The right choice for justice secretary

The Supreme Court lifted its controversial order issued in 2014 preventing the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and Bureau of Customs (BOC) from imposing excise tax on the importation of gasoline blended stock by Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. (Shell).

The BIR and BOC can now start demanding Shell to pay excise tax from 2009 up to the present, amounting to a whopping P175 billion!

The humongous amount represents the excise tax and fines Shell should pay the government.

Thus ended the epic saga of what the government considers as the “biggest technical smuggling in history” by a single entity.

The controversy started when lawyer John Tan, customs collector at the Batangas Port, demanded that Shell pay P7.348 billion in excise taxes on unleaded gasoline which it reportedly misdeclared as a blending component.

State lawyers said that the high tribunal’s temporary restraining order on the BIR and BOC “has already caused irreparable injury to the government.”

Malacañang expressed elation over the lifting of the TRO with presidential spokesman Harry Roque commenting that the high court’s decision “would have a substantial impact in our tax collection.”

Roque told President Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte during the nationwide “Talk to the People” that “this could contribute to what is probably our biggest customs collection.”

Customs Collector Tan, who has since retired, has been exonerated of suspicion that he was harassing Shell for his personal monetary gain.

Shell filed libel charges, one after the other, against Tan for saying that the oil company engaged in smuggling; the cases have since been dismissed.

Aside from the libel charges, Tan was relieved as Batangas Port customs collector for his discovery of Shell’s oil smuggling.

Not being given any assignment, Tan retired in disgust seven years ago.

Honest people in government are sometimes given a tough time by their peers for being mavericks.

* * *

President Duterte chose his justice secretary well.

Menardo Guevarra, a graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University School of Law and a Bar topnotcher, is a levelheaded man and a straight arrow.

Between pleasing his benefactor and boss, the President, and invoking the spirit of the law in Digong’s supposed plan to run for vice president, Guevarra chose the latter.

In other words, Guevarra is not afraid to speak his mind on matters of principle when there is a need to do so.

The justice secretary said that should Digong run for vice president and win, he would not be immune from legal suits.

“When Vice President Leni Robredo was included in sedition charges in 2019 in connection with alias Bikoy’s allegations, I remarked that the VP was not immune from suit under the present Constitution. My opinion on the matter has not changed,” said Guevarra.

The charges against Robredo, however, were eventually dropped.

President Digong has been dropping hints that he would run for vice president to escape suits for alleged offenses he committed as president.

Who is Menardo Guevarra? Definitely, he’s not within the President’s inner circle, as he is not a graduate of San Beda College of Law and not from Davao City or Mindanao.

Before he was appointed to his present post, he worked under Executive Secretary Salvador “Bingbong” Medialdea as deputy executive secretary.

Guevarra and Medialdea are former partners at the Medialdea Ata Bello Guevarra and Suarez law office.

(The reader will note that there are no commas after each name, indicating the peculiarities of the legal language).

It was Medialdea who recommended Guevarra to Digong after then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre resigned in disgrace.

Digong should have appointed Guevarra long before.

* * *

Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto is definitely not running for president in 2022, despite clamor from some quarters.

Even if he wants to, Sotto can’t because he is only 32 years old, and the minimum age for a presidential candidate is set at 40.

Sotto has been cited by the US State Department as an anti-corruption champion.

Vico Sotto’s maternal grandfather, the late Navy Capt. Gerry Nubla, would have been very proud and happy over his accomplishment.

I happened to know Vico’s Lolo Gerry, who was a Philippine Navy wrestling coach and my drinking buddy at the National Press Club bar and restaurant, back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Gerry was an unassuming man, despite his military rank (equivalent to full-fledged colonel in the Army) during the martial law regime.

* * *

Is it true that the new Quezon City Police District (QCPD) director, Brig. Gen. Antonio Yarra, met with Small Town Lottery (STL) operators in his office at Camp Karingal?

If it’s true, why did he hide it?

Mayor Joy Belmonte opposes the operation of STLs in Quezon City, making it illegal.

The city’s Business Permits and Licensing Department recently summoned Lucent Gaming and Entertainment for allegedly conducting STL draws three times a day.

Quezon City has a responsible gambling ordinance that sets specific requirements for games of chance which the STL operators have not complied with, prompting the BPLD to summon the STL operator.

Informed sources said Yarra’s meeting with STL operators was reportedly facilitated by one Colonel Magdaluyo, a retired policeman.

Magdaluyo reportedly was Yarra’s former colleague at the Manila Police District (MPD).

Yarra’s meeting with STL operators became even more suspicious when reporters covering the QCPD were barred from it.

If Yarra was not hiding anything, why were the reporters not allowed to cover the conference?

It seems the new Quezon City police chief has a penchant for getting on other people’s nerves.

Recently, he reportedly refused to accept a donation of high-tech forensics equipment for QCPD’s crime laboratory.

Yarra said the bidding for purchase of the forensics equipment was probably attended by graft.

Whoa, there! The donation came from Mayor Belmonte.

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