Elections and the Estrada wealth

Natashya Gutierrez
Elections and the Estrada wealth
(UPDATED) Rappler looks closely at the finances as well as election contributions and expenses of the Estradas

Second of 3 parts 

Part 1: No closure yet on Erap Estrada’s plunder case 
Conclusion: Remember the ‘Boracay Mansion’?

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – At the Court of Tax Appeals, a case involving former President Estrada and his wife, former Senator Luisa “Loi” Ejercito, moves at a turtle’s pace. More than 5 years since the couple filed the case, the parties are still at the stage of formal offer of evidence.

The Estradas lodged the case in 2008 against the Bureau of Internal Revenue after they were slapped with almost P2 billion (about $42 million in 2008) in tax deficiencies based on the couple’s combined income in 1999.

At the time, Estrada was on his 2nd year* as president and was said to be accumulating illegal wealth through kickbacks from operations of the illegal numbers game jueteng and commissions from stock manipulations.

In January 2001, days after Estrada was forced out of office, the BIR, then under Commissioner Lilian Hefti, issued a warrant of distraint and levy on the Jose Velarde bank account after the impeachment trial showed it was used as depository for the illegally acquired wealth of the ousted president. A warrant of distraint is a means to secure the assets and properties of delinquent taxpayers.

At one point, the account supposedly held as much as P2.77 billion (around $60 million in 2000). But at the time, the Estradas had declared a net worth of only P35.8 million (or around $800,000 in 2000).

The special Sandiganbayan division, in finding Estrada guilty of plunder, had ruled that he was the “real and beneficial owner” of the Jose Velarde account in the Equitable-PCI bank (now Banco de Oro or BDO). It was the confirmation that the BIR had been waiting for.

Banking on the Court’s declaration, the BIR computed that the couple owed back taxes totaling P1.83 billion (or around $36 million in 2001), including penalties and surcharges.

Despite the Court’s finding on the real ownership of the Jose Velarde account, Estrada maintains to this day that the account belonged to Jaime Dichaves, also an accused in the plunder case. The case has remained a thorn in the side of the Estradas, even as they had rebounded back politically and financially.

After losing his bid to retake Malacañang in 2010, Estrada is now mayor of Manila. His two sons, Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito, are both senators. Loi has retired from politics but his mistress, Guia Gomez, is second-term mayor of San Juan City – the Estradas’ long-time political fiefdom.

Financial acumen

From someone who claimed he has not earned anything while under hospital arrest, Estrada has shown remarkable financial acumen. Based on his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) filed in June 2013, he has a net worth of P244.21 million (or around $5.5 million based on the current exchange rate of P44:$1).

Second-term senator Jinggoy, who was his co-accused in the plunder case, but who got acquitted, is not far behind, with a net worth of P193.58 million (or around $4.6 million) as of December 2012.

Half-brother JV, for his part, has a net worth of P72.1 million (or around $1.6 million), while his mother Guia has a net worth of P58.67 million (or around $1.3 million). 

Click on the photos of any of the members of the Estrada family to see their total assets, liabilities and net worth.

We analyzed the respective SALNs of Estrada (and wife Loi), Jinggoy, JV and his mother Guia, along with their Statement of Contributions and Expenses (SOCEs) filed through the years to discern patterns and nuances in their election-spending and fund-raising.

