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.

 

Mark Jalandoni quits as Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon

The resignation of Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Mark Jalandoni is a reason for jubilation for Filipinos who want to see his boss, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, removed from office. It is a signal that convulsions inside the agency are becoming so strong even her own right hand man has decided to jump ship even before her impeachment trial could begin next month. Jalandoni is known to be the real power behind Gutierrez, a handpicked man of the former First Couple, to make sure things move as they desired in the country’s anti-graft agency.

Jalandoni’s resignation came in the heels of three complaints over his usurpation of authority and abuse of discretion in dismissing cases, a prerogative that belongs to the Ombudsman or, in her absence, the Over-all Deputy Ombudsman. A spokesman for the Office of the Ombudsman said Jalandoni chose to resign rather than face the administrative case “to spare the Ombudsman from the controversy”.

Jalandoni was appointed to the position on March 8, 2010, the last day before the election bad on appointments took effect. It was a clear midnight appointment. The papers were doctored to make it appear it was signed by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before the prohibition took effect. But documents I had obtained showed that the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) submitted its ranking list for the candidates for the position to the Office of the Executive Secretary at 2:58 p.m. on March 8, 2010. Those who understand how the bureaucratic mill grinds know that it usually takes two or three days before it lands on the desk of the Executive Secretary.

The date “March 8, 2011” is handwritten on the top portion of Jalandoni’s appointment, an indication that it was issued at a later date, but only made to appear to have beaten the deadline. Otherwise, his appointment papers would have taken a bullet train across the bureaucracy, which would still be an indication the appointing power had made up her mind before the JBC short-list was submitted. Incidentally, Jalandoni wasn’t even number one on the list. The top-ranked candidate was Director Roque Dator of the Field Investigation Office. But Jalandoni was already the sidekick of Gutierrez, and he was elevated to the position of Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon to make sure he effectively filtered the big-time graft cases. All cases filed against Cabinet secretaries and generals land on his desk.

Jalandoni was the “hatchet-man” of Gutierrez. He did the dirty job of sweeping the filth of Arroyo’s plundering cohorts to make sure they stayed out of jail. He was also responsible for crafting decisions to harass and oppress known enemies of the previous administration. No other man wielded so much power as Mark Jalandoni inside the agency. He rose above Orlando Casimiro, the Over-all Deputy Ombudsman. He was the most trusted man of Gutierrez; insiders describe him as the only person who could make the beleaguered Ombudsman laugh during tense moments.

Why was Jalandoni so powerful? He wasn’t handpicked by the former occupants of the Palace from nowhere. The middle-aged lawyer is the son of Julio “Boy” Jalandoni, the reputed bag-man of the Arroyos. He is now the jueteng lord of Negros Occidental. A few months ago, I wrote an investigative piece about Boy Jalandoni being in the top 100 stockholders of blue-chip companies like Ayala Land Inc., Globe and Jollibee. The Jalandonis of Jaro were rich, but certainly not that rich. Clearly, Boy Jalandoni held those investments — worth billions of pesos — for somebody else. I don’t have to tell you who that somebody is.

That is the connection that Mark Jalandoni enjoyed to have landed such a powerful position. His sudden departure will demoralize Gutierrez. Her back-up man abandoned ship before she could even start to face trial. This resignation will rattle and shake the agency like a 9.1 magnitude earthquake. And this will hasten the discovery of more anomalies in the previous administration.

No return, no exchange

Former Iloilo governor Niel Tupas Sr. holds the singular distinction of having been indicted by the beleaguered Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez, twice in a three-year period.

In January 2007, Tupas was slapped the penalty of dismissal and perpetual disqualification from public office for allegedly pocketing P20,000 that the Iloilo provincial government gave a national organization of provincial board members as financial assistance. Tupas stood his ground and refused to step down as he questioned the order before the Court of Appeals. It was nothing more than political persecution, he believed, because he withdrew his allegiance to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He was among the governors who sympathized with the Hyatt 10 over the “Hello, Garci” issue and stuck to the Liberal Party position of fighting the corrupt administration of GMA.

Tupas knew the risks, but he stood firm on principle. When the dismissal order came, he refused to kneel and beg before GMA through her lieutenant, then DOJ secretary Raul M. Gonzalez. This steadfastness nearly proved deadly. The GMA administration, using the Ombudsman order of dismissal, sent 300 heavily armed policemen to storm the Iloilo Capitol to forcibly remove Tupas. The timely fax transmission of a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Court of Appeals in Cebu stopped the policemen in their tracks as they prepared for the final assault to break open the door to the governor’s office. People would have been hurt, or lives even lost, had that happened.

Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ombudsman order was invalid. Tupas was denied due process, and the penalty of dismissal was an overkill in relation to the alleged offense he committed. This is a classic example of the distorted sense of justice that Gutierrez dispenses: protect the plunderers while sending the small fry to the gas chambers. And this was clearly a fabricated charge that had no basis in truth and in fact.

As the wheels of justice ground to a complete halt in its supposed investigation of mega-anomalies like the ZTE-NBN scandal, P720-million fertilizer fund scam, the multi-million highway robbery of Boboy Syjuco, the Ombudsman’s machinery was revving when it came to cases filed against Tupas.

Just two weeks before the May 10, 2010 elections, the Ombudsman handed down the second decision on the supposed irregularity in the grant of a quarry permit to a businessman in Iloilo. This is now the case that leaped to the centerstage in this epic impeachment drama. In the most stupid of stupidity, the Ombudsman, through Over-all Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro, ruled that Tupas should suffer the severe penalty of dismissal from office AGAIN in the administrative aspect of the case.

But, as the stupid decision put it, Tupas was absolved of any liability in the administrative case under the Aguinaldo doctrine. Tupas overwhelmingly won over his opponent in the 2007 local elections by a 220,000 vote margin, which extinguishes his administrative liability, if ever, over an alleged offense committed in 2004. Any lawyer would know that the proper thing to do, as the case was filed in 2008, was to dismiss the administrative complaint outright on the basis of the Aguinaldo doctrine. Gutierrez, hiding behind Casimiro, did not. She used the case to harass Tupas.

Anyway, the criminal complaint was rushed to the Sandiganbayan less than 24 hours after the resolution was penned. The indictment served another purpose — negative propaganda against Tupas, who was running for Congressman of the 4th district of Iloilo against incumbent Rep. Ferjenel Biron. It was an express train that was intended to throw Tupas off-balance trying to fend off a warrant of arrest two weeks before the elections. Actually, the plan was to keep it under wraps and spring an ambush on Tupas by serving him a warrant of arrest a few days before the elections. It was by accident that I stumbled upon the story through the ABS-CBN website at 5 o’ clock a.m. The element of surprise was deleted.

Tupas filed a motion for reconsideration on the decision shortly afterwards. He lost to Biron in the face of super-massive vote buying, but his son, Niel Jr., trounced his first cousin, Rolex T. Suplico, the 5th district of Iloilo. As fate would have it, Rep. Niel Jr. was chosen to become chairman of the House justice committee, and it was on his laps that two impeachment complaints were lodged against Merceditas Gutierrez. The younger Tupas didn’t ask to be made justice committee chair; he didn’t orchestrate the filing of impeachment complaints against Gutierrez.

Sometime in the 2nd week of September 2010, Tupas was surprised to find Casimiro waiting at his office. The House justice committee had commence its work on the complaints, and had in fact poisted to vote on the sufficiency in form and substance. Casimiro engaged Tupas, in the presence of his legal assistant, Atty. Joenar Pueblo, in light talk about his father’s case. “It was really weak right from the start,” Tupas quoted Casimiro as saying. But the deputy ombudsman said he was ordered to indict the older Tupas just the same. It doesn’t take too much brain power to figure out who could order him to do that.

“Then, Casimiro told me the case can be dismissed by way of approving the pending motion for reconsideration,” Rep. Tupas said. Casimiro’s voice dropped in a conspirational whisper: “What can you offer the Ombudsman in exchange?”

It was a horse-trade that Casimiro had proposed — unethical, illegal and unprofessional. The Ombudsman will drop the case against the father provided the son treats Gutierrez with leniency and allow her to squirm her way out of the impeachment. A very tempting offer, indeed, said Tupas.

But Tupas said “no”. His father will face the case squarely. He will not hide. He will not drop to his knees and pray for reversal of the indictment. “I cannot abandon my principles in exchange for my father’s case,” the younger Tupas said. The former governor agreed. The same issue had been decided by a Regional Trial Court in Iloilo in 2005 after a full-blown trial. The quarry permit was validly issued, the individual who obtained it was qualified, and then Gov. Tupas did nothing wrong. That decision was, and is, the best evidence in favor of Gov. Tupas.

Rep. Tupas revealed this secret offer immediately after the Ombudsman, again through Casimiro, rejected the motion for reconsideration. “I didn’t disclose it earlier because I didn’t want to sidetrack the focus,” Rep. Tupas said. “But I continued to fulfill my mandate despite this sword of Damocles hanging over the head of my father,” he added. Now that the Ombudsman had revived the case in apparent retaliation to the unshakable principle shown by the younger Tupas, he felt this attempt to bargain with him had to be exposed.

