Did Andy Bautista 'overdeclare' assets in his SALNs?

Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andres "Andy" Bautista was about to face impeachment when Malacañang announced on October 23 that the resignation he tendered days before – supposedly effective December 31, 2017 – was "effective immediately."

His impeachment was based, among others, on supposed untruthful declarations in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN). Bautista's own wife, Patricia, accused him of amassing "ill-gotten wealth" worth nearly a billion pesos and not declaring these assets in his SALN.

That may not be the only problem, however. An advocate pushing for the close scrutiny of SALNs offered a contrary observation: Bautista may have actually "overdeclared" amounts in his SALN.

Bienvenido Gonzalez, a certified public accountant and owner of website www.saln.info, noted that the total amount of real properties Bautista listed in his SALNs as Comelec chief was not the sum of "acquisition costs," but of figures under the "current fair market value" column. Acquisition costs tend to be lower than current fair market values.

In his 2016 SALN, for instance, Bautista declared P158,500,000 in total real properties. The values under the "acquisition costs" column do not sum up to that figure, but the properties' current fair market values do. The "assessed value" column was left blank.

Gonzalez also observed the same manner of declaring real properties in Bautista's SALN as of December 31, 2015. The same pattern was observed in his SALN when he first joined the Comelec in May 2015,  following his stint as head of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG).

Below are his SALNs from May 2015:

Gonzalez also pointed out that acquisition costs should remain constant across the years, since as the term suggests, it refers to the price of the property at the time it was acquired.

In Bautista's 3 SALNs as Comelec chairman, however, two real properties had different acquisition costs.

For Gonzalez's computation, the acquisition costs for these properties were pegged at the earliest amount based on available SALNs, which is on the one Bautista filed in May 2015.

In addition, in Bautista's 2016 SALN, Gonzalez noted two condominium units at the Pacific Plaza Towers in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City worth P46 million that should not have been listed as a personal asset. The entry was, however, footnoted with the units being owned by XMA Corporation.

Gonzalez said this property "may have been double-counted because as an asset of XMA, a 100% subsidiary of the filer already listed as shares under personal assets in his SALN, it should no longer be carried as another line item in his SALN."

Finally, Gonzalez suggested that the amounts for insurance (under personal assets) and various loans and amortization payments (under liabilities) should be further examined.

"Insurance is normally booked as an expense and therefore usually never shows up in the SALN, except when the account is made to reflect the cash surrender value of the policy," he said. "The policy must be reviewed to determine if it should be retained in his SALN or already transferred to the beneficiaries, according to an insurance specialist consulted on this issue."

He also said that each loan "should be checked for documentation of principal, interest rate, and amortization schedule. The absence of any interest rate and/or amortization schedule can betray some transactions which are subordinated loans that are quasi-equity in nature. If so, these can be considered as an undocumented and untaxed transaction from the past."

"Only tax-evidenced transactions should be allowed to be part of any SALN," he continued.

Applying all of these adjustments to Bautista's 2016 SALN, Gonzalez said Bautista should have declared only a total of P36.7 million in real properties. His personal assets and liabilities remained as is. As a result, Bautista's net worth should be only P54.5 million in 2016, not P176.3 million as he originally declared, Gonzalez said.

Rappler contacted Bautista via text and tried to call him from Thursday, October 26, to Saturday, October 28, to get a possible explanation, but he had not replied as of posting.

CSC guidelines

Civil Service Commission (CSC) Assistant Commissioner Ariel Ronquillo declined to comment on Gonzalez's observations, citing the sub judice rule.  But he spoke in general terms about the CSC guidelines on filing SALNs.

For one, Ronquillo said all spaces on the SALN form should be filled up, and if the filer can't do so, he or she should indicate "not applicable." Only the amounts for acquisition cost should be summed up to compute the total amount of assets. 

If there were miscomputations, Ronquillo said these can be corrected later. "Remember, the SALN is an instrument of transparency," he said. If a filer has been transparent in everything, "then he has complied substantially with what is required in the SALN....So if there is an error just in the computation of everything, I don't think he violates transparency because of the error. Because everything is anyway still there," he added.

But Ronquillo also pointed out not all SALN mistakes can be waived, especially the non-simple errors which include non-declaration, underdeclaration, misdeclaration, and even overdeclarations. For instance, leaving spaces blank count as a non-declaration.

"Any untrue statement in the SALN can be considered perjurious because SALNs are executed under oath," Ronquillo continued.

Whether it's an honest mistake or not is a matter of defense. "Anyone who is charged with violation of the SALN is also being asked to explain. So if he can explain very well the reason for the non-declaration, then maybe it will benefit him."

Ronquillo also noted that in each agency, there is a review and compliance committee that goes through all the SALNs at their level.

"In fact, they are being notified about the incomplete entries in the SALN. And they are given another opportunity to complete those entries. So if after all those notices, still they failed to indicate the information needed, then that's another story," he said.

The question, however, remains: why would Bautista overdeclare in his SALN? – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.