SALN files of 5 wannabe presidents
writ in opaque, loose, curious parts

THEY ARE MULTIMILLIONAIRES, affluent and ambitious to the last.

On Monday, May 9, Filipinos will get to pick one among them to be president, and another to be vice president, of the nation.

The candidates themselves have tried to make it easier for voters to choose. Months ahead of the official campaign period, for instance, four of the five candidates for president and five of the six for vice president rolled out multibillion pesos worth of television ads to win the favor of the 55.7-million registered Filipino voters at home and overseas.

That kind of spending, of course, is alien to majority of Filipino voters. Strapped by a lack of choices and resources, most Filipinos are so unlike the candidates who are invariably awash in wealth, status, and perks.

Politics is writ in riddles, indeed. Why, for instance, should class wish to serve mass for a pittance? And a pittance it is, even with the salary standardization law that passed this year raising the President’s monthly salary to P400,000.

That adjustment in pay takes effect in the next administration. Until then, the country’s chief executive’s lawful monthly pay remains at about P120,000 before tax, or multiplied by 13 months, P1.56 million a year. That adds up to at most P9.36 million throughout his/her six-year full term equivalent to 78 months. And because that salary rate falls under the taxman’s 32-percent bracket, the President’s lawful salary, net of tax, has actually been much less, at just about P80,000 a month.

Yet, to get to power, a presidential or vice-presidential candidate must burn billions. Today, political analysts say, a candidate for president may need from P3 billion to P5 billion to bankroll a decent election campaign across the nation.

To be sure, before the path to power, all the current candidates for the nation’s top two posts had taken a journey to wealth. By the available documents, though, their wealth stories are often opaque or wanting in clarity and detail, or even loose and wobbly at the seams.

PCIJ took a look at the state of wealth of the five candidates for president:

• Vice President Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA);
• Davao City Mayor Rodrigo ‘Digong’ Duterte of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) Party;
• Sen. Mary Grace Poe Llamanzares, of the Galing at Puso slate;
• Former Local Government Secretary Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II of the administration Liberal Party (LP); and
• Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago of the People’s Reform Party (PRP).

PCIJ also looked at the state of wealth of six candidates for vice president:

• Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano of the Nacionalista Party (NP) and Duterte’s running mate;
• Sen. Francis Joseph ‘Chiz’ Escudero, Poe’s running mate;
• Sen. Gregorio ‘Gringo’ Honasan, Binay’s running mate;
• Sen. Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. of the NP and Defensor-Santiago’s running mate;
• Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Independent, but also an NP member; and
• Camarines Sur Rep. Maria Leonor ‘Leni’ Robredo of the LP and Roxas’s running mate.

In their latest statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) filed in April 2014, the presidential candidates of May 2016 have declared modest to mammoth net worth. Except for Duterte and Poe, however, the latest SALN for the year 2015 of the other candidates have yet to be released to the public. PCIJ has also obtained copies of the SALN for 2015 of three candidates for vice president: Escudero, Robredo, and Trillanes.

To establish a baseline of wealth for each of the candidates, PCIJ reviewed the SALNs they had filed in prior years, starting with their respective first year in public service as either elective or appointive officials. Because some candidates had served longer in government, and others for just brief periods of time, the breadth or timeline of wealth could not be established in identical manner for all the candidates.

In the course of doing this story, PCIJ noticed that some of the candidates had close family members occupying or had occupied significant political posts. Available SALNs of these family members were therefore reviewed as well to come up with a more complete wealth narrative for the candidates involved.

The battle for the presidency is a five-way affair: three men (Binay, Duterte, and Roxas) and two women (Poe and Defensor-Santiago) are slugging it out. Four of the five are incumbents (Binay, Duterte, Poe, and Defensor-Santiago). The fifth, Roxas, quit his latest post as Interior and Local Government secretary in October 2015 to prepare for his presidential run.

All five wannabe-presidents declared big net worth values in their respective SALN for 2014. The latest available for Binay, Defensor-Santiago, and Roxas were their 2014 SALN but PCIJ has also obtained copies of the SALN for 2015 of Duterte and Poe.

As of their 2014 SALN, by order of claimed penury, by net worth, the “poorest” is Duterte with P21.9 million, followed by Binay with P60.25 million, Defensor-Santiago with P73.03 million, Poe with P89.5 million, and Roxas with P202.08 million.

(Duterte in his SALN for 2015 declared a slightly higher net worth of P23.5 million, as of last yearend.)

But as a group, how the wealth of the five presidentiables rose, fell, and rose again while in public office is a story with neither logic nor symmetry.

Two candidates — Poe and Roxas — enrolled properties inherited from their parents, or through court orders with zero acquisition value, thus artificially deflating or denting what might be the true expanse of their wealth.

A manual issued by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) on how to comply with “The SALN Law” or Republic Act No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) spells out the following modes of acquisition of real properties:

• Purchase
• Donation
• Inheritance
• Trust
• Exchange
• As a consequence of contract (tradition)
• Occupation
• Intellectual creation
• Law, or by order of the court
• Prescription

The CSC manual states, however, that “in case of purchase by installment of immovable, the equity and amortizations so far paid should be declared as Equity in Installment Purchases under Other Personal Property, rather than Real Property (even if the contract may be registered with the register of deeds).”

“It is only when the Real Property is fully paid and title transfers to the buyer that the property is declared as a Real Property in the SALN,” the manual stated.

Too, there is a discernible shift from listing mostly real to more personal and other properties – which has less and weaker documentation, and thus could be easily hidden — in the SALNs that the five presidential candidates have filed through the years. The most notable signs of this shift to personal properties are the bursting “cash on hand/in bank” and investments in stocks they declared in their SALNs.

Then again, some of the candidates have also declared bigger and bigger amounts of liabilities to creditors or agencies not fully named in their SALN. Yet, despite their growing liabilities, these candidates have declared bigger net worth values through the years. — PCIJ, May 2016
For details, check out PCIJ’s Money Politics Online