Casimiro, as expected, denied having tried to lobby for his boss. But he can’t hide the fact that he visited the office of Rep. Tupas in September. I am told there was even a second visit in which Gov. Tupas was present; Casimiro came to reiterate the offer. The logbooks would show that he went to see the son at his office. Was it just a social call? Did Casimiro go there to have coffee and just engage in friendly banter? He was the one who signed the original decision, as often happens when Gutierrez wants to wash her hands from a case. Certainly, Tupas wouldn’t feel too comfortable chatting with a man who tried to fire his father a second time.

The firm position taken by Tupas has frustrated Gutierrez. Her usual tactics didn’t work this time. She tried to deal with a person who adopted a “no return, no exchange” policy. No barter, no withdrawal of cases. Now she wants to use the issue to cast doubt over the credibility of Tupas. However, her lies will not bring her anywhere. The public isn’t likely to be deceived. A coincidence? The resolution was dated August 10, 2010. The lapse of five months before it was signed only reinforces the story of Rep. Tupas. It was kept hanging to be used as a bargaining tool.

Merceditas Gutierrez has done the country grave wrongs. There is growing anger among Filipinos as details about her anomalies are revealed. It is the position of the Tupas family that they can take the blows for the sake of making sure that the ends of justice and equity are served. Gov. Tupas survived an assault by 300 heavily armed policemen. He is not about to run away from this case, much unlike Merceditas Gutierrez who is getting more desperate in trying to stop the impeachment process.

Badge of honor

When I filed a request with the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas for a required clearance, I was told it would take a little while before the same could be issued. The reason? A records check on its database showed that my name was listed as a respondent in a number of pending cases. Each and every case would have to be verified to know its exact status, an employee said. How many cases have been filed against me and still pending?

It took about a week before the anti-graft agency issued the certification. And when I looked at it, I felt proud. That’s because the only case pending (the others were dismissed) was a 2003 complaint filed by Augusto L. Syjuco, Jr.

I felt proud because the complainant is the symbol of the unmitigated plunder and greed during the Arroyo administration. Syjuco is perhaps the most notorious public official to have set foot in government, starting from when he was still in his first two terms of congressman, and then as director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). Syjuco’s corruption is shamefully legendary. A quick search of YouTube would list several documentaries about the magnitude of his corruption.

I felt proud because the clearance was being submitted to the Office of the President through TESDA secretary Joel Villanueva. Certainly, the irony of the information will not escape the national leadership. I was a target of harassment of Syjuco, whose corrupt deals have not yet fully uncovered. What has come to the surface so far are sufficient to shock the ordinary individual with a sense of decency and uprightness. I said to myself, this information will be counted in my favor. Instead of a minus factor, it will be regarded as a plus factor.

Indeed, it was a tough battle I fought to expose the corruption of Syjuco while he was congressman and then TESDA head. I feel confident I will be given a better opportunity to dig deeper into his corruption and help prosecute this man who stole the future of tens of thousands of young Filipinos with what he did at TESDA.

That Ombudsman certification listing Syjuco as my accuser will be a badge of honor I will wear when I rejoin public service under the Aquino administration.

Abuse of discretion

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, through her counsel, ought to be ashamed about her claim that she is a victim of “abuse of discretion” when the House justice committee voted that the two impeachment complaints filed against her were “sufficient in form and substance”. If there is anybody who is consistently guilty of “abuse of discretion,” that could only be Gutierrez herself. Under her watch, the Ombudsman has become a tool for oppression. At the same time, it turned into a citadel where corrupt officials during the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presidency took refuge.

The oppressive nature of Gutierrez was manifested in the grossly unfair resolutions she handed down against public officials considered “enemies” of the Arroyo admnistration and “small fry” like P/Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza. The list of victims is long. Then Makati City mayor, now Vice President, Jejomar Binay is one. Former Cavite Governor (now Rep.) Ayong Maliksi is another.

But there is one former local chief executive whose name Gutierrez can now never forget: Niel Tupas Sr., governor of Iloilo for nine years, and survivor of the infamous Iloilo Capitol siege on January 17, 2007. Gov. Tupas stands out as a lightning rod for the “fury” of the Ombudsman, having the singular distinction of being dismissed from the job twice (but the orders never got to be implemented).

A quick look at the list will reveal that nobody associated with Arroyo ever got indicted. The cases against them were even dismissed, or just lay buried in the archives of the agency. The Ombudsman became an enforcer for the Arroyo administration, a tool for oppression to keep everybody in line. Play by the rules, and you don’t get kicked in the butt — That was the way the Ombudsman worked under Gutierrez. And “abuse of discretion” is a good way to describe the way she ran the agency.

Hence, I find it disgusting that among all possible excuses, Gutierrez would pick “abuse of discretion” to justify her cause. Under the circumstances, it would be tantamount of “abuse of discretion” if the impeachment case against her would not now be allowed to proceed.

