president or vice president in either a Marcos-Duterte or Duterte-Marcos team-up.

Here are some details the two jurists have pointed out.

Panganiban described as a “milestone” and “perhaps the most damning” Supreme Court ruling against the Marcoses the one on Republic v. Sandiganbayan: It forfeited in favor of the Republic more than $658 million plus interests “owned by Ferdinand and Imelda but hidden in front foundations and organizations.”

Issued on July 15, 2003, the decision was penned by then Justice Renato C. Corona. The ruling held that “$304,372.43… [was] the only known lawful income of the [Marcos couple from 1965 to 1985] since they did not file any Statement of Assets and Liabilities, as required by law, from which their net worth could be determined.”

This ruling on the Marcoses’ lawful income, Panganiban observed, “became crucial in subsequent cases which deemed as ill-gotten any cash, [bank] deposit or asset owned by the couple in excess of such sum.”

The other SC rulings that Panganiban cited resulted in the following: The transfer to the Republic of 111,415 controlling shares in the Philippine Telecommunications Investment Corp. (Jan. 20, 2006); the assets, properties and funds of Arelma S.A. valued at “US$3,369,975 as of 1983, plus all interests and all other income that accrued thereon” were deemed ill-gotten and forfeited in favor of the Republic (April 25, 2012); “labelled as ill-gotten and forfeited” in favor of the Republic the pieces of jewelry, known as the “Malacañang Collection” (Jan. 18, 2017).

The last cited ruling was penned by then Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. Panganiban wrote that the ruling “footnoted” the petition (dated Dec. 17, 1991) which the Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG) filed in the Sandiganbayan, listing the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses “approximated at US$5-billion…”

Invariably, Panganiban noted, the above-cited cases “echoed” the April 12, 1988 ruling on PCGG v. Peña (filed under the Cory Aquino administration). That ruling, he added, described the Marcos era as a “well-entrenched plundering regime of twenty years” and condemned the “magnitude of the past regime’s ‘organized pillage’ and the ingenuity of the plunderers and pillagers with the assistance of the experts and best legal minds…” Then Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee penned the trail-blazing ruling.

On his part, retired Senior Associate Justice Carpio traced how the estate tax debt has built up over the decades, during which the Marcos heirs apparently took a willful resistance to filing an estate tax return and paying the corresponding tax.

The BIR computed the estate tax based on the known assets of the dictator at the time of his death. These were “culled from property records in government offices, documents recovered… in Malacañang when the Marcoses fled the country in 1986, as well as pleadings filed in court by the Marcos heirs who claimed ownership of the secret foreign bank accounts and other assets…”

The BIR assessed the taxes due on the Marcos estate at P23,293,607.638. It made sure proper notices were given to Imelda Marcos. Carpio referred to a June 5, 1997 Supreme Court ruling on a Court of Appeals decision that Bongbong raised to the tribunal. The SC ruling noted that formal assessment notices were served on Imelda and her lawyer on Oct. 20, 1992, again on her, Bongbong and their lawyer on April 7, 1993 and June 10, 1993.

“Despite all of these Notices, petitioner [Bongbong] never lifted a finger to protest the assessments xxx nor appealed the same to the Court of Appeals,” the SC ruling declared.

However, when the BIR served notices to the Marcos heirs that real properties in Marcos’ name would be auctioned off to pay the estate tax, Bongbong filed a petition with the CA questioning the validity of the assessment “on flimsy ground.” The CA dismissed his petition, saying the tax assessment had already become “final and unappealable.”

Yet, “24 years after the SC affirmed that CA ruling, the Marcos heirs still have not paid the estate tax,” Carpio stressed. This failure to pay have caused the 20 percent annual interest on the tax to build up to P139,721,645,828, and the 25 percent penalty to P34,940,411.454.

Altogether, the estate tax the Marcoses now owe is P203.817 billion – which, if paid, could tremendously help in aiding the millions gravely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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