MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has kept his wealth secret until the end of his presidency.
The request made by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) for a copy of his last Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) as sitting president again ran into a dead-end.
The central office of the Office of the Ombudsman is the custodian of the SALN of presidents, vice presidents, and constitutional officials. In 2020, Ombudsman Samuel Martires issued Memorandum Circular No. 1 Series of 2020 to restrict access to the documents.
Despite the memorandum, this reporter reached out to the Office of the Ombudsman via telephone to request a copy of Duterte’s SALN. The office immediately cited the 2020 memorandum and advised this reporter to get the document from the declarant.
No request shall be accommodated without this authorization, the staff at the Office of the Ombudsman said.
This reporter also called the Office of the President’s Malacañang Record Office (MRO), but the staff said the office did not have a copy of Duterte’s SALN.
Even before the 2020 memorandum, the Office of the Ombudsman had denied the public access to SALNs. The last of Duterte’s publicly available SALN was released in 2018. It covered his wealth declarations for the previous year, 2017, or his second year as president.
Republic Act 6713, also known as the SALN Law, provides for the public access to SALNs. In a July 2021 decision, the Supreme Court, dominated by Duterte’s appointees, upheld the Ombudsman’s memorandum .
“The power to regulate the access by the public to these documents stems from the inherent power of the custodian to control its very office to the end that damage to, or loss of, the records may be avoided,” the high court said.
Duterte’s 2017 SALN
Based on his 2017 SALN, Duterte had a net worth of P28.5 million during the reporting period. He listed nine properties under his name, which were purchased from 1996 to 1999 and in 2008. Three residential and two agricultural properties were listed under the name of his daughter, Veronica, who was then a minor.
Duterte declared a personal loan amounting to P800,000.00 from Samuel C. Uy, a Davao-based businessman who is an independent director of MacroAsia Corporation, an aviation support company. The same personal loan was declared as early as 2015 in the amount of P1.2 million.
Uy was one of the top contributors to Duterte’s presidential campaign in 2016. He donated P30 million and was then listed as owner of Davao Farms and Davao Import Distributors Inc. Six years later, in the May 2022 elections, Uy ran and won as mayor of Tarragona town in Davao Oriental.
The Office of the Ombudsman also proposed amendments to the SALN law, which included a jail term for anyone who makes commentaries on the SALN. Critics said it was tantamount to censorship.
Other proposed amendments were found to be vague, such as the granting of too much discretion to public officials and employees over which assets to declare in the document.
Transparent VP Robredo
PCIJ started filing requests for the SALN of the country’s top officials beginning May 19, 2022. Only the Office of the Vice President and Malacanang Records Office of the Office of the President released copies of 2021 SALN documents.
PCIJ was able to obtain the SALNs of Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo and 29 Cabinet secretaries.
PCIJ’s requests filed with the Senate, House of Representatives, and Clerk of Court have yet to be accommodated and approved.
Robredo’s office provided PCIJ a copy of her SALN on June 15, 2022, or 17 days after the request was made on May 23, 2022.
Robredo declared a net worth of P14.38 million, which increased by P2.47 million compared to her declaration in 2020 (P11.90 million). Her SALN showed her real properties increased by P2,600,732.13, from P23,804,280.00 to P26,405,012.13, after she acquired two properties in Magarao, Camarines Sur.
The Office of the President’s Malacañang Records Office released SALN documents of fewer secretaries compared this year – 29 officials – compared to 2021, when it released the documents of 37 officials.
Below is the list of Cabinet members and their net worth in 2021 and 2020, as declared in their SALNs:
Two Cabinet secretaries were billionaries. Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi was the richest Cabinet secretary with a net worth of P1.49 billion. He was followed by Public Works Secretary and newly elected Senator Mark Villar with a net worth of P1.40 billion.
Senate, House, Supreme Court
Requests for SALNs from the House of Representatives, Senate, and the Supreme Court had yet to be granted.
PCIJ filed a request with the House’s Office of the Secretary General and the Office of the Senate Secretary on May 19. This was acknowledged after 14 minutes by the Office of the Secretary General.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Secretary General acknowledged the request on June 6. It noted that the SALN Review Committee would be convening to evaluate the request.
A similar request was also filed to the Clerk of Court. No response was given to the said request as of this writing.
The Senate, House of Representatives and the Supreme Court have withheld access to copies of full SALNs over the years.
Only wealth summaries may be requested from the Senate. Full SALNs of House representatives may be requested but these requests are subject to House members’ approval. Wealth summaries however are released without the need for a request.
The same procedure is applied by the Supreme Court. Full SALNs of court members may be requested but these requests are subject to the Supreme Court en banc’s approval. Wealth summaries are also released without the need for a request. – Rappler.com
Republished with permission from PCIJ.