MANILA, Philippines - Embattled boxing champion and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao is said to be thinking of transferring to the opposition bloc in the House of Representatives led by San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora.
“He has always been interested in joining us. That interest heightened when the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) filed a tax case against him,” Rep. Carol Jane Lopez of the party-list group You Against Corruption and Poverty said yesterday.
“He feels that the government is harassing him and that there’s politics in it,” she said.
Lopez is one of Pacquiao’s closest friends among House members. Both of them hail from General Santos City. She was one of the few lawmakers who flew to Macau last weekend to watch Pacquiao defeat American boxer Brandon Rios.
Pacquiao is scheduled to visit Samar and Leyte this weekend to distribute relief goods to typhoon victims.
“His visit will definitely uplift the morale of our people who are struggling to bounce back. To them, Manny symbolizes hope,” Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said.
Evardone said his colleague informed him that he would visit Guiuan, where Super Typhoon Yolanda made landfall; Mercedes, Quinapondan, Giporlos, Hernani, Balangiga and Lawaan in Eastern Samar; and Marabut and Basey in Western Samar.
Pacquiao has switched parties since he became a congressman in the last Congress. He is now affiliated with the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) of Vice President Jejomar Binay, which has chosen to be part of the pro-administration majority coalition in the House despite being critical of President Aquino.
The boxing champion is the richest congressman, the only billionaire among the more than 290 House members, based on their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth.
Pacquiao is also one of the top House absentees. His fights and travels abroad to promote them, together with his training, have kept him away from House sessions.
Zamora said his minority group is willing to give Pacquiao legal assistance in resolving his tax issues with the BIR, if he asks for it.
If not, Zamora said what his colleague from Sarangani should do is to recruit “a good accountant and a good lawyer.”
“If Cong. Pacquiao wants to talk to anyone of us… we’ll be glad to help him, but basically I think it’s documentary more than anything else. In the end I’m not certain that any additional amounts will be due from him,” he said.
Other lawyers in Zamora’s group said they were willing to help, but they would have to know the facts in Pacquiao’s tax case first.
They noted the conflicting statements their colleague and BIR Commissioner Kim Henares have given to the media.
Henares has said they have been seeking from Pacquiao tax returns filed with the US Internal Revenue Service evidencing his tax payments there, but that the Sarangani congressman has failed to produce them.
Pacquiao, on the other hand, claims they have sent the documents to the BIR. He also claims that all of his bank accounts have been frozen by virtue of garnishment orders from the BIR, while according to Henares, only two banks have reported two accounts holding only P1.1 million.
The Pacquiaos, in an interview with GMA-7, admitted they owe the government some amount in income taxes and are willing to pay.
But it is not P2.2 billion that the BIR wants, both Pacquiao and his wife Jinkee, who is vice governor of their province, said.
Henares also told GMA-7 that her agency is now looking into the tax issues involving properties in the name of Pacquiao’s mother Dionesia.
“There are at least three houses in her name. If those were donated (by Pacquiao), then donor’s taxes should be paid,” she said.
Pacquiao’s mother, who is often seen on television wearing expensive jewelry, told GMA-7 that she is jobless, and that she could not understand why the BIR is also running after her.
In similar cases, including the recent one involving suspected pork barrel scam brains Janet Lim-Napoles, the BIR computed the value of the properties in question, assumed that it was earned but not declared by the taxpayers involved, and then filed tax evasion charges against them.
Henares also claimed that besides failing to submit his US tax returns, Pacquiao has under-declared the income he earned here from commercial endorsements.
Henares vowed to pursue the tax case against Pacquiao, saying she owes it to millions of taxpayers to do so.