POSTSCRIPT / February 22, 2022 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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‘Goodbye to hidden wealth, if BBM wins’

As the government continues to borrow and send the public debt-to-GDP ratio climbing to a 16-year high of 60.5 percent, exceeding the 60-percent threshold deemed manageable, the nation braces for higher/new taxes to pay the loans and finance development.

For the pandemic alone, the Philippines borrowed $2 billion (over P102 billion) from three multilateral banks last year aside from other loans from its bilateral partners Japan and South Korea for the vaccination rollout.

Much of the Marcoses' wealth have remained unrecoverable. (Artwork: PHILSTAR/ James Patrick Cruz)

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the rise in the debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio, which reflects the country’s ability to pay obligations, is “well within affordability and our rating peers’ experience” which have similar investment-grade credit ratings as the Philippines.

But the next administration, pressured to raise revenues, is likely to increase tax rates or impose new taxes or remove exemptions from the 12-percent value-added tax, or raise excise taxes on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, and sugary beverages.

The expected heavier tax burden has had people asking why the government does not tap first the hidden wealth of the Marcos family that after all has been judicially characterized as ill-gotten and subject to seizure.

Data published by the Bureau of the Treasury which includes actual debt and guaranteed loans showed that the outstanding government debt ballooned from P8.2 trillion in 2019 to P10.2 trillion in 2020, and to P12.2 trillion in 2021 as the state ran big deficits to battle the pandemic. Through the first three quarters of 2021, the debt has increased again to P11.9 trillion.

The position of the Philippines, compared with the rest of the world, worsened in 2020 in terms of GDP percentage. Currently, it is country No. 88 on the list of debt-to-GDP and No. 70 in debt per capita, out of the 190 listed on the countryeconomy.com site.

‘Game plan: Redeem name, keep wealth’

Some top lawyers familiar with the “hidden wealth” issue share the view that in these tight financial times the administration, specifically the Presidential Commission on Good Government, should show the political will to recover the illegal Marcos wealth.

One of them is Ruben Carranza, who was PCGG commissioner in charge of litigation that recovered $680 million Marcos assets in banks in Switzerland, the US, and other countries. He was involved in legal action taken in the US against the Marcos family by victims of human rights violations.

In an ANC zoom interview last Oct. 6, Carranza said the dictator’s son and namesake is running for president to redeem the family’s name and ensure that they keep their hidden wealth. They have been waiting, he said, to have a president who is willing to help them do that.

He said that one president, presumably referring to Rodrigo Duterte, had allowed the transfer of the remains of the late Marcos Sr. from his refrigerated crypt in the family’s mausoleum in Batac, Ilocos Norte, for burial with honors on Nov. 18, 2016, at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in Taguig City.

Since the family has been hiding illicit wealth, he said, the Marcoses can be prosecuted for the continuing offense of money laundering.

This dim view of the consequences of Marcos Jr. becoming president is also reflected in remarks made by former Supreme Court senior associate justice Antonio Carpio who has said in a TikTok video that Marcos as president would probably abolish the PCGG and thus end all recovery efforts.

‘P203-B tax on Marcoses gone in 5 yrs’

Here are Carpio’s remarks: “And there’s a bigger problem because he owes the government P203 billion, as of now, for the estate tax. He’s the administrator of the estate; he has been ordered by the court to pay; he refuses to pay up to now, and nobody seems to hold him to account for that.

“If he becomes president, lalo na – goodbye na ‘yan. And that P203 billion, if you do not collect that within five years – you do not send even a demand letter, that prescribes—hindi mo na makolekta ‘yan.

“So he has six years. Hindi s’ya magpapadala ng collection letter against himself. So the right of the Filipino people to recover P203 billion in estate tax will be gone forever.

Hindi lang ‘yan, madami pang iba. What about the…because remember, as Justice Chief Morales explained, Imelda intervened in the PLDT case. The Marcos family claimed that they owned PLDT. Eh, maging presidente s’ya, s’yempre, hahabulin n’ya ‘yan. Iipitin n’ya lahat ‘yan. Iipitin n’ya…

“In fact, Imelda also claims San Miguel. He said that, he owns… they own half of the shares of Danding Cojuangco. Iipitin n’ya lahat ‘yan sila. Sasabihin n’ya, ‘oy, amin ‘yan, hindi kayo… you got it, you did not pay us for our share.’ Magkakagulo lahat ‘yan, magkakaablahan.

“Lucio Tan. The Marcoses have the affidavit of Lucio Tan that half of the companies of Lucio Tan belong to the Marcoses. And there’s a pending case now in the Supreme Court that will be decided soon on the claim of Mrs. Marcos that they own half of the companies of Lucio Tan. Madami ‘yan.

“Also, the properties of GMA 7, the UNILAB. They will reopen all of that. Sasabihin nila, ‘half of your companies belong to us.’

Magkakagulo tayo. That’s only one part of it.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 22, 2022)

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