SC: No P12-T reward for Marcos wealth informer

MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the petition filed by tax informer Danilo Lihaylihay, which seeks to compel the government to pay him close to PHP12 trillion representing his 25 percent reward for his role in the recovery of the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family and their cronies.

In a 22-page decision dated July 23 and penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the SC’s Third Division dismissed Lihayhay’s petition for mandamus for lack of merit.

The respondents in the case were former Treasurer of the Philippines Roberto C. Tan, former Secretary of Finance Margarito B. Teves, the Governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, and the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The SC stressed that the grant of informers’ reward depend on the considerations by the appropriate government officers under Republic Act 2338, also known as An Act to Provide for Reward to Informers of Violations of the Internal Revenue and Customs Laws.

Under the law, the Court noted that the information supplied must be new or not yet known to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

It must not pertain to a pending or previously investigated case, and must have actually led to or was the actual cause for discovering frauds upon tax laws.

It added that the information must have actually led to the recovery of sums relating to the fraud, as well as the conviction and/or punishment of the liable persons.

Lihaylihay, who identified himself as a confidential informant of the states (CIS), based his claim on the two letters dated March 11, 1987 which he sent to lawyer Eliseo Pitargue, the former head of the BIR-Presidential Commission on Good Government Task Force, concerning the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.

In his first letter, Lihayhay informed the BIR-PCGG about the ill-gotten wealth of the late President Ferdinand Marcos deposited in 177 banks in 72 countries and include tons of gold and 500,000 pieces of 10-karat diamonds.

The second letter concerned alleged dollar deposits at the Union Bank of Switzerland of Marcos’ daughter, Irene Marcos-Araneta.

In 2006, Lihaylihay also wrote to BIR Commissioner Mario C. Bufiag demanding payment of 25 percent informer’s reward on the PHP18.2 billion supposedly recovered by the Philippine government through compromise agreements with the Marcoses.

He also insisted on the need for the government to collect Fortune Tobacco Corporation’s tax deficiencies amounting to PHP97 billion, to recover PHP47 trillion deposits in Switzerland, and to deliver to him the informer’s rewards for the recovery of the said ill-gotten wealth.

Lihaylihay said the government owes him a total of PHP11.875 trillion and PHP50 billion, representing his reward for the jewelry recovered from former First Lady Imelda Marcos and several government lands as informer’s rewards.

However, the SC noted that based on Lihaylihay’s letter to the BIR-PCGG in 1987, the petitioner made broad claims about the Marcos family’s ill-gotten wealth and stressed the need for the government to recover them.

The petitioner, the SC said, failed to cite specific acts of tax fraud, violations of internal revenue and customs laws.

“From his 1987 letters to the present petition, his bases for rewards swelled from the Swiss bank deposits, gold bars, and diamonds mentioned in his original letters to Atty. Pitargue to virtually all forms of the Marcos family’s ill-gotten wealth,” the SC explained.

“He would not even stop there. He also turned his attention to President Marcos’ cronies such as Roberto Benedicto, Lucio Tan, Fabian Ver, Herminio Disini, and Jose Campos. Rather than animate the State’s efforts with direct and reliable information, he has embarked on a fishing expedition, casting his lot on a progressively widening net,” it added.

While it may be true that many cases brought against the Marcos family and their cronies involve violations of tax laws, the SC said, the law governing informer’s rewards demand specific information that would help in either securing convictions for tax offenses or recovering proceeds that should have otherwise been paid to the government as taxes.

Furthermore, the SC said Lihaylihay failed to show that his supplied information was the main basis that prompted the government to prosecute the Marcoses and their cronies for possible tax offenses and recovering from them their ill-gotten wealth.

On the contrary, the SC noted the petitioner’s March 11, 1987 letters acknowledged ongoing efforts by the BIR and the PCGG to prosecute the Marcoses and recover their ill-gotten wealth.

The Court added that Lihaylihay also failed to prove that he was the sole and exclusive source of information leading to the discovery of fraud and violations of tax laws committed by the Marcos family.

“While this Court appreciates active citizen participation in addressing the iniquities of public officials, it must underscore the need to comply with procedural and substantive standards set by law for the grant of remedies. The availability of reliefs is not a matter of personal preference, but of order and judicial economy, and due process,” the SC said.

“The present Petition could have been dismissed outright for its readily discernible flaws. This Court has, nevertheless, gone out of its way to painstakingly explain the plethora of grounds for dismissal,” it added.

The High Tribunal also castigated Lihayhay for resorting to forum shopping in his bid to get a reward .

It noted that the petitioner filed a similar petition for mandamus before the SC, raised the same issue before in two cases being tried before the Sandiganbayan and noted several news reports saying that the Commission on Audit has also denied his claim for an informer’s rewards.

“This decision is rendered with a stem warning for petitioner not to trifle with court actions. Frivolous litigation translates to injudicious delays, hampers the resolution of more meritorious cases, and compels courts and tribunals to unnecessarily expend themselves. Its ultimate result is a weakening of the courts’ and tribunals’ capacity to effectively and timely dispense justice,” the Court declared.