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Thursday, May 31, 2012
INQUIRER.netFirst Posted 09:54:00 08/15/2010
CALIFORNIA, United States. Soon after the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family fled to the US in the aftermath of the 1986 People Power uprising, the Philippine comedic duo of Noel Trinidad and Subas Herrera ("Champoy") embarked on a comedy tour of the US.
One line that always drew howls of laughter was Subas?s comment about how much he felt right at home in the US "because this is where our taxes have been spent."
Subas was referring to the widespread news in the US press that Imelda Marcos had purchased five prime Manhattan properties such as the Crown Building as well as the vast Lindenmere estate in Long Island. It was also reported that she had bought about 200 choice properties in California including at least 30 holdings in Los Angeles.
How much did Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos plunder during their two decades of rule from 1966 to 1986? Estimates may vary from $20B to $50B but suffice to say that when they began, the Philippines was one of the top economies of Asia and when their kleptocratic reign ended, the country was reduced to one of the region?s most impoverished. Despite massive evidence of their brazen plunder, none of the Marcoses have ever been convicted of corruption.
Even the $310M worth of jewelry seized from Imelda Marcos by the Cory Aquino government in 1986 was ordered returned back to Imelda by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales on June 13, 2009 because he concluded that the government could not prove that it was illegally obtained.
This was not the intent of the forfeiture law (Republic Act 1379) that was enacted on June 18, 1955. Although it has been ignored, especially during the Marcos era, the law allows the Philippine government to forfeit any property found to have been unlawfully acquired by any public officer or employee. This means that "property acquired by any public officer or employee during his/her incumbency which is manifestly out of proportion to his/her salary" can be seized by the government.
To implement this 1955 law, Congress passed the SALN law, Republic Act 3019, popularly known as the Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net worth law on August 17, 1960 requiring "every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office and, thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year (to submit) a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year."
Half a century later, the SALN law lies moribund because there has been no mechanism to verify the SALNs and no penalty for committing perjury in the SALNs.
An example of the weakness of this law was presented on national TV on September 3, 2009 when GMA son Representative Mikey Arroyo was asked by Winnie Monsod to explain how his SALN could show a net worth of P5 million ($100,000) in 2002 and P99 million ($2.2M) in 2008. Mikey's answer: "You know, first of all, I got married. I received lots of gifts. Then in the election campaign, somehow, many people helped me." Is it legal to pocket the money given by campaign donors?
In that TV interview, Mikey reluctantly acknowledged that he partly owned the property at 1655 Beach Park Boulevard in Foster City in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. Although the $1.32M residential property was listed in San Mateo County records in 2009 as owned by his wife, Angela Montenegro Macapagal, it was not listed in the 2008 and 2009 SALNs of Mikey Arroyo.
Representative Mikey Arroyo, who returns to Congress as the representative of the Ang Galing party list of the marginalized tricycle drivers, technically complied with the law when he filled out his SALN forms and submitted them. But how is the veracity of his SALN verified? And what happens once it is established that he has other undisclosed (Foster City) assets?
Responsibility for the enforcement of the SALN law rests with the Office of the Ombudsman headed by Merceditas Gutierrez, a GMA appointee who was the Ateneo Law School classmate of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. Understandably, she has shown no desire to investigate the Arroyos.
The Ombudsman would have to be compelled by a court order to enforce the SALN. Unfortunately, the Philippine Supreme Court - all GMA appointees - has exempted itself and the entire judicial branch from having to comply with the SALN law, a clear violation of a law enacted on February 20, 1989 (RA 6713) that expressly includes members of the judiciary as among those required to submit SALNs.
When the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) wanted to investigate reports that certain judges were charging P500,000-P750,000 to issue a restraining order or injunction, it could not obtain the SALNs of the judges because of the Supreme Court's exemption ruling.
After 50 years, the SALN law may be on life support but it isn't dead yet. Since Congress will not likely pass any law that will put more teeth into SALN, President Noynoy Aquino should just sign an executive order designating officials in each agency of government to compile the SALNs of public officials and to review and verify them and post them online. The Department of Justice should then go after the public officials with unexplained wealth and place the onus on them to prove their innocence as Winnie explained to Mikey. That's the way the SALN law was envisioned 50 years ago this week. It's time to finally enforce it and use it as a weapon of good governance.
