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How can a 2nd 'poorest' senator afford a Balesin wedding?

TOAST. Here's to happiness, newly-wed couple Heart Evangelista and Senator Chiz Escudero toast.

Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – It may as well be the wedding of the year – the nuptials between showbiz princess Heart Evangelista and one-time presidential aspirant Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero. Theirs is a love matched in heaven, witnessed and graced by movers and shakers in politics, business, media, and showbiz.

Their union defied a Shakespearean tragedy. An earlier marriage in 1999 which produced twins for him crumbled, and in 2012, that union was annulled. For her part, she has had her share of heartbreaks, compounded by overly protective parents.

Like her past relationships, the parents were against her latest amore. After all, there's a 15-16 year gap between them. She's just 30; he's turning 46  this year. Despite her age, her parents say their daughter is still immature and “thinks like a young girl.”

Escudero, they believe, is just manipulating their daughter “into going against the family.” But Heart declared her emancipation and this time, listened to well, her heart.

On February 15 this year, they exchanged “I dos” in the exclusive, private, members-only Balesin resort in Quezon province.

Star-studded

Like any ceremony befitting royalty, Evangelista and Escudero’s wedding was a marriage of politics and business, with the added glitter of showbiz. Easily, it could be the grandest matrimonial event of  the year.

The principal sponsors say it all. Some of the high-profile corporate personalities were basically lifted from Forbes’ list of richest Filipinos, led by Hans Sy, scion of business tycoon Henry Sy of the SM group of companies. The A-list sponsors included Ramon Ang, president and CEO of San Miguel Corporation, Fernando Zobel of Ayala Corporation, Andrew Tan of Megaworld Corporation, Lance Gokongwei of Robinson’s Corporation, Cebu Pacific and JG Summit, and Bobby Ongpin of Alphaland. Property developer Jerry Acuzar of New San Jose Builders was also part of this elite list.

From the media side, ABS-CBN head Gabby Lopez (who was represented by younger brother Ernie Lopez of ABS-CBN Publishing), Kapuso network head Felipe Gozon and GMA 7 executives Gilbert Duavit and Lilybeth Rasonable, and TV anchor Mel Tiangco also stood as principal sponsors.

From politics, the principal sponsors included General Santos City Mayor Adelbert W. Antonino, former Rizal district Representative Gilberto Duavit, Isabela Governor Faustino Dy Jr,  and Mayor Esther Hamor of Sorsogon. 

From the world of showbiz, Viva Entertainment chairman Vicente del Rosario, actress-director-scriptwriter Bibeth Siguion-Reyna, Susan Roces, and Jackie Lou Blanco joined in. And let’s not forget President Benigno Aquino III, who was tapped as the best man in absentia.

2nd reception

Widely covered by the media, the wedding qualifies for a fairy tale. Photos posted on Instagram and other social media outlets showed a dreamy reception ambiance, with all the hallmarks of expensive elegance.

The bride’s wedding gown was inspired by Grace Kelly, designed by Dubai-based fashion designer Ezra Santos. The groom’s suit was by renowned fashion designer Paul Cabral.

A second gown, which Evangelista wore at the Manila reception for friends and colleagues who were not on the Balesin guest list, was designed by US-based Monique Lhuillier.

Held at The Blue Leaf Filipinas in Parañaque, the second reception was attended by more than a thousand invitees, based on reports.

By any measure, the Escudero-Evangelista nuptial was anything but simple.

And this is where Escudero, the lawmaker, may have failed the standard.

Conflict of interest

Already, tapping biggies in the corporate world as principal sponsors has raised the eyebrows of some purists who think that Escudero crossed the thin ethical line between public service and private interests.

As senator, Escudero, who is a member of the powerful Blue Ribbon committee, participates in Senate hearings and probes that range from public fund misuse to bad corporate practices of companies engaged in government contracts.

For instance, in the Senate probe on the alleged hidden wealth of the Binay family, officials of Hilmarc’s Construction, which was behind several big-ticket projects in Makati, were summoned to the hearings to explain the company's side.

A more recent case was Ongpin, who was summoned to explain the alleged anomalous joint venture agreement involving a property of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines.

At the very least, by naming them as wedding sponsors, Escudero would have to recuse himself from participating in any probe that may involve any of his principal sponsors.  

Escudero was seen at the Senate hearing on the Boy Scouts-Alphaland controversy on Wednesday, February 18, where Ongpin was among the resource persons, but he didn't participate in it.

He arrived in the afternoon – the hearing began late morning – but left quickly and did not ask any questions. The hearing was held just days after his wedding in Balesin where Ongpin was among the primary sponsors. The businessman also owns the resort.

Escudero will also have to inhibit from any Senate probe involving competitors of his wedding sponsors to insulate himself from allegations of conflict of interest. Somehow, through this, he has defanged himself as a public servant doing public service for public good.

Code of conduct

While Escudero’s public role and private decisions can be debated upon, what’s clear under the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees or RA 6713 is that public servants “and their families shall lead modest and simple lives appropriate to their positions and income.” They are also supposed “to not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.”

As a rule, public officials are required to maintain “a standard of living within the public official and employee’s visible means of income as correctly disclosed in his income tax returns, annual statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) and other documents relating to financial and business interests and connections.”

Question is: was the wedding itself within Escudero’s “visible means of income?” Does it measure up to the modest and simple lifestyle invoked by the law?

Did the newly-wed couple observe tradition of the groom shouldering much of the expense or were they egalitarian in sharing the tab? How much of their personal money did they shell out? 

While not exactly filthy rich or dirt poor by an ordinary man’s standard, Escudero is not exactly wallowing in wealth.

SALNs

In fact, only two years ago, he was considered the "poorest" senator with a total declared net worth of P4.017 million. 

From 2007 to 2011, when his marriage to Christine Elizabeth Flores was not yet annulled,  Escudero’s net worth ranged between P7.4 million to P9.867 million. Between those years, his cash on hand and in banks hovered between P1.2 million to P3.7 million, with the rest of his net worth in real and personal properties.

In 2012, after the couple’s split was made official, Escudero’s net worth dipped from P9.867 million to P4.017 million, displacing Senator Antonio Trillanes IV who had been the perennial "poorest" senator. His cash on hand also went south with only P900,000.

The sharp decrease in his net worth can be attributed to the court-ordered transfer of the former couple’s two residential condominiums to their two children.

In his latest 2013 SALN declaration, Escudero’s net worth jumped to P8.243 million, on the strength of properties – 5 residential and one – he acquired by “succession.” (Escudero’s father, former Agriculture Secretary and Sorsogon First District Representative Salvador Escudero died in 2012). His cash on hand also rose to P3.183 million.  

Still, he remains the second "poorest" senator, behind Trillanes.

No official figure has been given on how much was spent for the grand Escudero-Evangelista nuptial. Given that public officials have still until April 30 to file their 2014 SALNs, it would be interesting to find out how the lavish wedding was pulled off based on the senator's net worth.

Specifically, it will at least provide a glimpse of his liquidity status just before the wedding.

Still, any SALN adjustment resulting from his new married status will only be reflected next year, in 2016, since the cut-off period for SALN declaration is December 31.

This means Escudero’s 2015 SALN will have to wait until April 30, 2016. And in the space provided for spouse, he will now have a name to fill it. – Rappler.com