MANILA (UPDATED) - Former military comptroller Jacinto Ligot and wife, Erlinda, showed up in the initial hearing of the preliminary investigation on tax evasion charges filed against them before the Department of Justice (DOJ) last March by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
The couple, however, refused to issue a statement to the media.
Their blood pressure (BP) readings were taken by DOJ clinic staff prior to the start of proceedings before Assistant State Prosecutor Steward Mariano. Mrs. Ligot's BP was high at 160/100, while that of her husband's was relatively normal at 150/90.
The couple's lawyer, Atty. Rafael Zialcita, told the media they asked for a 10-day extension to file counter-affidavits, which was granted.
Zialcita said his clients received a copy of the complaint last March 28th, while their lawyers received their copy only last Thursday, which did not give them enough time to prepare the counter-affidavits.
According to the BIR complaint, the Ligot couple's combined tax deficiency for taxable years 2001-2004 amount to P428,077,547; broken down as follows: Gen. Ligot:P290,241,919; and Erlinda Ligot: P137,835,627.
Zialcita said Ligot's camp still has to peruse voluminous documents involving their pending case and pleadings before the Sandiganbayan on a P135.2-million forfeiture case before the anti-graft court where, aside from the Ligot couple, their children, Paulo, Riza and Miguel; sister Miguela Ligot-Paragas; and brother-in-law Edgardo Yambao were named as co-defendants.
A separate tax evasion case was also filed against Yambao at the DOJ in March.
The Ligot couple and Yambao were subject of a Senate probe for allegedly amassing millions in unexplained wealth.
Asked if, contrary to the claim of the BIR, the Ligots filed their income tax returns (ITR) for the years in question - 2001 for Gen. Ligot and 2001-2004 for Erlinda Ligot - their lawyer said, "As far as I know, they did not. But there must be a good reason if and when hindi sila nag-file ng ITR."
It is not clear how this admission by Zialcita will come into play in the couple's defense considering that the BIR insists that the couple failed to declare income amounting to over P41-million in 2001; over P103-million in 2002; close to P166-million in 2003; and over P148-million in 2004.
The BIR also claims the Ligots made over US$2-million deposits at a local bank allegedly used in making several bank deposits, investments and property acquisitions here and abroad.
Zialcita said he could not divulge details on the couple's defense because they have yet to complete interviews with witnesses.
The Ligot camp will study how the tax evasion charges could affect the pending case before the Sandiganbayan, but refused to divulge what legal remedies they may resort to.
The next hearing on the Ligots' tax evasion case is set on April 18 where the couple will personally subscribe to their counter-affidavits.
No special treatment
The Justice Department will not accord the Ligots Ligots special treatment over health conditions they may be experiencing, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.
De Lima, however, said she understands if the couple has blood pressure problems.
"Siguro naman ganoon lang yun, may blood pressure problem. Pero I think hindi dapat dahilan yun - baka dahilan na naman yan for resetting or failure to file whatever it is that's being required of them to file. I can understand that na ang isang tao may sakit... but it doesn't mean you can use that as an excuse for not complying with mga procedures or mga requirements o directives dyan sa PI [preliminary investigation], just like sa Senate. There should be no special treatment for anyone," de Lima said.
Staff from the Justice Department's clinic did the BP readings on the couple. Gen. Ligot's BP was relatively normal at 150/90, while that of Mrs. Ligot's was high at 160/100.
Clinic staff may be called in to monitor the couple's health and blood pressure readings in the course of proceedings.
Erlinda Ligot had repeatedly evaded hearings - due to health reasons - at the Senate on an inquiry into alleged corruption in the military which included a probe into the Ligots' alleged unexplained wealth.