Ranking Customs official dismissed for fudging SALN

Chief Customs operations officer Rafael Mendoza Merencilla's wealth has seen an "astonishing increase' over 13 years that his income cannot justify

DISMISSAL. A customs official is dismissed for an untruthful SALN filings.

MANILA, Philippines – A ranking Customs official who made untruthful entries in his annual assets list to hide his unexplained wealth for more than a decade has been dismissed from service by the Office of the Ombudsman.

In a 23-page decision, the anti-graft agency said Rafael Mendoza Merencilla, chief Customs operations officer, made “untruthful, inconsistent, and misleading declarations” in the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) he submitted for the years 1997 to 2009.

He was found to have accumulated properties grossly disproportionate to his income.

Merencilla’s “failure to file true, detailed and sworn statements of assets, liabilities and net worth and resorting to a narration of all properties in one description defeats the very purpose of the law which is safeguarding the integrity of every public official through transparency and accountability in the pursuit of good governance,” the Ombudsman said.

The Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS), the finance department’s anti-corruption arm, filed the case in May 2011 after it conducted a lifestyle check on Merencilla.

The dismissal order takes effect immediately. It cancels Merencilla’s civil service eligibility, forfeits his retirement benefits, and perpetually disqualifies him from working in government.

Undeclared properties, fake GSIS loan

The Ombudsman found that Merencilla did not declare in any of his SALNs his ownership of a 9,190 square meter lot in Lipa City.

He has another property in Lipa, an 18,535 sqm agricultural/residential lot acquired in 2011, but he did not declare that residential buildings were built on it.

The Ombudsman also questioned why Merencilla lumped his assets together – his cars with his other personal properties – “making it difficult to ascertain its composition.”

“Worth noting is the declaration of the respondent that his Honda Accord was acquired in 1998 and was actually a part of his cash on hand during the same year. However, our scrutiny of his cash for the year is only P70,000 vis-à-vis his acquisition cost for this car which amounted to P510,000,” the decision said.

Merencilla also declared that he acquired two townhouses through a loan from Government Service Insurance System. However, RIPS investigators found out that he did not apply for nor receive any loan from the GSIS.

“To our mind, the scheme was intentionally resorted to by the respondent (Merencilla) to conceal the increase in property holdings by making it appear that he and his wife obtained loans from the GSIS,” the Ombudsman said.

“While good faith is considered as a valid defense, the fact that respondent repeatedly and continuously declared in is SALNs from 1997 to 2009, for a period of 13 years, that he and his wife availed of real property loan from the GSIS negated such a defense.”
 “From the pieces of evidence at hand, it has become evident that there has been an astonishing increase in Merencilla’s total assets from P4,480,000 in 1997 to P29,301,380.64 in 2009,” the decision read.

The Ombudsman did not accept Merencilla’s justification that the increase of his properties came from the income from his business connections. It said that “as regard his business connections, no mention was made on his income received therefrom, neither did he present any financial statement, statement of operations, and income tax return to support his claims that he has legally obtained other incomes from his businesses and investments.” Rappler.com