Once upon a time, then senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III made a bold declaration in a press release during his presidential campaign.
“I am willing if necessary (to waive my rights under the Bank Secrecy Law)…but I will not presume for others who will join government,” he said in the Second Integrity and Human Rights Conference at Hotel Intercontinental Manila.
Under Republic Act 1405, disclosure or inquiry into deposits with any banking institutions is prohibited. Section 2 of the law considers as “absolutely confidential” all deposits with banks or banking institutions in the Philippines.
Some exceptions are a written permission of the depositor or in cases of impeachment, or upon order of a competent court in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials, or in cases where the money deposited or invested is the subject matter of the litigation.
Violations carry a penalty of up to five years imprisonment or a fine of up to P20, 000 or both.
In his time as president, Noynoy, now using the sobriquet “PNoy,” began his “clean-up” campaign to rid the government of supposedly elusive crooks from the past administration. The one that took the blow of the president’s conquest was none other than Chief Justice Renato Corona.
In the duration of his trial at the Senate, coupled with the persecution of the congressmen and vindictive Filipinos, Corona in the end came up with a controversial dare; the bank secrecy waiver. Alongside authorizing government agencies to directly look into his bank accounts, Corona also posed a challenge to the other politicians of the land to do the same, for the sake of transparency which everyone seems to want anyway. Why, this is the perfect time for the president to show his stuff; now is the perfect for him to fulfill his pledge to the Filipino people hungry for change. But—
Malacañang dismissed suggestions that President Benigno Aquino III fullfil a campaign promise to waive his bank secrecy rights “at this time” the way impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona did last week.
And so the straight path that had no definite end was no more; the said path was leading to hypocrisy.
Yes, PNoy rejected the golden opportunity to uphold his principles way back from his promise-filled and platform-less campaign to the Filipino people, specifically his declaration to waive his rights under the Bank Secrecy Law. Examining Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda’s statement:
“It is incumbent on all to recognize that it is Mr. Corona who is on trial,” Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said over the weekend when asked to comment on reminders posted on online forums that Mr. Aquino had pledged to waive his rights under the bank secrecy laws and open his bank accounts to the public during the presidential campaign of 2010.
This reasoning is quite ridiculous. Does the Constitution provide that an ongoing impeachment trial prohibits a public official from upholding his campaign promises? But then, of course, it’s because Corona is the one making the dare. How can PNoy accept that the one whom his administration perceives to be Arroyo’s corrupt lapdog will turn out to uphold the very principles PNoy promised the people in the past? This flies in the face of his persecution project against the respondent. Hence, the dissent, albeit coupled with faulty reasoning.
Lacierda said that asking Mr. Aquino to sign a waiver of his bank secrecy rights while the impeachment trial against Corona is going on was like lumping law-abiding public servants together with those who are being called to account for wrongdoing.
Who or what can verify that PNoy is a law-abiding citizen? The only thing that can be assessed is that PNoy is not the one on trial; that is all. And this does not answer the previous question: Does the Constitution provide that an ongoing impeachment trial prohibits a public official from upholding his campaign promises?
Undersecretary Abigail Valte, the deputy presidential spokesperson, said over state-run radio dzRB Sunday that waiving bank secrecy rights was a voluntary and personal decision.
Yes, Valte was right in saying that waiving rights is a voluntary and personal decision. However, there is this notion of expectation for public officials, especially when they have made a promise to the people during their campaign. People have invested their trust on what those officials have said. As a proponent of a supposedly straight path, shouldn’t PNoy know that much?
Asked about the campaign promise, Lacierda said Mr. Aquino’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) already includes the mandatory waiver for the Ombudsman to obtain documents from the appropriate government agencies to verify the extent of his wealth.
“To those who are asking if the President will sign a waiver, for the record the President’s SALN has always been made public and it includes the mandatory waiver for the Ombudsman,” he said.
Yes, the president does subject himself to the power of the Ombudsman (together with the other public officials), but the mandatory waiver is not the same as PNoy’s promise to waive his bank secrecy rights. Waiving your bank secrecy rights means you relinquish that right; that would mean anyone at any time can view the contents of your bank accounts whenever they feel like it. This is the consequence of PNoy’s promise.
