Saturday, September 5, 2009

Why Don't You Sue Me in Court

Thus cavalierly challenged presidential son and Pampanga 2nd District Representative Mikey Arroyo in response to probes and criticisms about his questionable Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). Such arrogance and blatant disregard of the meaning of public accountability by an elected government official is, of course, not something new. It is certainly not news, but definitely a cause for outrage by every citizen who stands against the excesses of officialdom.

A little review of our Constitution tells us that a public office is a public trust, and public officials must at all times be accountable to the people. From this lofty principle proceed all our laws on the conduct of public officials, such as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, the Ombudsman Act, Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, provisions of the Revised Penal Code on crimes involving public officers, laws requiring public disclosure of officials' assets, law penalizing plunder, etc. A public officer, like Congressman Mikey Arroyo, holds a position of trust and the public is, as it were, his cestui que trust (the beneficiary of the trust). He acts solely for the benefit of the public he is sworn to serve. And every trusteee owes accountability to his beneficiary by being answerable for his conduct and acting with complete transparency.

Congressman Arroyo has a lot of explaining to do on his SALN, considering that his net worth skyrocketed from Php 5 million to Php 76.9 million in just a span of three years from 2002. His 2008 SALN shows that his net worth has reached Php 99 million. But instead of providing a clear explanation, he passes the buck to his lawyers and challenges anyone questioning him to sue in court. The public that reposed its trust on Congressman Arroyo deserves an answer; if he truly believes he did nothing wrong he should clarify the entries on his SALN, rather than pass the burden to the public. As former NEDA Secretary Winnie Monsod aptly said, it is he who owes the burden and is not for the public to prove whatever is wrong with his SALN.

Okay, Congressman Arroyo did say he is not yet versed in accomplishing a SALN when he was still a vice governor of Pampanga in 2002, thus apparently attributing the relatively small sum of his declared net worth in 2002 to an honest mistake. He also explained that his wealth increased due to campaign contributions, the gifts he received when he got married, and as a result of some investments. Regarding the Beachway house in California, which was not listed on his 2008 SALN, he said it is owned by a company (Beachway Park LLC) and he merely owns a stake in said company.

Let us see how these explanations can hold water. To be sure, everybody is entitled to make mistakes, but to say that one can forget the extent of his wealth - unless you are as extremely rich as Bill Gates or Warren Buffet - is beyond belief. How could Congressman Arroyo forget to include his other assets? To say that the ballooning of his assets from Php 5 million to Php 76 million was merely the result of failure to include his other assets due to inexperience would be outrageously ridiculous. How in the world can Php 71 million be forgotten? Okay, maybe I am exaggerating and this is not really the extent of the undeclared assets, but how about his claim that he was assisted by his - take note of the plural - lawyers. Is he telling us that his lawyers failed to get all relevant information from him or they forgot to include all his assets?

It gets even worse when Congressman Arroyo said his wealth increased due to campaign contributions and wedding gifts. Is he telling us that he did not use all his campaign contributions and instead pocketed the rest? I wonder what the congressman's donors will say. How much did he receive by way of campaign donations? Can the congressman stand firm on this claim when Comelec filings of his campaign contributions and expenditures are bared? How about the wedding gifts? Again, questions of propriety will arise here because if this is true we are not talking only of small amounts. We are talking in millions of pesos! How can someone amass a fortune through wedding gifts? If some of the donors are not relatives, as I'm sure there are, the receipt of such huge sums of money by a public official - regardless of the occasion - violates ethical and legal standards, considering that he was a public official when he received such gifts.

Congressman Arroyo would also like us to believe that he had some investments. But his 2008 SALN shows that the earliest investment he acquired was in 2006. How could such 2006 investments earn him P 71 million in 2005 or earlier?

Regarding the California property, the congressman claims it is owned by a company in which he holds an interest. A limited liability company, like a corporation in the Philippines, has a legal personality separate and distinct from its members. The implication is that the company's properties are technically not owned by the members. So he could probably be excused in not declaring the property as legally he does not directly own it. But as established by Vera Files, the group blogging site that exposed Congressman Arroyo's property, the house is in the name of the congressman's wife and their investigation into the records of California yielded no results for the company. The law requires properties in the name of spouses to be declared in the SALN as well, which Congressman Arroyo did not.

Given these implausible explanations, should the public be blamed for seeking more information and clarification? By not giving straight and clear answers - which Congressman Arroyo can do even without his lawyers and the courts, if truly he is not guilty of any wrongdoing - he is only fueling further doubts on his integrity.

SOURCE: Philippine Commentary


john marzan said...

i say start filing corruption complaints against the arroyos once mum is out of power.



Excellent piece.

Good governance is difficult but is not impossible.

Charlie said...

"shame" is not on the arroyo's vocabulary

Jun Bautista said...

Thanks Hillblogger; I share your optimism.