SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Taxing times for the Pacman

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/14 March) – Like his rival Floyd Mayweather Jr., who never runs out of reasons to evade fighting him, Sarangani congressman and world boxing champion Emmanuel Pacquiao now finds himself embroiled in legal issues, particularly concerning tax-related documents which he has reportedly failed to submit to the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

It seems the charge is not actually tax evasion but simply failure to heed the demand to submit such documents on time, on February 7 this year to be exact, making the BIR file a complaint of contempt against Pacquiao.

Based on the country’s judicial culture it is unlikely that Pacquiao will get to serve time if ever the court finds him guilty as charged. And with his popularity and resources, he can easily find a way out of this mess.

Yet while he may be able to hurdle his problem with the tax agency – and I believe he or his lawyers would settle this soon – the boxing champ should realize that this and other issues are chipping away at his image as a public figure and official. Maybe he should check if his accountants and lawyers are efficiently doing their job to avoid more complications in the future.

Already, like Mayweather Jr.’s pending jail sentence for domestic violence, the BIR complaint against Pacquiao has created ripples on the web. Even sport news writers have taken note of the issue and its likely impact on the image of the lawmaker cum boxing champ, a clear sign that they are closely following not just his performance inside the ring but also his demeanor as a citizen.

In the Philippines tax-related cases against public figures may not sound as sensational as intrigues and scandals surrounding their private lives – maybe because the people already have a prejudgment of what usually happens to these cases. When even tax cases involving hundreds of millions of pesos normally get swept under the rug, the apathy is understandable.

But in the US and European countries the slightest hint that a public figure – especially a government official – may have failed to comply with his or her tax obligations will readily dominate prime time and the front pages. Everybody there knows what happens when an official’s indiscretion becomes media fare.

Aside from telling his accountants and lawyers to do their job well, Pacquiao needs to think many times over before doing what his advisers tell him to do. If he plans his moves inside the ring, the more that he should be circumspect in his actions as a public official.

For instance, the P75-million libel case he filed against journalist Edwin G. Espejo shows Pacquiao’s poor appreciation of the attendant risks of being a government functionary. The congressman should understand that being in office is an invitation for other people – journalists in particular – to scrutinize one’s words and deeds vis-à-vis a certain set of standards and expectations.

At times, journalists may sound harsh in putting up their subjects to scrutiny – and possibly, judgment by the reading or listening public. But had the good congressman read closely the articles that were the bases of the libel suit, he would have noted that it was written without malicious intent.

Espejo’s articles said that Mohammad “Bong” Akia, former head of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group, was seen disembarking from a commercial plane from Manila weeks ago, and immediately boarded the waiting vehicle of Pacquiao who flew in on the same flight. Akia, who has been accused of selling stolen cars, reportedly stayed in Pacquiao’s house.

In the same articles, Pacquiao’s lawyer, Francisco Gacal, was quoted as having said he was not aware Akia had stayed in his client’s house. The boxer was then in the US to promote his upcoming fight with Timothy Bradley.

On hindsight, Pacquiao could have just issued a denial [that Akia stayed in his house] and that he is not the kind of person to harbor people of questionable character. That would have put a lid on the issue and made him not just a people’s champ but also a press freedom champ. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])

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