Duterte-Pacquiao word war deepens: Senator alleged tax cheat, corrupt

BETTER TIMES. President Rodrigo Duterte raises the hands of Sen. Manny Pacquiao in happier times together

By Claire Morales True, Managing Editor

MANILA – Accepting the challenge of President Rodrigo Duterte, fighting Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao bared alleged massive corruption in government and called on the Senate, through its Blue Ribbon Committee, to investigate them.

Hours before flying to Los Angeles for his training for his fight against American champion Errol Spence, Pacquiao named the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Health and other agencies for alleged corruption in a briefing with bundles of documents to support his allegations and which he intended to turn over to the Senate for investigation.

For one, Pacquiao questioned a money transfer or mobile wallet firm which got P10.4 billion in social amelioration fund from the DSWD for remittance to more than one million social amelioration program beneficiaries but more than half of whom have not enlisted in their app to be able to get their financial assistance from the government.

Pacquiao said 1.3 million of the supposed 1.8 million recipients were not able to get aid via mobile wallet Starpay even though government records showed that they got the cash assistance.

“Why is it that out of the 1.8 million Filipino beneficiaries of the SAP through Starpay app, only 500,000 people had downloaded it?” Pacquiao asked.

The senator went on to explain that “one cannot withdraw any amount without downloading the Starpay app.”

He followed up by asking: “My question is, what happened to the 1.3 million people who did not download the Starpay app, but on the record, they have already received financial assistance from the government?”

Pacquiao stressed that the government had to borrow billions to provide financial assistance to Filipinos who lost their jobs and source of livelihood during the pandemic. 

The allocation, he said, was P207.6 billion for the second tranche of the SAP under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 law, which expired last June 30.

“Mr. President, did you know that millions were allocated by the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) for this unheralded e-wallet called Starpay which only has a paid-up capital of P62,000?” Pacquiao asked.

“That’s what I want to ask the DSWD, where did the huge amount of ayuda go? There are many people who are hungry and complaining that they haven’t received it,” he stressed. 

Pacquiao did not name the owner of Starpay, but insisted: “I’m blown away by the mere mention of the issue being P10.4 billion. It’s a lot of money!”

Moreover, the firm started only with a small capital not proportionate to the billions of pesos it was given to handle, he said.

StarPay, supported by DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista, denied Pacquiao’s allegations.

“In a very short period of time, Starpay was able to cover more than five million beneficiaries that were successfully paid as we went above and beyond the original allocation set by the DSWD and BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas)… We have already liquidated the funds given to us and have refunded the amount for the unserved beneficiaries,” Starpay said in a statement. 

Secretary Bautista defended Starpay, saying those who did not use the online channel likely withdrew the money over the counter through partner pawnshops and remittance agents. He also confirmed that Starpay and five other banks returned the untouched cash aid, dismissing the allegations of Pacquiao.

The DSWD chief also said all “missing” pandemic funds were accounted for.

Bautista said that as of July 2, around 14.88 million families got their second tranche of cash aid, with over ₱89.8 billion disbursed. Manual payouts are being conducted and are expected to be completed by the end of July, the DSWD said. More than 17 million low-income families received their first tranche of SAP, with a total disbursement of more than ₱98 billion.

Pacquiao said he was assisting Duterte fight corruption and he should not badmouth him, instead support him, for joining his crusade.

The DSWD and the money transfer firm immediately denied Pacquiao’s claim, pointing out that all monies were accounted for.

 Duterte pooh-poohed Pacquiao’s expose and turned the table on Pacquiao for his P2.2 billion tax case with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

 Duterte, at the same time, assured that he is trying his “very best” to eradicate corruption in government under his watch.

Duterte gave the assurance during his meeting with the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) executives and other government officials at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang.

“You know, I’ve been trying really my very best to curb corruption,” Duterte said, amid Senator Pacquiao’s allegation that corruption in government remains widespread.

Duterte admitted that Pacquiao’s corruption allegations riled him.

While he is exhausting all efforts to stamp out corruption, Duterte said he could not stop the irregularities within government offices “overnight.”

“But I have made some a little progress in terminating, dismissing individuals. I cannot abolish offices but I can dismiss employees for their malfeasance,” Duterte said.

To combat corruption, Duterte guaranteed that his resolve is to implement “less” rules for Filipino citizens transacting with government offices.

“We stand against corruption. We stand for the people,” he said. “The less regulation that we can impose upon the people, the better. Many regulations, many signatures needed, and the opportunity for corruption is there.”

Pacquiao earlier named the departments of social welfare, health, energy, and environment as corrupt-ridden agencies.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, however, said that Pacquiao’s corruption claim against the four departments is “trivial” and has “no bill of particulars, no specific instance, no evidence, [and] no follow-up.”

Turning the tables on Pacquiao, Duterte raised the previous tax evasion complaint against the senator.

Duterte said Pacquiao, having a total of P2.2 billion underpayment in taxes, should also be considered as a “corrupt” official.

“I remember that… I’ll try to find out. May ano ‘yan siya may utang siyang P2.2 billion. Not because gusto ko siyang habulin, ayaw ko, but sabi kasi niya corrupt. Eh ‘di kung corrupt kami, eh ‘di ikaw (He owed the government P2.2 billion. I’m saying this not because I want to go after him. But he is accusing us that we are corrupt. If we are corrupt, how about you)? When you cheat government, you are a corrupt official,” he said.

Duterte was referring to the tax evasion case filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) against Pacquiao and his wife Jinkee in 2013 for alleged tax deficiencies in 2008 and 2009.

The BIR claimed Pacquiao had a total of PHP2.26-billion underpaid taxes for 2008 and 2009, including those for his earnings in his boxing matches abroad.

The BIR, in its final assessment, said the Pacquiaos’ total tax liabilities amounted to PHP3.29 billion, including penalties and surcharges.

However, the Court of Appeals on July 27, 2018 directed the BIR to “cease and desist” from collecting the alleged tax deficiency of Pacquiao and his wife pending decision on the senator’s petition questioning the BIR’s assessmen