MANILA, JUNE 20, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - After receiving a presidential rebuke for his agency’s disappointing collection performance, Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Jose Mario Buñag has been offered a new job in the administration – this time as an ambassador.

A ranking Malacañang official who requested anonymity said Buñag was offered an ambassadorial post in exchange for his leaving his present job.

The Palace official said President Arroyo made the offer to Buñag through an emissary who met with the BIR chief Monday night. The official’s disclosure came just minutes before Finance Secretary Margarito Teves announced that the country incurred a P1.7-billion deficit in May as against the P5.8-billion surplus in the same period last year.

Teves earlier disclosed that Mrs. Arroyo, concerned over falling tax collections, wanted to see the latest revenue figures first before deciding on Buñag’s fate. “Tax collections continue to disappoint,” Teves said yesterday.

The source said the offer for Buñag was for an ambassadorial post in Norway or Jordan.

The same official said Deputy Commissioner Lilian Hefti might take over Buñag’s post as officer-in-charge while the Palace searches for his permanent replacement.

“No comment. I neither confirm nor deny that,” Buñag said when contacted by The STAR.

Rumors of Buñag being eased out of the BIR spread earlier this month after the Palace issued an executive order directing one of his commissioners to handle the agency’s anti-tax evasion campaign.

“The President has talked to Commissioner Buñag and has expressed her concern about the slippages in BIR collection, but she would like to wait for more recent information for her to make the final decision on the matter as soon as possible,” Teves told reporters last week. The BIR is under the Department of Finance.

Defending the low revenue collections in the last few months, the beleaguered BIR chief said the agency’s performance should be gauged at the end of the year.

“It’s hard to measure the performance in a very short time frame. It should be annual,” he earlier told reporters at Malacañang.

Sources also said the list of potential replacements for outgoing National Treasurer Omar Cruz has been narrowed down to at least four, including Eric Cruz, country manager for Deutsche Bank, and Alfonso Cruz, senior executive vice president for institutional banking of the Land Bank of the Philippines.

Reports earlier said other candidates were investment banker Vicente Panlilio and a certain Francisco Magsajo.

Cruz, who is credited for reducing the country’s debt, is leaving at the end of the month.

President Arroyo defended yesterday the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC)

President Arroyo defended yesterday the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) against Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson’s accusations that it violated the law when it froze some P1.2 billion in questionable bank accounts during the election period.

“The Palace is supportive of AMLC’s efforts to effectively implement the AMLA (Anti-Money Laundering Act) because as Chief Executive of the government, the President is duty-bound to see to it that all laws of the land are implemented and that all government agencies execute their respective mandates,” Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.

“Ferreting out illegal funds and transactions is a mandate of the AMLC,” he added.

Lacson earlier said the AMLC’s action could be part of the administration’s harassment of its political opponents.

“The Palace further recognizes and respects the AMLC’s independence and fully supports the latter’s efforts to discharge its mandate under the AMLA as the country’s financial intelligence unit,” Bunye said.

Lacson is one of the authors of the AMLA or Republic Act 9160. He said the law provides that “no assets shall be frozen, attached or forfeited, to the prejudice of a candidate for an electoral office during an election period.”

Chief presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol, for his part, said he could not understand why Lacson was making a fuss over the work of the AMLC.

“If he (Lacson) is affected by the investigation of the council, he can undertake measure to get it (freeze order) lifted,” he said.

He expressed belief that AMLC’s freezing of the accounts was not made during the election period but added he would check.

Another ranking Palace official said the AMLC should run after illegal accounts “regardless of who is hurt (in the process).”

Administration lawmakers on Monday chided Lacson for hitting the AMLC, saying he should let the council do its job.

Antique Rep. Exequiel Javier and Leyte Rep. Eduardo Veloso, in a joint statement, said that by raising a howl over the AMLC’s move, Lacson only showed a “double standard in his alleged anti-corruption campaign.”

“Is Ping afraid of anything to have hit the move of the AMLC? We believe the AMLC would not resort to political persecution in exercising its mandate to check on funds that may have come from illegal sources,” Javier said. – Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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