By Ellson Quismorio
The House Committee on Justice has tasked the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to form a team that would specifically investigate whether or not Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has been paying the correct taxes based on her income.
Oriental Mindoro 2nd district Rep. Reynaldo Umali, committee chairman, gave the directive to newly-installed BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa Wednesday during the resumption of the hearing on the determination of probable cause on the impeachment complaint filed against the Chief Justice.
Guballa attended the proceedings as a resource person.
He admitted early in the hearing that there was as yet no formal investigation regarding the income tax returns (ITRs) of Sereno, who is an appointee of the previous Aquino administration.
“We asked from you a report, a summary report that will present all of these incomes, vis-a-vis tax payments. Perhaps an investigation is the proper mode of obtaining all of these information in a comprehensive manner,” Umali told the BIR official.
“The [investigation] report is what’s important. Dahil wala pa ito (Because there’s none yet), we can dispense with their presence [in this hearing],” added Umali.
The BIR was given a rather tight deadline of just 12 days, or until February 19, to finish the task after Vice Chairman Leyte 3rd district Rep. Vicente Veloso noted that the committee was about to wrap up the hearings on probable cause.
It was also Veloso who suggested to Guballa to create a team that would focus on questions regarding the Chief Justice’s earnings.
“How much income, magkano binayad na tax…simple lang (how much tax was paid…it’s that simple),” the former Court of Appeals (CA) Justice said.
Guball told congressmen during the hearing that Sereno earns over P230,000 monthly in her position as top magistrate.
If and when the House panel deems there is probable cause, the Lower Chamber will send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, which would then convene into an impeachment court for the purpose of trying Sereno.
“Please complete the conduct of the investigation by the 19th because we want to close this hearing on or about the end of February so that we can vote upon the same including that of the plenary,” Umali said.
Guballa told the panel that they would “try their best” given the time period.
“We will try our best…because when I come back to the office, we will initiate the issuance of the letter of authority and then we will serve this to the Chief Justice, the letter of investigation. Then, that would formalize the audit and, within the powers of BIR, we can get all the income that the Chief Justice has made,” he said.
Lawyer Larry Gadon, a known supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte, filed a verified impeachment complaint against Sereno in August 2017.
He accuses Sereno of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption, and other high crimes for her alleged litany of lapses including untruthful declaration of her wealth.
Guballa said the BIR as yet cannot tell whether or not there are deficiencies or anomalies in connection with the Chief Justice’s income records or tax declarations.
Submitted to the House panel by the BIR during Wednesday’s hearing were scanned copies of Sereno’s ITRs from 2004 to 2009.