Risa & Teddy: Elections a debt trap

BOTH VETERANS of the “parliament of the streets,” they mounted separate failed, if high-level and issues-focused, campaigns for the Senate in the May 2013 elections. Yet while Ana Theresia ‘Risa’ Hontiveros Baraquel and Teodoro ‘Teddy’ Casino have disagreed on politics and policy issues, they now face similarly tight situations because of their latest election spending reports. In the Statement of Election Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) they filed separately with the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Hontiveros of the Akbayan party-list group and Casiño of the Makabayan party declared spending their own money in the campaign in amounts much larger than their declared net worth or cash assets could justify.

In plain terms, their numbers just don’t add up quite well.

PCIJ sent a letter to Hontiveros (who has apparently reverted to using her maiden name) on June 25. After two weeks on Tuesday, Hontiveros’s lawyer replied to PCIJ.

Casiño also received a similar letter from PCIJ this week. On Thursday, he sent a text saying that he has yet to check the figures presented by PCIJ, as well as his records, but that he will be out of town until next week.

Hontiveros, a widow with four children still in school, comes from a relatively well-off family. But in 2009, her last year as member of the House of Representatives, Hontiveros reported a net worth of only P4.9 million.

Her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) for that year also showed no real or personal assets she could sell for significant amount, except for her 38 percent shares in Planet Dive, Inc., a resort in Mabini, Batangas province, which posted only P35,000 in net income in 2011.

Instead of assets, Hontiveros’s SALN showed that she had cash in bank worth P140,000 and a liability or loan worth P7 million.

In her first failed bid for a Senate seat in May 2010, she reported spending P2.4 million of her own money. Her 2010 SOCE also shows unpaid obligations to seven individuals worth P8.8 million.

But since then, Hontiveros has not been known to have had a full-time job. From August to October 2012, before she ran again for a Senate seat, she served as spokesperson of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC). Even that, however, was on a “one-peso consultancy” basis, according to former fellow Akbayan member and now NAPC secretary Joel Rocamora.

Yet still, in her SOCE for the May 2013 elections, Hontiveros said she spent P8.8 million of her own money during the campaign. The implication is that between 2010 and 2012, she might have earned hefty sums from some job or activity yet undisclosed or unknown.

Minus the P2.4 million she spent in her May 2010 election campaign, her P4.9-million net worth in 2009 would be down to less than P2.5 million. But because she said she forked out P8.8 million of her own money in May 2013 — or P5.5 million more than what should be her remaining net worth in 2011 — she may now have to explain to the taxman how she raised, from out of her own pocket, this big personal donation to her campaign.

Interestingly, in an annex she submitted along with her SOCE, Hontiveros said that she had “unpaid obligations” reaching some P8.86 million. These, she said, were personal loans she had received from nine different people, including colleagues in Akbayan who are mostly civil society activists earning modest amounts.

Yet that is not all that Hontiveros has to justify. Charting a P5.5-million net rise in net worth in the last two years would have meant that she had, or should have, earned much more to cover an additional P1.6 million in income taxes due from such earning (32-percent tax bracket), as well as the living expenses of her brood of four.

In all, what Hontiveros would have to explain is where or how, despite her meager net worth and lack of collateral, she convinced nine individuals who may or may not be her personal friends to lend her P8.86 million to cover her expenses in the last elections.

Hontiveros’s lawyer said that the P8.8 million in “personal funds” that Hontiveros used in her campaign “are loan obligations incurred by the campaign team.”

Compared to what she used to file previously, Hontiveros’s latest SOCE is also unusual because it does not name any of the sisters or relatives of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III among her donors.

This is a departure from her SOCE in the May 2010 presidential elections when her Akbayan party reported receiving a total of P112 million in political contributions for her campaign. The amount included P24 million donated by three of Aquino’s sisters, a matter that has earned Hontiveros criticism from a rival militant group that called her “a lackey” of the Aquino and Cojuangco clans that own Hacienda Luisita.

Instead of the Aquinos, a number of Akbayan party-list members are now listed as having donated from tens of thousands to a million pesos to Hontiveros, including two graduate students who are not yet gainfully employed.

Because some donors in fact do not want to be exposed that they made donations, some political parties and candidates have reportedly enrolled friends, relatives, and associates as donors in name, in their reports to the Comelec. “That is what’s happened,” a senior official confirmed what three civil society leaders told the PCIJ. And the problem is, the official adds, the donors in name may now have exposed themselves to a possible tax assessment by the BIR.

Mostly dependent on grants and aid, civil society groups are not known to pay their personnel handsome salaries. Still, about a dozen Akbayan members are listed as donors of a few hundred pesos to a million pesos in Hontiveros’s SOCE.

As for Casiño, his SOCE for May 2013 said he donated to his campaign P950,000 of his own money. It is a much smaller amount compared to Hontiveros’s P8-million personal donation, but Casiño has much, much less, too, in terms of assets.

A report from the House of Representatives listing the net worth of the chamber’s members placed Casino’s net worth at only P446,389.95, as of December 31, 2012.

For his entire campaign, the father of two said he raised P9 million in donations and incurred P12 million in expenses, for an unfunded portion of over P3 million. In his annexed “unpaid obligations” report, he said he acquired a “personal loan” from a certain Antonio Chua of Cabanatuan City on Feb.14, 2013 or two months before election day.

Not only is Casiño’s personal donation to himself double his net worth as of last yearend, he is now P3.5-million deep in debt.

Assistant Commissioner Ariel G. Ronquillo of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) told PCIJ that it should be clear that candidates are able to spend “within their capacity.” He explained that one should go beyond what their SALN states and find out the filers’ sources of incomes.

Other than just stating amounts in the SALN, he said, public officials should also be required to report “where those money came from so the people may know.”

In Ronquillo’s view, the bottom line is “you have no right to use funds coming from illegitimate means… or illegal sources.” — PCIJ, July 2013