UNA: No basis for tax probe on Jinggoy
MANILA, Philippines - There is no basis for a tax investigation on Sen. Jinggoy Estrada in connection with his Wack Wack, Mandaluyong City property worth at least P330 million, Vice President Jejomar Binay's United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) said Monday.
Navotas City Rep. Tobias Tiangco, UNA secretary-general, said if the basis for a tax probe is the allegation that Estrada did not declare his property in his 2012 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), that has not been established yet.
“How can the alleged inaccuracy in his SALN be the basis for a tax investigation? It’s clear the agencies of government are ganging up on Senator Estrada after his privilege speech last week,” he said. “This is clearly a case of plain and simple harassment and vengeance.”
Tiangco was commenting on the statement of Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Jacinto Kim-Henares on Friday that her agency would look into all the tax angles in Estrada’s Wack Wack property acquisition.
Tiangco is a neighbor of Estrada, although the Navotas congressman has denied that the senator is the owner of the huge lot behind and beside his house on Wack Wack Road.
The mansion Estrada is building reportedly costs P120 million, although some independent estimates put the cost at much more.
His 3,000-square-meter lot is worth at least P210 million. Lot prices in the subdivision are conservatively estimated at being in the P70,000-P80,000-per-square-meter range, according to barangay officials.
This means that the lot and house would be worth at least P330 million.
Tiangco said the administration and the ruling Liberal Party (LP) are ganging up on the Estradas after the senator’s speech opened a proverbial Pandora’s box.
“There seems to be a bold campaign to politically persecute political enemies in an apparent bid to cripple the opposition,” Tiangco said.
Sen. Estrada, son of former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, has been presented as a possible vice presidential candidate of the opposition in the 2016 elections.
Tiangco also said the disqualification of Laguna Gov. ER Ejecito, first cousin of the senator, by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was only a “token strike” intended to convey to the Estradas that more hostile actions from the government are on the horizon.
He said there is also a pending disqualification case against Mayor Estrada filed by the LP.
“There is a big possibility that this kind of systematic political repression is sanctioned by the administration. This is a political exhibition to deflect the gamut of corruption among administration allies at the expense of one family,” Tiangco said.
For his part, Sen. JV Ejercito, another son of Mayor Estrada, also revealed there is an ongoing audit investigation into his transactions as San Juan mayor.
“The message of the Liberal Party is very clear. The government can go back against all of those who will speak against them. Using agencies of the government to harass the political opposition based on unproven allegations is tantamount to corruption. This is contrary to the matuwid na daan (straight path),” Tiangco said.
He accused LP leaders of moving heaven and earth to convince some magistrates of the Supreme Court to disqualify Mayor Estrada.
“But I trust the Supreme Court and I believe that they will not be influenced by such and they will rule according to the dictates of the law, that they will not suspend President Estrada and they will not be part of this grand effort to destroy the Estradas and the opposition,” Tiangco said.
He said the LP is done with Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and is now training its eyes on the Estradas.
He added Binay appears to be the LP’s next target.
But Malacañang rebuffed Tiangco’s claim, saying the administration had nothing to do with the developments affecting the Estradas and Ejercito.
“As far as we are concerned, there’s nothing personal here. We’re not taking it personally, we’re not taking anybody personally,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
He said that in the case of Gov. Ejercito, it was the Comelec which ordered his disqualification for overspending in the recent May 13 elections.
“We have nothing to do with that, and it has been based on the expenditures of Governor Ejercito,” he explained.
Aquino’s LP candidate for governor in Laguna was former Rep. Edgar San Luis.
“Under the law, a maximum of P3 could be spent per registered voter, and in the case of Laguna, the total allowable campaign spending could have been between P4 to P5 million as Laguna has a total 1,525,522 voters,” Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said, explaining the Comelec’s decision to recall Ejercito.
Ejercito’s expense report showed he had a contract for seven television spots worth over P20 million.
Is income enough?
Henares, meanwhile, said the investigation would include determining whether the son of former President Estrada had enough declared income in his SALN to support his lot purchase and his mansion’s construction. “I cannot say that just because he has acquired a new property, he already has a tax liability. I have to see first his reported income. If the property is included in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) and is supported by his reported income, then there is no problem,” she said.
She said the problem would arise if Sen. Estrada’s declared earnings would turn out to be insufficient for his property acquisition.
In that case, she added that the senator would have to explain where he got his funds, and if such funds were part of his income, why he did not declare them.
In his 2012 SALN, Estrada valued his real properties at P66 million while his personal properties were worth P149.16 million.
The Wack Wack acquisition was not specifically listed among his real properties.
He listed his liabilities at P21.66 million and his net worth at P193.5 million.
Estrada said he sold his Greenhills, San Juan house near his father’s residence in 2011 for P100 million which, he added, he used to buy the Wack Wack lot. He currently lives in Corinthian Hills, Quezon City.
He said he started building his new house in 2012. He did not say how he funded the construction.
In an interview with Senate reporters on Thursday, Estrada initially said his Wack Wack property was not part of his 2012 SALN because the title to it has not been transferred to him. But he later claimed that he included it as part of his investments, which he valued at P122 million. However, Chairman Francisco Duque of the Civil Service Commission said the lot should have been declared in the real properties column in the SALN.
Henares said another tax angle the BIR would look into is whether the seller of the Wack Wack lot paid capital gains tax, and whether Estrada’s sale of his Greenhills home was subject to such tax.
She said the BIR would also determine if the senator withheld any amount from the seller for tax payment purposes.
“We are always looking into the tax angle. We cannot say anything until we are ready to bring the case to court,” she added.
The National Bureau of Investigation and pork barrel scam whistle-blowers have filed plunder charges against Estrada, Senators Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr., and alleged scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles in connection with the alleged misuse of hundreds of millions in funds the senators gave Napoles’ foundations.
Sought for comment on what the BIR intends to do in its tax probe on Estrada’s Wack Wack property, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas, Cavite said the agency would determine, based on the senator’s SALN and his income tax declaration, whether he had declared enough income to fund his acquisition.
“If he did not, they should probably determine whether he obtained a loan, which should be part of his liabilities in his SALN. If there is no sufficient income and there is no loan, or if there is income and loan but these are not sufficient, they will assume he used undeclared earnings,” he said.
This is where the issue of tax evasion comes in, said Barzaga, who was a practicing lawyer-accountant before he sought public office.
He added that a taxpayer who does not declare all of his income does not pay tax on the unreported portion.
Barzaga also said any concerned citizen could file a case with the Office of the Ombudsman against any public officer who fails to make an accurate declaration of his assets in his SALN.
In the absence of a complaint, the ombudsman may initiate an investigation on its own, he said.
He agreed with Duque that real estate assets should be declared in the real properties column in the SALN, together with their acquisition prices, assessed value and market value.
Last Friday, the Sandiganbayan convicted former deputy Customs commissioner Gil Valera of violating the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and Employees for failing to declare some family assets in his 2001 SALN.