Half a giga of data

FOUR months of research, more than two dozen requests, and at least half a gigabyte of documents. That was what it took to produce this four-part series on the Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) of the justices of the Supreme Court.

It all started in mid-August when PCIJ sent its request for the justices’ SALNs and personal data sheets or curriculum vitae to the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court. Over 80 working days hence, PCIJ’s request remains unanswered. Luckily, though, news had earlier broken out that Solar Network News’s request for a copy of the justices’ 2011 SALNs had been granted. PCIJ reached out to Solar and the result is this joint story project.

But securing the latest SALN of an official wouldn’t be enough to do a comprehensive review of his or her state of wealth. At the very least, the SALN filed from the first year of assumption or appointment to the subsequent annual filings must all be collected.

So first, PCIJ tracked the career timeline of each justice and identified the years that they should have filed a SALN. The process was also applied to the justices’ spouses who have or had also served in government.

PCIJ then sent requests to the official repositories of these SALN as provided in Republic Act No. 6713, which is also referred to as The SALN Law. It was able to secure eight SALNs from the Office of the Ombudsman, two from the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and eight more from the Office of the President (OP). But it failed to get SALNs filed by Chief Justice Lourdes P.A. Sereno at the University of the Philippines, where she had taught at the law school for several years.

Obviously, though, even without Sereno’s old SALNs, PCIJ had already collected a considerable stack of documents, which it studied and encoded in Excel format. This allowed the researchers to easily track the inflow and outflow of money for every real asset, personal asset, and liability that each justice and spouse declared. PCIJ then analyzed the historical data, looking for possible understatement, non-disclosure, unexplained increase in assets or net worth, conflict of interest, or other inconsistencies and gap in detail. This process took several rounds of checking to ensure that entries were the same as those indicated in the actual SALNs.

PCIJ also conducted a reverse search on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) corporate records database. By entering the justices’ names on the SEC database, the Center was able to get a list of corporations, partnerships, and foundations related to each. The SEC reverse search results provided a reference to validate the business interests and financial connections that the justices declared or did not declare in their SALNs.

To verify relationship of an official with a company, PCIJ also validated the SEC reverse search results with the general information sheets, articles of incorporation, and financial statements of each company.

PCIJ then sent letters to the Supreme Court justices seeking clarification on its findings and observations based on the various documents gathered.

Apart from the SALNs and SEC documents, PCIJ referred to relevant laws, budget documents, and various other government records, as well as conducted interviews with lawyers and other experts to complete the four-part report. – Karol Ilagan, PCIJ, December 2012

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