Not a reckless adventure

In its editorial yesterday, Oct. 2, the Philippine Daily Inquirer painted the move of the House of Representatives Justice Committee to affirm its constitutional mandate on impeachment as a reckless adventure, akin to Don Quixote’s crazy lance assault against a windmill, and accused its members of flirting with a constitutional crisis. It wants the committee headed by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. to simmer down, and like a dog putting its tail between its legs, bow in subservience to the Supreme Court which had issued a status quo ante order on the impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

I beg to differ from the stance of the revered PDI on this issue.

First, there is no defiance on the part of the House justice committee. Its vote to uphold Congress’s autonomy on the issue of impeachment doesn’t fling the House into a collision course with the High Court. In fact, it is giving the Supreme Court due respect by submitting its comment on the petition filed by Gutierrez (with reservation) and take part in the oral argument set for Tuesday, Oct. 5. But the House justice committee is making it clear its stand on the matter is firm. It is giving the High Court space to make a ruling on whether the status quo ante order will stay after a reasonable period of time. That’s the respect the High Court is getting.

I’m not a lawyer, but there’s one point that is so obvious to a layman it’s hard to understand why the Supreme Court could stray from the intent and purpose of the law. The filing of a complaint can’t possibly be deemed as the initiation of impeachment proceedings as contemplated in the 1987 Constitution. At that point, there is no knowing whether the impeachment complaint is sufficient in form and substance, much less founded on valid grounds. To stick to the interpretation under the Francisco doctrine would make a mockery of the entire impeachment process. What would now prevent an impeachable official from filing a defective complaint at the first opportunity to block such actions for one year?

If the previous Congresses balked at a showdown with the Supreme Court in the impeachment cases against then Chief Justice Hilario Davide, it doesn’t mean that the present House of Representatives will just stick to that erroneous position. Impeachment is not a judicial proceeding; it is a political act to provide the people at large with an opportunity to exact accountability from public officials who otherwise can’t be removed through the expedient of an election or termination. The congressmen and women who will vote on whether a complaint should be elevated to the impeachment court — the Senate — are acting on behalf of their constituents. It is a power drawn from popular representation.

It has also been pointed out that the Supreme Court has no business meddling with Congress’s power on impeachment. That’s because the Supreme Court justices themselves are subject to impeachment. Hence, as shown in the Francisco case, the Supreme Court might be tempted into putting up obstacles to protect its members. With this in mind, the House justice committee is right in insisting the power to impeach cannot be taken away from it by the simple expedient of getting a prohibitory injunction from the Supreme Court.

I rest my case.

Letter to Merci

This is a letter I wrote to Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez four years ago which she apparently just disregarded and allowed inaction to leave cases gathering dust in her office:

                                                                                   August 28, 2006

 HON. MERCEDITAS GUTIERREZ

Ombudsman (Tanodbayan)

Office of the Ombudsman

Diliman, Quezon City

Dear Tanodbayan Gutierrez:

I was browsing the Internet during the weekend, and I came across an interesting article entitled, “Ombudsman Cases ‘Just Lie There and Die There’”. It was written in 1998 long before you appointment to this Honorable Office. But I was prompted to call your attention to this article, a reprint of which is hereto attached, as a way of reminding you there are many important cases that may just suffer that fate.

One such case is entitled “MANUEL P. MEJORADA, Complainant, versus RAUL M. GONZALEZ, Respondent,” docketed as OMB-C-A-05-0635-K for Grave Misconduct and Oppression. The case was filed almost a year ago, and the Position Papers for both complainant and respondent were filed in March 2006. Nothing has been heard about the case, and I am afraid it will just gather dust in some drawer cabinet in the Office of the Ombudsman.

I can understand the Ombudsman is placed in a rather awkward position in having to rule against the Justice Secretary. But I think the facts and evidence as presented can only bring you to one conclusion: That the Justice Secretary is guilty as charged. Otherwise, the investigating officer would have dismissed this long ago if the evidence didn’t support the allegations.

I was one of those who cheered your appointment as Ombudsman in the belief that you bring sincerity and commitment to purpose to the job. This is an acid test for the Ombudsman to show it is a truly independent body that will carry out its mandate no matter who gets hurt. Otherwise, abusive government officials will merely thumb their noses and sneer at the Ombudsman for its inability to discipline them. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I want to call a spade and spade.

I sincerely hope that I will not end up a frustrated citizen wasting my efforts to fight corruption and abuse in government. I know that if there is any single person who can make an impact in the fight against corruption, it will be you. And I wouldn’t have to sing the line from Nat King Cole, “They just lie there, and they just die there” whenever I think of the Ombudsman.

                                                                                    Very truly yours,

                                                                                    MANUEL P. MEJORADA

                                                                                    Provincial Administrator

Encls.: PCIJ reprint “Ombudsman Cases ‘Just Lie There and Die There’”