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With Due Respect

Facts and fantasies on Marcos’ estate tax

Incoming Commissioner Lilia Guillermo of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) was put on the spot by TV journalists with hard questions on what she intended to do with the much-ballyhooed tax liability of the estate of former president Ferdinand E. Marcos that has allegedly ballooned to over P203 billion from the P23 billion originally assessed by the BIR.

AT THE START, THE LADY ANSWERED PRUDENTLY that she needed to see the “correct data” first before giving a definitive commitment. When pressed further on what she would tell President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos II (BBM), given that the Supreme Court decision on the matter had become final and executory, she replied she would respectfully ask him, “P’wede ba maging role model kayo?” (Can you be a role model?) This reply was bandied by the broadsheets on June 23 and went viral on social media.

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Since then, a lot of facts and fantasies have been written and aired about the matter. But what are the “correct data” that are known, or publicly knowable, by accessing the e-library of the Supreme Court and reading the relevant Court of Appeals (CA) decision? Here are some undisputed facts therefrom:

On Sept. 29, 1989, former president Marcos died in Honolulu, Hawaii, US.

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On June 27, 1990, the BIR created a “Special Tax Audit Team … to conduct investigations … of the tax liabilities … of the late president, as well as that of his family, associates and ‘cronies.’”

The investigation disclosed that the Marcoses failed to file a written notice of his death, an estate tax return (ETR), and income tax returns (ITRs) for 1982-1986 “all in violation of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC).” Thus, the BIR “caused the preparation and filing” of the ETR, the ITR “of the spouses Marcos for the years 1985 to 1986,” and the ITR of BBM for 1982-1985.

On July 26, 1991, the BIR issued a deficiency estate tax assessment of over P23 billion; deficiency income tax assessments against the spouses Marcos of P149,000 and P184,000 for the years 1985 and 1986 respectively; and deficiency income tax assessment against BBM of P258.70, P9,386.40, P4,388.30, and P6,376.60 for 1982-1985. Copies of these assessments were sent to their “last known addresses” in San Juan City in 1991; thereafter in 1992, at the office of BBM at the House of Representatives; and finally, a copy to the then lawyer of the estate, the late Dean Antonio Coronel, “inviting Mrs. [Imelda] Marcos to a conference … but to no avail.”

The deficiency tax assessments were not administratively protested within 30 days from their service as provided by the NIRC.

On various dates in 1993, the BIR issued several notices of levy on the real estate properties of the Marcoses to satisfy the estate and income tax assessments. Copies of these notices were furnished Mrs. Marcos, BBM, and their “counsel of record … De Borja, Medialdea, Ata, Bello, Guevarra, and Serapio Law Office.”

A public auction of some levied properties “took place on July 5, 1993. There being no bidder, the lots were declared forfeited in favor of the government.”

Petitioner BBM filed suit in the CA on June 25, 1993, contesting the above BIR actions. Failing to obtain relief in the CA, BBM, as administrator of his father’s estate, and Mrs. Marcos elevated the suit to the Supreme Court.

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IN MARCOS II V. COURT OF APPEALS (June 5, 1997), the highest court dismissed the appeal holding thus: “Apart from failing to file the required [ETR] within the time required … petitioner and the other heirs never questioned the assessments served upon them, allowing the same to lapse into finality, and prompting the BIR to collect the said taxes by levying upon the properties left by President Marcos … [A]ssessments [of the BIR] are presumed correct and made in good faith. The taxpayer has the duty of proving otherwise … The course of action taken by petitioner reflects his disregard or even repugnance of the established institutions for governance in the scheme of a well-ordered society.”

This decision, rendered 25 years ago by the Court’s Second Division, was penned by Justice Justo P. Torres Jr. and concurred in unanimously by Justices Florenz D. Regalado (Division chair), Flerida Ruth P. Romero, Reynato S. Puno, and Vicente V. Mendoza.

Significantly, the petitioner was named “Ferdinand R. Marcos II”—not Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.—in the title of the decision and, consistently, in its textual content.

FROM THESE FACTS, THESE QUESTIONS MAY BE ASKED: How much has the BIR collected from the levy and auction sale of the Marcos properties? How much remains to be collected? How was the P23 billion computed? How did it balloon to P203 billion? Apart from those already levied and sold at public auction, what other properties does the Marcos estate have to satisfy the original assessment and balloon? What actions, if any, will the BIR undertake to collect these? Is it open to a compromise on the balloon and on the original assessment? Let’s await BIR’s answers.

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