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Opinion

The dead will not pay taxes, the living should!

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

They say two things are almost certain in life. Death and taxes. I am sure about the first one, but it seems there are a thousand ways to avoid the latter. My friends, April 15 is fast approaching. Have you prepared your BIR Form 1700 already? Regardless of how the Comelec seems to have downplayed the non-filing of Income Tax Returns, it is best to follow the law and pay what we are legally obliged to contribute to the government.

At this time of economic recovery, our country needs every peso from its responsible citizens. While our country has been surviving on loans, taxes are indeed the lifeblood of the government. How else can we pay our loans and the cost of public service, if not from our own pockets? It is therefore frustrating to witness how the government suffers from “blood loss” due to hemorrhagic corruption in the indiscriminate use of taxpayers’ money. It is even more excruciatingly frustrating to know how some people could easily avoid the obligation to pay taxes. Perhaps, some people are very lucky; they could keep everything in their pockets.

When the P20-billion uncollected taxes on the estate of the late president Marcos were brought to light during the presidential debate, it seemed to be the immediate answer to the pressing need to jumpstart our economic recovery amidst this COVID-19 pandemic. Some candidates are already imagining how to spend the amount for housing, food and other necessities for our people hard hit during these challenging moments. But where is the money? Tax experts have said the estate tax is not the obligation of BBM or the other Marcos heirs. It is a tax on the right to transfer the properties left by the deceased to his heirs. And they say that there is no obligation to pay the estate tax until the heirs would be able to inherit the properties left.

Others chide the past administrations for failing to collect the taxes for more than two decades since the finality of the Supreme Court decision affirming the ruling of the Court of Appeals that the deficiency estate tax assessment is already final and unappealable, and the subsequent levy of real properties is a tax remedy resorted to by the government, sanctioned by Sections 213 and 218 of the National Internal Revenue Code.

In dismissing the petition of Ferdinand R. Marcos II questioning the levy and sale of the Marcos properties, the High Tribunal held: “There being sufficient service of Notices to herein petitioner (and his mother) and it appearing that petitioner continuously ignored said Notices despite several opportunities given him to file a protest and to thereafter appeal to the Court of Tax Appeals, the tax assessments subject of this case, upon which the levy and sale of properties were based, could no longer be contested (directly or indirectly) via this instant petition for certiorari.”

As explained by the Marcos camp, there were true attempts to sell the properties but there were no bidders. It is unthinkable for prime properties not to interest investors or businessmen. Were the auctions properly disseminated? Were there legal questions raised that may have discouraged prospective bidders? If it was that difficult to sell these properties to pay the estate taxes during the administration of P-Noy, what will happen should BBM win the presidency?

From where I sit, the fear is legitimate, if the surveys are correct and he will win. Will the Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner under his administration still find ways to collect the estate taxes? Or will it just simply allow the obligation to lapse and be extinguished by prescription by not sending the periodic demand to keep the claim outstanding? Given that it is not the personal obligation of the heirs to pay the estate taxes because they have not inherited anything from their late father, can we expect one running for the highest post in the land to be responsible enough to volunteer and pay the outstanding estate taxes using the properties left by his deceased father?

The dead cannot pay taxes, but, hopefully, the living would. Is it not possible for the Marcos heirs to simply cede all the properties to the government in payment of the taxes instead of relying on the BIR mechanisms to enforce the tax collection? Perhaps, investors will be willing to bid if they are assured that the Marcos heirs will not do anything to frustrate the auction of these properties. Or can we at least have a firm public commitment from the presidential candidate that the estate taxes will be paid even if he will become president? Or is this just a vain hope?

The May 9 election is just around the corner, but it seems the Marcos disqualification case pending before the Comelec en banc has already been forgotten. Will the Comelec even resolve the case before May 9? The way it is going, it is already certain that the Supreme Court will not have an opportunity to tackle the disqualification issue before the elections.

Will it now depend on the will of the people? What is the use of imposing disqualifications for public office if the voice of the people should be supreme even in these cases? Was not the condonation doctrine, where the administrative offenses of public officials are deemed forgiven upon their re-election, erased from jurisprudence already?

Comelec, there is still time. Please act not only accordingly to the law, but most importantly, with the best interest of the country in mind. The people can only hope for clean, honest and credible elections. Let this hope be NOT in vain!

BIR

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