Meanwhile, the Ombudsman can only investigate bank accounts based on an existing credible complaint. Furthermore, the Ombudsman also subjects himself/herself to existing constraints in the policies of some government agencies she cooperates with (e.g., direct inquiry to AMLC reports require a court order from a competent court).
There is a big difference between the mandatory waiver and PNoy’s right-waiving. In any case, PNoy has really outdone himself in giving us a thorough look at his increasingly hypocritical demeanor. Lovely.
The way I see it, there are at least two ways for him to somehow escape this dilemma, both of which will certainly damage his credibility. Either he can just accept Corona’s dare, which can show his fickleness, or he can publicly reject his previous claim about waiving his rights, which will fly in the face of what his supporters believed in.
Time to show some spine, PNoy.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Will it mean more jobs and higher wages to enable Filipinos to cope with increasing prices of practically everything?
Will it mean less criminality and a more secure environment for citizens?
Will the verdict translate to timely and adequate action to keep the poor out of harm’s way in the event of typhoons and resulting floods, landslides and similar disasters?
All these questions are addressed to Malacañang, which spent months fixated on pinning down the chief justice in the face of other concerns that need attention. Congress, too, let its work slide.
Perhaps now they can get back to work.
The impeachment court’s decision on Corona carries with it plus and minuses.
We all agree on the need for transparency and accountability in government office. This is mandated by the Constitution. Article XI, Section 1 says that “public office is a public trust.”
Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency. They must act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.
The Corona trial also serves as a wake-up call for the members of the Judiciary. They should respond to calls for reform. Their branch of government has been weighed down by complaints of graft and corruption.
Whatever we say about the final decision, it shows us one thing: That democracy works in this country through the system of checks and balances.
Unfortunately, the trial has damaged the Supreme Court as an institution. It has also sent a chilling effect—that the Palace can mobilize agencies such as the Land Registration Authority, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Office of the Solicitor General, Office of the Ombudsman, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
This tells us how far a President is willing to go in the name of what he calls reform, using his awesome powers.
Is it worth it? Are we now to agree that the end justifies the means?
With the impeachment teleserye over, the nation’s focus now is on politics. Indeed, the elections next year is fast approaching.
Many interesting things are happening: Former President Joseph Estrada is running for mayor in Manila and movie and television personality Vic Sotto is trying his luck against Mayor Herbert Bautista in Quezon City. Boxing icon Manny Pacquiao is running for governor of Sarangani. The local scene is lively.
But the focus is on the senatorial race. The United Nationalist Coalition of Vice President Jejomar Binay and former President Estrada has come out with a formidable line up, which includes Chiz Escudero, Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Koko Pimentel, Greg Honasan, Jackie Ponce Enrile, JV Ejercito, Dick Gordon, Migz Zubiri, Mitos Magsaysay, Gwen Garcia—and possibly two more.
We can be sure that at least 10 of them will win. This leaves only three slots for newcomers and the other wannabes.
On the Liberal Party side, President Aquino has already endorsed four—Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, Tesda Director Joel Villanueva, former party list Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Rep. Sonny Angara, son of Senator Edong Angara. Oh well, they can dream, can’t they?
The Nacionalista Party wants to coalesce with the Liberal Party. Senator Manny Villar wants his wife Cynthia to run for the Senate. Whether or not she can win is a big question mark.
The move of Malacañang to have Customs Chief Biazon run for the Senate is considered by many as a big mistake. If he runs, he will be considered a lame duck—entirely useless as chief of the Bureau of Customs.
My gulay, Biazon has hardly warmed his seat and now he will leave it at once? Observers say the frequent changing of top officials has been responsible for the failure to curb smuggling.
In fairness to Biazon, he’s trying his best to institute reforms in his bureau.
I heard Ilocos Norte Rep. Rudy Fariñas make a summation last Monday’s at the impeachment trial. I could not help but recall that he had confessed that he had not signed the Articles of Impeachment against Corona because he was a slow reader and could not possibly have read everything.
But last Monday, Fariñas was there accusing the chief justice of so many things, saying that Corona used lame excuses in defending himself from the charges thrown at him by the prosecutors. I believe the word he used was “palusot.”
Wasn’t there a point when Fariñas was ready to resign from the prosecution?
But, there he was, castigating Corona for the lame excuses he offered about not disclosing his peso and dollar accounts in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.
There is a name for people like Fariñas, but I won’t say it here because it’s not polite.