BIR to probe Sereno’s tax returns

MANILA — The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) will conduct a formal investigation on Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s income tax returns during the period when she worked as government counsel in the Philippine International Air Terminals Company Incorporated (PIATCO) case.

The House justice committee chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali prompted this investigation during a congressional hearing on the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon against the top magistrate on Wednesday.

In his complaint, Gadon alleged that Sereno earned PHP37 million in fees when she was part of the legal team that defended the government in an arbitration case against PIATCO.

Sereno, however, said in her verified reply that she earned PHP30 million in the PIATCO cases.

BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa submitted before the committee the income tax returns of Sereno from 2004 to 2010, covering the period when she worked on the case involving PIATCO.

“There was no formal investigation yet regarding the income tax returns of the chief justice. So, as I peruse all the records of the tax returns of the chief justice, we can do the formal investigation so we can assess whether or not there was under-declaration or non-declaration of income,” Guballa said.

Umali directed BIR to submit the result of its investigation on February 19.

Umali said his panel intended to complete the impeachment proceedings by the end of February.

The House justice panel also tackled Sereno’s failure to submit her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for more than 15 years when she was a professor at the University of the Philippines.

Over the course of the impeachment proceedings, it was discovered that Sereno only filed SALNs for the years 1998, 2002, and 2006 during her tenure as law professor at the UP College of Law from 1986 up to 2006.

Any government official or employee found guilty of non-filing of SALN under Section 8 of RA 6713 shall be penalized with imprisonment not exceeding five years, or a fine not exceeding PHP5,000 or both, and in the discretion of the court, disqualification to hold public office.