FORCING the heirs of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos to pay billions of pesos in estate taxes is a matter of political will, according to the former head of the agency tasked to recover the ill-gotten wealth of Mr. Marcos and his cronies.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte should do more than ask the country’s tax agency why the taxes have remained unpaid for decades, former Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Commissioner Ruben Carranza said on Tuesday.
“If it’s easy for him to kill Filipinos, it should be easy for him to collect taxes from the Marcoses,” he told One News channel in Filipino. “It’s a matter of political will.”
Mr. Carranza, who now works as a senior expert at the International Center for Transitional Justice, said the government should charge the Marcos family including former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. in court for refusing to pay the tax liability, which supposedly has ballooned to P204 billion ($4 billion) due to interest and other penalties.
Marcos lawyer and spokesman Victor D. Rodriguez did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment. Marcos, Jr. is running for president this year and is leading in opinion polls.
“File tax evasion charges against the Marcoses under the National Internal Revenue Code,” Mr. Carranza said in Filipino. “You have not settled it for years, you do not want to settle it, that’s a criminal case.”
“The government could go after the Marcoses and they must be legally charged if they don’t want to pay their liabilities,” he said. “That’s what the law says.”
Mr. Carranza was involved in a Supreme Court case where $678-million in Swiss deposits of the late dictator and his wife Imelda were found to have been illegally obtained.
He earlier said the late strongman’s son is aware of his family’s stolen wealth because he has been a key administrator of the Marcos estate since his father died in exile in the US in 1989.
He said Mr. Marcos was already 40 years old when the PCGG discovered in 1998 the $2 million worth of assets deposited by his late father with Merrill Lynch Securities in New York in 1972 under the Panamanian corporation Arelma S.A.
Mr. Carranza said it was the son who answered questions about the contents of the Swiss bank accounts. “When Marcos, Sr. died, who took over their estate? Of course, Imelda, because she was still alive, but also Bongbong,” he told a virtual forum organized by the University of the Philippines Department of History on March 3.
“The money sat in the account for about 30 years, growing to $33.8 million in cash and securities by 2000,” according to Courthouse News Service.
Legal experts including Mr. Carranza and former Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio, worry that the government would never recover the ill-gotten assets once Bongbong becomes president.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III told reporters they were discussing the estate tax with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
“There are several amounts that have been floated around, originally it was P9 billion, then it became P23 billion, and now because of penalties and interests, they say it is P203 billion,” he said in a Viber group message. “Which amount it will be settled at will be in discussions with the BIR.”
Mr. Dominguez said the government was intent on collecting the taxes.
Last month, the Bureau of Internal Revenue said it sent in December a written demand to the Marcos family to settle their tax liabilities.
The Finance department has said the estate tax would be an additional source of revenue for the government amid surging global oil prices.
ENRILE TO THE RESCUEJuan Ponce Enrile, the dictator’s defense minister who led a coup and a popular street uprising that eventually toppled the Marcos regime in Feb. 1986, has dismissed as “politically motivated” the estate tax issue against Marcos, Jr. and his family.
“There is no issue,” Mr. Enrile, one of the architects of the dictator’s martial rule, told Bombo Radyo in Filipino, the office of Mr. Marcos said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday.
He said he would lawyer for Marcos, Jr. for free to prove his critics wrong. “Indict Bongbong? It’s laughable,” he added, noting that Bongbong’s critics are all “ignorant of taxation laws and do not know what they were talking about.”
“I’m not bragging, I did practice law,” Mr. Enrile, 98, said. “The cases I have handled are in the Philippine records. I haven’t lost a case.”
Mr. Enrile is a tax expert and graduated with a Masters of Law degree from Harvard School of Law with a specialization in international tax law.
After helping oust the dictator, the late President Corazon C. Aquino named Mr. Enrile her defense minister but he was forced to resign months later due to policy disagreements.
“I don’t know what they will do but if I were Bongbong, I will ignore it,” said Mr. Enrile, who is also a former Senate president. “I will tell Bongbong, to give me the case and I will handle it. Gratis et amore.”
He said the P204-billion estate tax is a big nonsense because both the National Government and Bureau of Internal Revenue have yet to come up with a final and accurate assessment of the Marcos estate’s assets.
“The BIR can’t by itself assess the valuation of the asset.” Mr. Enrile said. He added that if there was an estate tax to be paid, the government should not compel not the Marcos heirs but the Marcos estate to pay for it.
“The estate tax is a tax on the estate and not a tax on Bongbong,” he said. “It’s not Imelda’s tax. It’s not Imee’s or Irene’s tax. It’s a tax on the estate of President Marcos,” he added, referring to Bongbong’s mother and sisters.
Mr. Enrile said the estate tax was only forcibly being heaped on Mr. Marcos for political reasons. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Norman P. Aquino and Tobias Jared Tomas