Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona

MANILA, Oct. 20 (Mabuhay) – “IS there selective prosecution [at the Department of Justice],” a Justice of the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) asked.

The CTA en banc  (full court) conducted an oral argument on the petition filed by former Chief Justice Renato Corona insisting that he should be charged with six, not 12 counts of tax evasion case considering that Section 254 (Attempt to Void or Defeat Tax Collection) and Section 255 (Failure to File Income Tax Return) of the National Internal Revenue Code are one and the same act.

Corona is facing 12 counts of violation Sections 255 and 254. He is also facing six counts for each violation.

Last February, Corona insisted before the Tax Court’s 2nd division that he should be arraigned only for violating Section 255, or failure to file income tax returns. He argued that both sections 255 and 254 constituted the same acts of tax evasion under the NIRC.

But the Tax Court denied the bid and insisted he should be arraigned. Corona’s counsel filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied prompting them to ask a full court ruling on the matter.

During Tuesday’s oral argument, the Tax Court justices grilled both Corona’s counsels and the lawyers from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

Presiding Justice Roman Del Rosario asked why the Department of Justice (DOJ), in a P249-million tax evasion case, stated that Sections 254 and 255 are one and the same act, but in the case of Corona who is facing a smaller tax liability of P120-million, the DOJ filed a separate case for violations of the two sections of the NIRC.

Del Rosario is referring to the tax evasion case of a gold trader named Rashdi Camlia Sakaluran who is facing two cases of tax evasion worth P249.50-million.

The DOJ issued a resolution ordering the filing of the case against Sakaluran on Aug. 9, 2012. The BIR said they filed a motion for reconsideration because the DOJ charged Sakaluran of violation of Section 255, noting that both sections (254 and 255) are one and the same act. The DOJ, however denied the motion for reconsideration which prompted the BIR to file a petition for review to then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. The case is still pending at the DOJ.

On the other hand, the DOJ ordered the filing of tax evasion case against Corona in April 2013.

“What is the substantial distinction in the filing of cases between petitioner Corona and Sakaluran,” Del Rosario asked the BIR and followed by another question if there was selective prosecution at the DOJ.

On the other hand, Associate Justice Esperanza Fabon-Victorino noted that under Section 255, no Income Tax Return was filed but in Section 254 or the failure to declare all income, means there was an ITR but only not all incomes have been declared.

“So, how can they be the same? How can you reconcile that,” she asked Corona’s counsel.

Corona’s counsel also added that the sets of case against the former chief justice can be considered a complex crime.

“You believe a complex crime should have been filed? Would you agree to an amendment [of the Information/charge sheet],” Del Rosario asked to which Corona’s counsel disagreed, insisting that Corona has been arraigned on six counts of tax cases.

The CTA gave both parties 30 days to submit their memorandum and then the case will be submitted for resolution.

In the BIR complaint, it alleged that Corona did not include in his statement of assets and liabilities (SALN) his condominium unit at The Columns on Ayala Avenue, which he bought for P3.6 million in 2004 and his property at Fort Bonifacio worth P9.16 million which he acquired in 2005.

The revenue agency claimed that for nine years Corona did not pay his taxes worth P120,498,219.52, inclusive of surcharges and interest.

According to the BIR, Corona failed to file their income tax returns from 2003 to 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Aside from the bank deposits, he also did not declare two real properties he acquired during his stint in government – a condominium unit at the Columns, along Ayala Avenue that he bought for P3.6 million in 2004, and a property in Fort Bonifacio that he bought for P9.16 million in 2005.(MNS)