Unexplained wealth

At the center of the ongoing impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona is the issue of “unexplained wealth” which is considered a cardinal sin among public officials and employees. Public office is a public trust, and that principle is the foundation for the strict prohibition on those holding public office in using their clout to amass wealth. It’s not that public office is a vow of poverty; but it should not be exploited to enrich oneself.

That’s the reason our lawmakers have enacted numerous laws to punish public officials and employees who amass wealth far beyond, or manifestly out of proportion to, their salaries and legal income. Foremost of these laws are Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. There is also Republic Act No. 1379 which lays down the elements for the crime of unexplained wealth.

The chief instrument for making sure this prohibition is strictly enforced is a two-page document called the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, or SALN for short. For about a month now, the SALN has become a familiar term in everyday conversation in the country, what with the alleged failure of Corona to disclose the true magnitude of his wealth, and negligence in filling out the blank spaces properly in accordance with law. It’s only now that public officials and employees have appreciated the gravity of the failure to disclose their assets, liabilities and net worth.

This document isn’t just about accounting for one’s wealth. It’s also about being honest and faithful to one’s oath of office. The responsible official or employee takes an oath before a competent administering officer, usually the head of office or a notary public, that everything that he/she disclosed in the document are true and correct. Hence, telling a lie is not taken lightly. It is classified as an act of dishonesty and perjury, which by themselves are punishable by dismissal or removal from office.

Last week, I filed a second complaint for unexplained wealth, dishonesty and perjury against City Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog for the rapid increase in his declared wealth in a matter of three years. In that short period, between 2007 and 2010, Mabilog reported that his net worth grew by P26.6 million. From P44.5 million in 2004, Mabilog’s net worth rose to P71.1 million by the end of December 31, 2010. That wealth includes a fleet of expensive cars/SUVs, residential properties and investments.

The law states that the amassed wealth must be “manifestly out of proportion to his salary and legal income.” Mabilog reported a salary of P564,743 for the year 2010. But he declared that he has other income and that of his wife, Ma. Victoria Griengo-Mabilog. In the space “Annual Gross Family Income”, Mabilog wrote P8,400,000. That means this is the total income he and his wife derived from salaries, bonuses, interest income, and business income before taxes. My undergraduate degree is accounting, so I know that this amount is subject to taxes. It is also the source for daily living expenses.

This is the basis for laying down the premise for “manifestly out of proportion” to his salaries and other legal income. The BIR will take away about 40% of this amount as the couple’s income taxes for the year. That’s about P3.4 million, and leaves him P5 million. Like any family man, he has to pay the bills, buy groceries, pay tuition at school, travel abroad and entertain. A conservative estimate of his living expenses would be P200,000 a month, or P2.4 million a year. Hence, the net amount left for investments is P2.6 million.

Let’s assume he plowed back every centavo of that P2.6 million into investments. In three years, that’s only P7.8 million. There’s a wide chasm between P26.6 million and P7.8 million. Under the law, Mabilog will have to explain the sources of his wealth. The existence of his declared wealth which is manifestly out of proportion to his legal income is deemed prima facie evidence of unexplained wealth. Mabilog has the burden of proof that he acquired his wealth from legitimate endeavors.

The “unexplained wealth” portion is only part of Mabilog’s problem. His SALN betrays instances of dishonesty and perjury. For instance, he reported in his 2007 SALN that he purchase a second residential property in Canada for P30 million. There could be no mistaking about it. He wrote that amount for the columns “acquisition cost” and “current market value.” In his 2010 SALN, Mabilog deflated the figure for acquisition cost for this same property and put the amount of P14.5 million. That’s more than one-half of what he originally disclosed. The purpose is obvious: he wanted to disguise the true magnitude of his amassed wealth.

Mabilog also bought a Lexus luxury vehicle sometime in 2009. But he did not reflect the year it was acquired in his 2010 SALN. He also lied about its acquisition cost; he claimed to have bought it only for P1.5 million. Any car enthusiast will tell you that the price range for the Lexus line of cars and SUVs is between P2 million to P5 million. Even if it was at the lowest level, Mabilog still committed dishonesty and perjury.

Mabilog bought a Dodge Durango SUV at about the same time. He didn’t disclose the date of its acquisition. He also lied about its acquisition cost by reporting only P600,000 in that column. A Dodge Durango costs no less than P2 million. The car-lover in Mabilog shaved off P1.4 million from the value of his Dodge Durango, again for the purpose of hiding his true net worth.

This is a case where the evidence is the very document that Mabilog filed to disclose his assets, liabilities and net worth. He can’t possibly question the authenticity of the SALNs because these came from the Office of the Ombudsman. His only recourse is endeavor to explain how such wealth came into being from legitimate sources, and not illicit activities.

Mabilog has tried to downplay this complaint. But this complaint is no joking matter. The Ombudsman is mandated by RA 3019 to place him under preventive suspension indefinitely once the investigation is commenced. It is not discretionary on the part of the Ombudsman.


About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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