Thu, 21 Sep 2023

JEERS TO news accounts that reported the appointment of Romeo Lumagui Jr. as the new Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner last November 15 without any reference to the earlier appointment and remarks of Lilia Guillermo. The former BIR Chief was appointed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. shortly after he took office on June 18.

Daily Tribune, Manila Bulletin, and Manila Times on November 15 and GMA-7's 24 Oras and Manila Standard on November 16 only reported Lumagui's past positions in the BIR, including his post as technical assistant to the commissioner and tax fraud head for Manila, Pampanga, and east National Capital Region. They also included various task forces in the agency that he headed, none of which made Lumagui well known.

Presidents do appoint friends and allies to key positions as they must work with people they know well and can trust. However, some agencies are expected to have a degree of independence from the appointing power.

The BIR is not a Constitutional Commission, but it is the agency directly confronted with the Marcoses' non-payment of their estate tax. The family, with the President as their executor, was initially held liable for PHP 23 billion, but the sum is now estimated at PHP 203 billion due to surcharges and penalties over the past decades.

The reports issued by the five news organizations did not include relevant information carried by other media: that the Palace gave no explanation for the replacement of Lilia Guillermo and what Guillermo had said about the Marcos taxes.

All other media correctly recalled that after assuming her post, Guillermo responded to media questions on her position on the Marcos estate taxes. Her words were clear enough: With the SC rulings as final and executory, the Marcoses will have to comply with the law and the BIR will have to collect the unpaid taxes on the Marcos estate. "This is what I would tell him. Pero (but) first I should have the correct data," she said in two TV interviews.

Daily Tribune, Manila Bulletin, Manila Times, 24 Oras and Manila Standard also excluded information that shows the close connection of the Lumaguis to the President and Mrs. Marcos. Lumagui's wife, Carmela Esquivias worked for M & Associates, the law firm established by Liza Araneta-Marcos in 2019. News5 and Rappler reported this important piece of information on November 15. The two news accounts also reported that Marcos and his wife stood as principal sponsors at the wedding of Lumagui and Esquivias; and that the couple joined the campaign trail of Marcos in the 2022 elections.

ABS-CBN's Teleradyo on November 15 also featured an interview with former BIR Commissioner Kim Henares. She said that until the case is resolved, "parang (as if) there's a sword hanging (over) you," she said. Henares added that the tax liability could be resolved through the courts or through settlement with the BIR.

The editorial decision to exclude relevant information reveals how divided the press is. The media which provided information about the meaning of the Lumagui appointment alerts the public on the need to be vigilant and watchful. But not all the media can be depended on as a "watchdog of power."

The replacement of Guillermo indicates that the goals of the Marcos campaign and victory are all aligned with the personal interests of the Marcos family, which may be primarily about keeping its wealth amassed during the first Marcos regime intact.

In these hard times, public officials should be on the side of the people. The same responsibility falls on the media. When government officials commit tax offenses, it insults and injures the tax-paying public, and the media should not hesitate to point it out.

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