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Journalists, netizens react to print media’s pro-Bongbong Marcos headline on the estate tax issue

The said article suggested the idea of clearing the Marcos heirs (Imelda, Bongbong) from their tax liability, based on the alleged consensus among regional BIR directors, whose identities, as the author claimed, were requested to be kept anonymous. 

Journalists and columnists from various local news outlets called out their Manila Bulletin colleagues over a problematic headline.

Manila Bulletin’s headline on its April 4 issue reads: “Heirs not liable for PhP203-B estate tax — BIR.” 

Many, even fellow columnists and journalists) who know better the basics of reporting and headline-writing reacted too. They raised their brows over the article by columnist Jun Ramirez.

The said article suggested the idea of clearing the Marcos heirs (Imelda, Bongbong) from their tax liability, based on the alleged consensus among regional BIR directors, whose identities, as the author claimed, were requested to be kept anonymous.

Ramirez quoted statements from an unnamed official, who claimed that no other tax delinquents with similar issues as Marcos, were ever put behind bars.

The author even shared information he obtained from the said unnamed source: that revenue examiners in 1989 fixed the Marcos estate tax at PhP23 billion. 

Previously, the former BIR Commissioner Kim Henares has computed the Marcos estate tax to have ballooned at around PhP203 billion due to surcharges and yearly interest.

Rappler’s Lian Buan noted how the unnamed regional directors seemingly circumnavigated the higher officials of the tax collection agency. 

In short, the Bulletin front page attributing a pro-Marcos stance to the BIR cannot be done when the support quotes are from field officials who requested anonymity. Anonymous officials supersede the BIR chief and the Finance Chief?” she shared in a tweet.

National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) chair and Philstar author, Jonathan de Santos, has a similar tone. 

Statements attributed to anonymous officials of a government bureau cannot be said to have come from the bureau itself kahit sa headline lang,” he shared in his tweet.

Mindanews’s Yas D. Ocampo echoed de Santos sentiments, via his one-word tweet. “Yep” he said.

Investigative Journalist and South China Morning Post correspondent Raissa Robles, jokingly teased Ramirez for seemingly implying heirs can also escape their estate tax obligations the way Bongbong Marcos does. 

Uy, fellow taxpayers, ganoon lang pala iyon. Kung namatayan kayo ng magulang na may naiwang ari-arian, puwede rin pala kayong hindi magbayad ng estate tax. Ganun lang yon. Be like Bongbong Marcos. Dont pay your estate taxes, mga heirs.” she said.

Blogger and Manila Times columnist Noemi Dado, meanwhile noted how the Manila Bulletin headline was misleading its readers. It suggested that the article was merely a damage control to keep Bongbong’s chances of winning the 2022 polls, from being smeared by his estate tax debacle. 

“Damage control because nonpayment of estate tax is destroying the chances of the son of the late dictator. #MarcosTaxEvader” she tweeted.

Netizens also expressed their frustration and disappointment at Manila Bulletin, as they also questioned the recent pro-BBM stance of the news outlet.

Aida Alberto, a Twitter user, questioned the author’s choice to keep the identities of his source anonymous. “Manila Bulletin, shame. You are supposed to be part of mainstream media, but to put a statement from an anonymous source as HEADLINE!?!!? How low can you get? Are you trolling also for LBM? Tsk,tsk. Mahirap mag NO pag pera na ang pinaguusapan” she said, suggesting that there may be money involved.

Netizen Carl Javiel, on the other hand, thought it was merely a partisan’s gimmick to lure fellow believers. 

It’s the gimmick of finding someone who agrees with them and then trying to push that narrative. Par for the course of that campaign. But shoddy journalism (kindest thing I can say). If anyone is destroying credibility in media, it’s papers, publishers, journos like that” he shared in his tweet.

A day before the issue broke, Manila Bulletin also went viral for being fact-checked by Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto, who claimed that he got misquoted and his statement mistranslated.

Interestingly, the Manila Bulletin estate tax piece also contains some questionable claims. According to Ramirez’s source, the estate tax “…is levied on real and personal properties of a dead person and not on the assets owned by his relatives

 However, it got clarified many times that Imelda and Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. are compelled by law to settle the said taxes because they are the sole administrators of the Marcos inheritance. The said PhP23 billion (which has reportedly grown to PhP203 billion) is also final and executory. 

Imee Marcos, herself, admitted that her family is indeed bound by law to settle the said amount.

Written by JE C.C.

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