As a political dynasty, they provide a glimpse into what perpetuates such monopolies and what pushes them to stay in power. We limited our search to the 4 since they are the ones in public office. Here are some general observations:

  • In less than 7 years, the Estrada couple’s net worth leaped sixfold, from *P34.4 million ($666,000) in 2006 to P244.21 million ($5.5 million) in 2013. *(We used the exchange rate at that particular year).
  • The darling of big-time donors in the 1998 presidential race because of his sure victory, and being still a favorite bet by some in the 2010 national race, Estrada contested the Manila mayoral race with lesser resources. With no donors, he spent a total of P2.2 million from his personal fund.
  • Jinggoy’s net worth was stable from 2004 to 2009, ranging from P81 million to P84 million. In 2010, when he ran for a second term, his net worth climbed to P93 million. The jump in his net worth came despite his spending P12.14 million of his personal funds for his senatorial campaign. That same year, he even acquired his Corinthian Hills residence worth P30 million but gained liabilities of P25.98 million.
  • Jinggoy’s alleged conduit for his pork barrel kickbacks from Janet Lim Napoles, Ruby Tuason, contributed a total of P2.5 million for his 2004 and 2010 campaigns. In 2004, Tuason gave P500,000 and in 2010, P2 million. Tuason has offered to become a state witness in the pork barrel scam case. (READ: Tuason a ‘provisional’ state witness – DOJ)
  • Unlike his half-brother, JV’s rise in net worth was more steady, with no sharp spikes. In 2001, as a first-term mayor of San Juan, he reported his net worth at P53 million. In 2013, his net worth rose by 36% to P72.1 million
  • Between him and Jinggoy, JV proved to be a far better campaign fundraiser. For his 2013 senatorial campaign, he raised almost P140 million ($3.3 million)in contributions, which is higher than the combined donations raised by Jinggoy for his 2004 and 2010 senatorial campaigns.
  • A self-styled non-governmental organization with a capitalization of only P900,000 and formed only in 2012, JV Para sa Bayan Movement Inc donated P43.69 million to JV’s campaign. When Rappler visited its declared office in 2013, we found out that the supposed NGO office is a residential compound.
  • The net worth of Guia Gomez, has been decreasing since she became mayor of San Juan. In 2010, she declared a net worth of P63.2 million. This went down in 2011 to P60.31 million and even further down to P58.67 million in 2012.
  • Like the father of JV, Gomez did not receive any donations when she sought a second term as San Juan mayor. Virtually running unopposed, she spent only P238,898 for her 2013 reelection campaign.
  • From 2001 to 2013, the Estrada political dynasty (to include Gomez) spent about P94 million from personal funds in 5 electoral exercises. Around P67 million of this amount came from their pooled family funds.

Meteoric rise of wealth

In itself, Estrada’s rise in wealth – despite his being under house arrest for 6 years and his getting convicted for plunder – has been meteoric.

From 2001 to 2006, based on the SALN of his wife, the Estrada couple’s net worth hovered only between P33 million to P35 million.

Loi Estrada did not seek a second term in 2006. This was the last time the public had a glimpse of the Estrada couple’s wealth. (The year after, Estrada was convicted. In 2010, he sought the presidency but lost. In 2013 he successfully ran for Manila mayor.)

Thus, from 2007-2012, there were no SALNs submitted to track the couple’s wealth. But this changed after Estrada won the Manila mayoral race. Back in public service, Estrada is now again required to file his SALN.

Comparing Loi and Joseph Estrada’s last SALN and Jinggoy’s latest SALN, we observed the following:

  • Based on her last SALN, the couple, along with the Estrada children, was involved in 3 businesses –  JELP Real Estate Development Corporation, the J.E. Inc, and First LPL Land Syndication Inc. Total investments amounted to P15 million, according to Loi’s 2006 SALN.

In Joseph Estrada’s June 2013 SALN, however, the couple appeared to have divested, and engaged only in one company – Golden Treasure Enterprise, a poultry and fishpen business. His SALN indicated P31.5 million in investments.

Missing in his 2013 SALN, however, is his reinvigorated JELP company, which struck a partnership with EMAR Suites Condominium Corporation. JELP and EMAR (which stands for the combined first 2 letters of his parents’ name, Emilio and Mary Ejercito) were behind the EMAR Suites in Mandaluyong City.

A check with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed that the joint venture has been operating in the red. In 2011 and 2012, it reported losses amounting to P796,480 and P304,194 respectively.

