Why were the Ligots acquitted?
Why did the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) refuse to give credence to the evidence extracted during the Senate hearings in 2011 showing that the couple owned assets valued in the hundreds of millions of pesos that cannot be justified by the miniscule compensation income of Gen. Jacinto Ligot and the zero earnings of his wife Erlinda?
The public’s dismay and disgust was captured by the Inquirer editorial on Jan 22 (“The lucky Ligots”) indignantly asking “who must account for what appears to be so remiss and shoddy a work that… gave the Ligots exactly the lucky break they needed to squeak out of the law’s grasp?”
To answer this question, let us examine the CTA’s 83-page decision penned by Justice Ma. Belen M. Ringpis-Liban. The prosecutors of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) indicted the Ligots for their alleged “failure to supply correct and accurate information in their joint Income Tax Returns (ITR)…” and for their “unlawful attempt to evade the payment of taxes…”
To commit these crimes, the couple, according to the BIR, “accumulated  bank deposits and  properties… that were not commensurate to their declared income in their ITRs and SALNs” from 2001 to 2004.
On item 1, the CTA, however, disallowed “all evidence, testimonial or documentary, relating to the spouses’ bank accounts,” because Republic Act No. 1405 (the Bank Secrecy Law) granted bank deposits “absolute confidentiality.”
The only exceptions to confidentiality are (1) “upon written consent of the depositors” which the couple vehemently refused to give; (2) “in cases of impeachment” which is obviously not applicable here; (3) “upon orders of a competent court” in cases of “bribery or dereliction of duty” which are not the crimes involved here; or (4) “in cases where the money deposited is the subject matter of the litigation,” which is also inapplicable here as the BIR did not claim ownership of the deposits; it merely used them as evidence of tax evasion.
Disallowed also was the Anti-Money Laundering Council memo given to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati (not to the CTA), because the said memo was issued in connection with an alleged violation of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Amla) pending in the said RTC, not in relation to the crimes brought by the BIR to the CTA, which did not at all involve the Amla.
On item 2 (properties), the documents evidencing the titles on the land in Malaybalay, Bukidnon and on the Essensa East Forbes Condo in Taguig were not formally offered in evidence; those on the two condos in the Paseo Parkview Tower II in Makati, registered in the name of Miguela L. Paragas, “did not show the nexus” between the said owner and the spouses. And those on the 5-hectare Tanay, Rizal property were satisfactorily shown by the defense to be held in trust by Ligot on behalf of several military officers.
Moreover, those on the two properties in Anaheim and Buena Park, California, were not authenticated, as required by our laws, by the diplomatic and/or consular officials of the Philippines in the United States, and were thus inadmissible in evidence to show they were indeed owned by Erlinda Ligot.
In short, the prosecution’s pieces of evidence “have either been excluded, as in the case of the bank deposits, or were found to have scant probative value due to the failure to establish their authenticity and due execution, as in the case of the… properties… [or] have simply not been offered in evidence.”
But all is not lost. The nation can still mitigate its defeat via the asset forfeiture case pending in the Sandiganbayan, provided the prosecution learns its lesson on how to transform the perceived facts during the Senate hearing into legal facts in a court of law, per my column on Jan. 20 (“Commenting on high-profile cases”).
Ditto for the Amla case in the Makati RTC.
Moreover, the BIR is not precluded from collecting the taxes due thereon by carefully following the procedures prescribed by the National Internal Revenue Code. Jurisprudence allows the collection of taxes despite an acquittal in the herein crimes.
Though complicated, the rules of evidence were designed to discover the truth, free from bias, popular belief and error. May the truth prevail in these three other cases.
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