RIPS indicts BIR officials for extortion, hits DOF employee for unauthorized foreign travel

Three regional officials of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) found themselves in a tight spot after conspiring to extort money from a private individual in exchange for non-assessment of business taxes.

Involved in the extortion case are Revenue Officer III Aileen Punzalan, Chief Revenue Officer IV Bagro Saransamun, both from the BIR Koronadal office, and Zamboanga Regional Director Rozil Lozares.

The three were accused of violating Section 3 (b), (f) and (h), Republic Act 3019, as amended; Section 7 (a) and (d), Republic Act 6713; Article 210, Revised Penal Code; and Section 46 (A)(3) and (10), Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (RRACCS)

Records show that sometime in July 2012, Mrs. Nida Duay De Jesus, wife of gasoline station owner, Jesus de Jesus, sought the assistance of the Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS), following a bribery incident involving the 3 BIR officials.

Mrs. De Jesus’ sworn statement said Punzalan, during one meeting, told her that “The amount of P300,000.00 will be sufficient to terminate the tax case of my husband,” inclusive of tax payments and other fees, “for the boys” or their “SOP”.

Punzalan remained unperturbed despite her pleas to settle her husband’s tax liabilities and pay the correct taxes, Mrs. De Jesus narrated in her affidavit. The case was forwarded to the Legal Division of BIR Revenue Region No. 18, but was re-indorsed to Revenue Office III where Punzalan was assigned, leaving her no recourse but to deal again with the erring BIR official.

“Again, I went to the district office and talked to Ms. Punzalan , the supervisor of the examiner assigned to our case and she asked me to submit receipts from our supplier. In good faith and to show that we are not trying to hide anything, we submitted the same. After receiving the documents, Ms. Punzalan said that the documents we presented are merely delivery receipts and is not recognized by the BIR. She then came up with an assessment of about P160 Million pesos. We contested the assessment and then she came up with an assessment of around P120 Million pesos. To disprove this assessment and upon Ms. Punzalan’s request, we secured certifications from our suppliers specifying the total volume and cost of our purchases from them. When I submitted it to Ms. Punzalan, she refused to receive the same and told us just to wait for the letter coming from BIR,” said Mrs. De Jesus in her complaint.

The beleaguered spouses then received on December 6, 2011 a Preliminary Assessment Notice (PAN) which required them to pay P120,566,986.38 in deficiency taxes after the BIR disallowed the amount of P174,528,620.83 in total purchases which were allegedly unsubstantiated. The settlement of the PAN was due on December 21, 2011.

Barely reeling from the thought of having to deal with huge tax assessment, Spouses De Jesus received on December 14, 2011 a Formal Letter of Demand (FLD) demanding payment of the amount of P120,566,986.38. They seasonably filed their reply to the PAN on December 15, 2011 and thereafter their tax protest/request for re-investigation on December 16, 2011, with supporting documents.

Mrs. De Jesus, with her husband, likewise sought the intervention of Director Lozares but the latter told them to cough up P20 million pesos so he could waive their surcharges and penalties, much to her chagrin. Soon after, the pair was advised by Director Lozares to send their bookkeeper and meet with Punzalan.

“As instructed our bookkeeper went to the district and talked to Ms. Punzalan and she then told our bookkeeper that she will try to talk to the Regional Director to decrease the amount to P10 Million pesos without any guarantee. My bookkeeper bargained for a 1Million Pesos settlement and the chief examiner told her that she will try to present our case to the director. When the chief examiner told the Director about our offer, he commented ‘Ano Talipapa?’” the complainant revealed in her affidavit.

The spouses also went to Saransamun to inform him that all they could afford to pay was P1.5 million pesos eventhough they had yet to raise the money as tax payments but the latter simply referred back their urgent concern to Lozares.

Despite their sincere efforts to confer with the concerned BIR officials to work out a solution to their tax woes, the Legal Division of the BIR – RR No. 18 notified them in its letter dated March 29, 2012 that her husband’s case “is under evaluation under the Run After Tax Evaders (RATE) program of the BIR” and directed her husband to submit his Counter-Affidavit to air his side of the controversy.

Mrs. De Jesus recounted in her complaint that, “My husband tried for the last time to talk to Director Lozares and explained that he still has a pending protest/request for reinvestigation and that the purchases are legitimate. He explained that his suppliers already issued the necessary certifications to prove that they indeed made those purchases from them. He further asserted that his supplier, then Necarji Group Corporation, refuses to issue sales invoices because it will be a duplication of the delivery receipts they already issued. Moreover, according to them, their practice of issuing delivery receipts and not sales invoices has long been recognized by the BIR whenever the latter examines and audits their company. However, all these explanations fell on deaf ears.”

A Warrant of Distraint/Levy was served to Mr. De Jesus on May 17, 2012, which led to the garnishment and levy of the couple’s bank accounts and properties, respectively.

Mrs. De Jesus’ affidavit read, “As a result of the oppressive acts of Ms. Punzalan, RDO Saransamun and Director Lozares, my husband was hospitalized and I was forced to take care of the matter.”

In a separate incident, RIPS initiated a complaint against Emerito Asban, Sr., a Tax Specialist at the Department’s One Stop Shop and Duty Drawback Center (OSS Center) for Grave Misconduct under Rule 10, Section 46 (A)(3) of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (RRACCS), as a result of non-observance of administrative issuances that govern the foreign travel of government officials and employees, including Executive Order No. 6 dated March 12, 1986, Memorandum Circular No. 18 dated Oct. 27, 1992, and Executive Order No. 459 dated Sept. 1, 2005.

RIPS averred in its complaint that per Letter dated 28 November 2011 from the Bureau of Immigration, Asban travelled abroad for fifteen (15) times from 1993 to 2011, four (4) of those which were not supported by the requisite travel authority for the foreign trips he made in 1998, 1996, 1995 and 1993. As confirmed by the DOF’s Central Records Management Division in its Memorandum dated 18 July 2012, Asban’s personal travels in the United States and Hong Kong for selected staggered years were accordingly issued the necessary travel authority, except for the four (4) disputed years.

RIPS’ complaint reads in part, “Hence, when respondent left the country in 1998, 1996, 1995 and 1993, without securing the necessary Indorsements and Travel Authorities from the DOF, he clearly transgressed the foregoing laws and related issuances.”

The DOF-led anti-corruption arm filed the complaints against the respondents on September 28, 2012 with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Pending preliminary investigation against the respondents, the Office of the Ombudsman, in its discretion, place them under preventive suspension under its express powers under Republic Act No. 6770, also known as, “The Ombudsman Act of 1989”.

Since 2003 to date, RIPS has filed 128 cases against 171 individuals and secured 62 suspensions from office and 21 dismissals from the service against the officials and employees of its attached bureaus and agencies.

Source: Department of Finance