Sat. May 28th, 2022

There is nothing wrong with fact checking if done properly, and when fact checkers are transparent.

But Rappler seems to be in the habit of not only failing to disclose the identity of its fact checkers, but also of relying on biased or dubious sources. It is about time it, and its faceless self-appointed checkers with unknown credentials, should be held accountable.

They rely on so-called experts, and even on former public officials, without considering that they could have their biases too. It doesn’t mean that just because someone is a former Supreme Court justice, or a former Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner, that these people do not peddle their own agendas.

The height of laziness in fact checking is evident when a denial from the person against whom a fact or allegation is being made is considered as a credible source upon which to base a conclusion that such allegation is a lie.

It is also anomalous when even opinions, or questions that are not making fact claims, are fact checked.

One of the more egregious abuses of fact checkers is when they check statements attributed to somebody without even contacting the person first to seek clarification on whether they actually uttered the said statement, or if they were just misquoted. This will also give a chance for the person to clarify what he or she actually meant. After all, this is what good and responsible journalists are supposed to be doing.

Fact checkers are in a position to publicly declare that a person is lying, and that he or she is a liar. It can offer these people up to public ridicule, and in the case of Rappler that is contracted by Facebook, it can lead to the taking down of their posts, or suspension of their accounts.

These serious consequences should be enough for Rappler, Vera Files, and any media organization that engages in fact checking, to practice what their journalism teachers have taught them, which is to verify, and to cross-check with as many sources as possible, and to provide the persons they are fact-checking the opportunity to air their side.

Unfortunately, these are things that Rappler fails to do, which in the end leads to egregious errors.

This is what happened when they tried to fact-check my post in Facebook, which was graphically memed by SMNI, where I made a comment addressed to Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and labor leader Leodegario de Guzman.

Rappler attempted to fact-check this by saying that it is not true that the wealth of the Marcoses is not ill-gotten simply because they are being taxed, and that wealth is taxed regardless of whether they were obtained from legal or illegal sources simply because the owners have already benefited from them.

They made it appear that I said these things.

Anyone who can read clearly, and think rationally, would know that I did not say those things. Rappler twisted the meaning of my Facebook post, grossly and maliciously misrepresenting what I said, thereby misleading the readers.

I did not say that just because the wealth of the Marcoses are taxed, that they are not ill gotten. What I said was pertaining only to estate tax, which is a specific kind of tax which is different from income tax or property tax. Any lawyer or accountant would know that an estate tax is a tax on the right to transfer an estate which one owns to a legitimate heir or beneficiary.

An estate that a person who died does not legally own cannot be transferred to an heir, and hence by implication an estate tax cannot be collected.

The first part of my post was posed as a question to the presidentiables to ponder on the presumption that precedes the collection of an estate tax, which is that the property or estate is not ill-gotten. I followed it up with a statement of fact, consistent with the nature of an estate tax, and how ill-gotten wealth is disposed of.

But nowhere in my post did I ever claim that ergo, the Marcoses do not have ill-gotten wealth. I am on record saying that they have, and this is already proven in court.

Rappler was being intellectually dishonest when they made it appear that I said that illegally acquired wealth is not taxed. I did not say this.

In fact, I am cognizant of the fact that income regardless of nature of source and that land regardless of whether the occupants have legal rights over it, are subject to income and property taxes, respectively.

My post was only pertaining to estate taxes. An estate tax applies only on the estate legally owned by a decedent, and ill-gotten wealth is forfeited in favor of the government.

The logical conclusion here is that an ill-gotten property will be forfeited and thus will be owned by the government, and thus is no longer part of the estate of the decedent for estate tax purposes. This is why estate taxes could not be collected from sequestered properties.

I challenged Rappler, or whoever it was assigned as the fact checker, to a debate or public discussion on the specific issue for which they cited me and accused me of peddling a lie.

I was ignored and there was no response to my challenge. This is proof that Rappler is not willing to take responsibility or be held accountable despite making serious allegations that can tarnish a person’s reputation.

Forfeited wealth, subject to estate tax?

It is however important to also interrogate the claims made by many Marcos critics, now echoed and amplified by Manila City Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso about the billions of pesos worth of tax liabilities of the Marcoses.

This was earlier disclosed by former senior associate justice Antonio Carpio who revealed that when Marcos Sr. died in 1989, his estate tax liability amounted to P23.29 billion.

The Marcos heirs did not file the estate tax return or paid such tax as required by law. With interest, the amount would have grown to P203.8 billion pesos. Last December, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) disclosed that they sent a demand letter to the Marcoses about their tax liabilities.

The BIR defined an estate tax as a “tax on the right of the deceased person to transmit his/her estate to his/her lawful heirs and beneficiaries at the time of death.” An estate, on the other hand, refers to all the money and property that is owned by the deceased at the time of death.

That complicates the issue here is the fact that when Marcos Sr. died in 1989, practically all his estate were sequestered for possible forfeiture on the ground that they were ill-gotten.

By virtue of Section 6 of RA 1379, anything that exceeded the legally justifiable income would be deemed ill-gotten. In fact, in GR 152154, the court established that the legally justifiable income of the Marcos couple, and not just of Marcos Sr., was only $304,372.73. It is therefore implied that anything in excess of these would be deemed ill-gotten and should be forfeited, some of which had in fact already been forfeited.

As such, those would be assets, whether money or property, that would no longer be owned by the Marcoses and would have to be forfeited in favor of the state. They could also not be inherited since Marcos Sr. would not own them.

It therefore behooves us to ask how such assets can yield an estate tax worth P23.29 billion, unless even those deemed by law as ill-gotten would have been included in the calculations.

Indeed, according to the BIR, an estate tax is levied “based on the laws in force at the time of death notwithstanding the postponement of the actual possession or enjoyment of the estate by the beneficiary.” But this assumes that the said estate will eventually be inherited by the heirs, which in the case of seized and forfeited assets is no longer possible.

I have always been for fairness in the recounting of events in our history, whether distant or recent, and it is indeed the height of negative revisionism to claim that there is an absence of legally or judicially determined truth that establishes the existence of ill-gotten wealth attributed to the Marcos family.

However, it is equally important to clarify and to demand logic on allegations about tax obligations, when the very fact of having ill-gotten wealth could contradict the basis for such tax obligation.

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