Unexplained wealth, redacted?

TO REDACT or not to redact.

Which could avoid or attract scrutiny and censure?

Redactions are not the only issue that could arise if public officials would shade or black out the true, detailed, and complete facts of their wealth.

Big and small discrepancies in the content of SALNs they have filed across periods of time could trigger more serious questions. Unexplained wealth, for one.

PCIJ has secured the SALNs that most of the same Cabinet members had filed as of June 30, 2016 — whence they entered public service as Duterte’s appointees. These had not been redacted at all.

Next came the SALNs they filed as of December 2016 that were shotful of shaded or blacked-out items, thus showing only the sums of their assets, liabilities, and net worth.

Net worth rise

But a comparison of the sums alone showed multimillion-peso increases in the net worth that certain Cabinet secretaries had declared, across the six-month interval between June 30 and December 31, 2016.

How they managed to do that, despite modest lawful incomes in government, and rules on conflict of interest that bar them from earning fat sums outside of public service, is the big mystery.

Without any clear explanation offered by the redacted SALNs, such significant upticks in net worth constitute unexplained wealth per se or by itself, according to lawyers of the Civil Service Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman.

By PCIJ’s review, the SALNs without redactions and with redactions of 10 Cabinet secretaries showed net-worth increases of P100,000 to nearly P30 million across the six-month period:

• A hefty P29,753,018-increase — or about P5 million a month — in the net worth of Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez, or from P322,106,265 in June 2016 to P351,859,283 in December 2016.

• A P9,906,155-increase in the net worth of Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia, or from P95,525,450 in July 2016 to P105,431,605.52 in December 2016.

• A P5.225-million increase in the net worth of Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar, or from P147,047,869.19 in June 2016 to P152,272,523.19, as of December 2016;

• A P4,673,599-increase in the net worth of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, or from P35,371,280.95 in June 2016 to P40,044,880.07 in December 2016.

• A P1.9-million increase in the net worth of Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade, or from 300,069,263 in June 2016 to P301,999,204.00 in December 2016.

• A P1.6-million increase in the net worth of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, or from P161,089,000 in July 2016 to P162,701,642 in December 2016.

• A P1.56-million increase in the net worth of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, or from P18,254,429 in June 2016 to P19,814,429.00 in December 2016.

• A lean P100,000 increase in the net worth of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, or from P22,145,000 in June 2016 to P22,245,000 in December 2016.

Salalima’s net dips

In contrast, newly resigned Information and Communications Technology Secretary Rodolfo Salima, who was a telco executive for a long time, showed an unexplained decline in wealth from June to December 2016. He entered public service with a net worth of P311,370,739.26, but this dipped to P304,961,439.91 by December 2016, a decrease of P6,409,299.

Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar, the wealthiest of the Duterte Cabinet members, declared a net worth of P1.41-billion in his December 2016 SALN. Only these sums of his SALN entries have not been redacted: P134.9-million in real properties, P1.29-billion in “other real and personal properties”; and liabilities of only P14.5 million.

An uptick in the net worth of two other secretaries occurred over longer periods of time.

Across a seven-year period, a fantastic P21,956,632.23-increase was recorded in the net worth of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, or from P3,643,000 in the SALN he filed as of Dec. 31, 2009, to P25,599,632.23 in his latest SALN as of Dec. 31, 2016.

PCIJ also noted a modest P2,650,000-increase in the net worth of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, or from P12,800,000 in the SALN he filed as of December 2008 to P15,450,000 in his latest SALN as of December 2016.

Both Piñol and Bello are allies of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Both skipped public service for some years, hence PCIJ has no SALN copies for them in the intervening years.

Dominguez’s dough

The rise and fall of the values enrolled in the redacted and unredacted SALNs are rather difficult to track. This much is true in the case of Finance Secretary Dominguez, whose SALNs for June 2016 and December 2016 showed the largest net increase.

In both SALNs, he declared zero liabilities but also an identical list of real assets, personal and other properties, and slight changes in the entities in which he has business interests and financial connections.

Dominguez declared the same list of nine residential, agricultural, and commercial real properties that he acquired or inherited but marked a P5.5-million increase in their combined values. He said that he had real assets in Davao del Sur; Davao City; Tuguegarao, Cagayan; Sta. Maria, Bulacan; and one in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. that he reportedly acquired in 2001 at a cost of P51,975,720, as of his June 2016 SALN.

Dominguez also declared three categories of “personal and other properties,” notably cash and financial instruments; jewelry, art, vehicles, and other collectibles; and shares of stocks and advances. Altogether, he said that his personal and other assets grew in value from P270.03 million as of June 2016, to a redacted, hence secret, amount in December 2016.

Dominguez said that from 1983 to 2016, he has had business interests and financial connections in 26 entities (as of June 2016), and in 27 entities (as of December 2016), with at most two entities dropped or added in each.

In four, he said that he serves as shareholder, director, and treasurer; in three others as shareholder and advancer; in three more as member; and one each for “shareholder, director, and advancer,” advancer, beneficial owner, director, and preferred shareholder. For the other 12 entities, Dominguez said that he serves as shareholder.

Aguirre’s kin

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, meanwhile, declared a net worth of P37,632,069.77 as of December 2016, but PCIJ has not received from Malacañang a copy of his June 2016 SALN.

Aguirre’s filing stands out for the number of his relatives in government: 13 in all, including the Mayor and a councilor in Mulanay, Quezon. He has a sister working as an election officer in Mauban, Quezon; another sister, a sister-in-law, five first cousins, and a niece all working in Mulanay town; two first cousins-in-law and an aunt employed in three other Quezon towns; and a bilas or in-law, Victor Uy, who works as his executive assistant at the Justice department.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, in his SALNs that enroll just one data field redacted in each — his home address — showed a P3.4-million increase in his net worth, or from P24,080,094.04 in June 2016 to P27,428,862.44 in December 2016.

PCIJ obtained copies of Duterte’s SALNs from the Office of the Ombudsman, hence its singular redacted data entry. — PCIJ, September 2017