  • Real property assets of the couple, consisting of an apartment in Cubao, Quezon City and their residence in San Juan City, amounted to only P9 million in 2006. In 6 years, however, their real property assets shot up to P95.53 million, courtesy of a residential house and lot Estrada purchased in Manila in 2012 in the amount of P91 million. On the other hand, it appeared they disposed of their Cubao apartment.

Estrada transferred to his Manila residence – formerly the campaign headquarters of then President Ramon Magsaysay during the 1953 presidential race – a year before the 2013 mid-term polls.

  • In 2006, the couple declared personal properties amounting to P186.33 million. In 2013, personal assets rose to P219.34 million, with the purchase of vehicles in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012 contributing P10 million.
  • Furniture and fixtures of the Estradas amounted to only P772,500 in 2006. By 2013, this ballooned to P8.2 million.
  • In 2006, the couple declared liabilities of P160.55 million. By 2013, their liability was cut by more than half to P70.67 million.
  • The Estradas’ sprawling 3,000-square meter property on Polk Street in North Greenhills, San Juan City was not listed in his 2013 SALN although the property remained his.

We tried to contact Estrada to explain why the Polk residence is not reflected in his SALN, but he neither picked up nor returned our calls. In 2010, he contemplated selling the property to raise money.

“I was detained for 6 years and 6 months, I have not earned money. And besides, I also lost so much money in the last elections,” Estrada was quoted as saying by The Philippine Star.

But former journalist and now Manila City public information officer Diego Cagahastian, in a phone interview, said the sale of the property did not push through, although Estrada’s present official residence is in Sta. Mesa, Manila.

Still, with only one to 3 companies as sources of possible income, and out of public office in the last 6 years and even spending for the 2010 and 2013 elections, the Estradas not only managed to put under control their debts, but even increased their total net worth.

Like father, like sons

Like his father, Jinggoy also managed to stay afloat despite being dragged in the plunder case and being put under hospital arrest for 3 years before the court granted him bail in 2004.

Elected as senator that same year he was out on bail, Jinggoy was actually richer than his father, with a net worth of P81 million (about $1.4 million in 2004). At the time, he had 13 real estate properties, mostly condominiums, with an aggregate worth of P67 million, and personal items worth P14 million. That year, his only liability was an P800,000-loan.

Nine years into office, Jinggoy’s net worth stood at P193.58 million (about $4.7 million) – an increase of 138% from 2004.

Jinggoy has been indicted by the Ombudsman to face plunder raps in connection with the pork barrel scam allegedly masterminded by Napoles. He has been charged for allegedly pocketing P172 million in kickbacks.

Like the Estrada patriarch, Jinggoy has a penchant for acquiring properties and failing to include these in his SALN. For instance, Jinggoy admitted he owned the P120-million Wack Wack residence. While construction of the house began in 2012, this was not reflected in his December 2012 SALN. (READ: Wack Wack house: More questions on Jinggoy’s SALN)

Jinggoy’s lack of transparency is a sharp contrast to JV’s SALN. His half brother’s SALNs include a separate page on the different businesses he is engaged in, detailing the nature of the businesses – whether these are active or inactive – in relation to his percentage share. He has been observing this system since 2001.

From 2001 to June 2013, JV’s net worth increased by just 36%. Based on his June 2013 SALN, his assets totaled P147.95 million, with liabilities of P75.85 million.

Like his father, JV has a weakness for expensive houses. He has 3 properties, one of which is in Redwood Shores, California, with an acquisition cost of P22.55 million. His two other houses, one in Bel-Air, Makati and one in Garfield Street in San Juan, have acquisition costs of P17 million and P50 million, respectively.

The mistress also rises

A businesswoman in her own right, JV’s mother Guia took over the role vacated by her son after he served the maximum 3 terms as San Juan mayor. Now on her second term, Gomez continues the tradition started by Estrada and has kept San Juan City as their impenetrable fortress.

