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Nabuking! BIR says Sereno violated tax law 6 times

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By Xave Gregorio

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno may have violated tax laws at least six times after failing to pay the correct taxes in several years, a Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) commissioner said.

BIR deputy commissioner Arnel Guballa said in their preliminary probe into Sereno’s tax declarations, they found that the Chief Justice, currently facing an impeachment complaint with the House justice committee, failed to pay the correct amount of her value added taxes from her earnings in the Philippine International Air Terminals Company Incorporated (Piatco) case.

“From 2005, as I have said kanina, the Chief Justice committed six counts of violation. If we follow the procedure dito po sa amin sa NIRC, then under Section 255 of the National Internal Revenue Code, failure to pay income tax is liable,” Guballa told lawmakers during the final hearing of the House committee on justice on the impeachment complaint against Sereno.

He also said the Chief Justice may also be held liable under Section 254 of the same law.

Section 255 of the tax law penalizes those who fail to file their income tax returns, supply incorrect information, and fail to pay taxes, while the preceding section provides penalties for tax evasion.

Guballa said Sereno failed to pay around P2 million in taxes. However, he added that the actual amount the Chief Justice supposedly owes in taxes may be even larger, as their initial probe only focused on the tax declarations of the leader of the judiciary related to her earnings from the Piatco case and excluded her other sources of income, including her stint as a law professor at the University of the Philippines – College of Law.

Asked if Sereno is still committing the offense of tax evasion, Guballa said, “Yes, your honor.”

The BIR found “discrepancies” amounting to P1.4 million in the third quarter of 2005 and P6.6 million in the following quarter, Guballa said.

Sereno’s tax declarations also showed discrepancies in the third and fourth quarters of 2006, amounting to P1.5 million and P140,000, respectively.

Furthermore, the Chief Justice also paid below the correct amount in the third and fourth quarters of 2007 (underpaid by P2.2 million and P634,000, respectively), in the fourth quarter of 2008 (underpaid by P4.1 million), and in the first quarter of 2009 (underpaid by P43,000).

However, Guballa also said Sereno paid above the correct amount from 2004 to 2006, where she paid in excess of P810,000, P468,000, and P287,000, respectively.

The Sereno camp maintained that the Chief Justice “faithfully” filed her income tax returns with the BIR.

“As government’s co-legal counsel in the Piatco cases from 2004-2009, the Chief Justice paid a total of P8.67 million for the income earned during these years. The CJ did not receive any notice or letter from the BIR calling her attention in connection with her ITR (income tax return) filings within the prescriptive period and thereafter, debunking claims on the supposed discrepancy in her ITR filings made eight to 13 years ago,” they said in a statement.