Like her son, Guia seeks to be more transparent with her assets by going beyond what is required by law. She has a separate page for her diverse businesses (mostly realty and trading) and her percentage share in each of them.

On her first try in politics, Gomez spent only less than P500,000 in personal funds to succeed her son as mayor of San Juan. She had no other donors.

In 2013, she even had to spend less to reclaim the post, spending only P238,898 for the entire 45-day campaign. This is equivalent to P3 per voter, based on the 79,656 total number of registered voters in San Juan.

To be sure, the expenses incurred by Gomez were just token amounts since she was expected to win anyway. Her son spent the least for his last term as mayor in 2007 – only P209,000.

Cost benefit of public office

Excluding Gomez, the 3 Estradas in public office have assets worth a total of P678 million as of 2013. Total net worth for Estrada and his two sons amount to about P510 million. 

If Estrada takes a third shot at the presidency in 2016, one factor would be his liquidity. This is not to mention that the Estradas still command loyalty from businessmen, and political bettors willing to finance their electoral campaign. For them, elections are still a costly exercise although their campaigns have been funded mostly by donations.

The Estradas During Past Elections
Candidate Position Election Year Total Contributions
Received
Contributions from
Family Members
Personal
Expenses
Total Expenses
Incurred
Loi Estrada Senator 2001 (won) P 49,500,000.00 2,000,000.00
(from Ejercito family and relatives)
1,200,000.00 P49,455,403.24
Jinggoy Ejercito Senator 2004 (won) 67,000,000.00 10,000,000.00
(from Ejercito family and relatives)
0.00 66,956,014.54
JV Ejercito Mayor,
San Juan City
2007 (won) 0.00 0.00 209,372.86 209,372.86
Joseph Estrada President 2010 (lost) 227,500,000.00 20,000,000.00
(from Ejercito family)
8,000,000.00 235,500,000.00
Jinggoy Ejercito Senator 2010 (won) 57,000,000.00 15,000,000.00
(from Ejercito clan)
12,137,297.00 69,137,297.00
JV Ejercito Representative,
San Juan City
2010 (won) 0.00 0.00 438,512.00 438,512.00
Guia Gomez Mayor,
San Juan City
2010 (won) 0.00 0.00 438,598.00 438,598.00
JV Ejercito Senator 2013 (won) 135,931,740.75 20,000,000.00
(from Guia Gomez)
2,276,085.01 138,207,825.76
Joseph Estrada Mayor,
City of Manila
2013 (won) 0.00 0.00 2,195,496.04 2,195,496.04
Guia Gomez Mayor,
San Juan City
2013 (won) 0.00 0.00 238,898.00 238,898.00
TOTAL 536,931,740.75 67,000,000.00 27,134,258.91 562,777,417.44
Sources: PCIJ, Statement of Contributions and Expenditures

We studied the SOCEs filed by the Estradas, including Gomez, from 2001 to 2013 and we noted several interesting observations:

  • In 5 national and local elections, the Estradas (Estrada, Loi, Jinggoy, JV) and Gomez have spent P562.78 million, with 95% of the expenses sourced from donors.
  • Of the total expenses, only 5% or P27 million came from their own pockets.
  • Based on their SOCEs, family and relatives donated a total of P67 million, comprising 12% of total contributions received.
  • Despite being a sure winner in the 2010 polls, Jinggoy spent P12 million out of his own pocket, the biggest single personal expense among the Estradas. Jinggoy placed 2nd in the polls, behind Ramon Revilla Jr.
  • In 3 polls where Joseph Estrada, JV, and Gomez sought a local position, they received zero contributions or did not declare any.
  • The family had 16 common donors across 3 national elections. These donors included Antolin Oreta Jr, husband of former Senator Tessie Aquino Oreta; Mayor Sandy Javier of Javier, Leyte; businessmen Antonio Evangelista,  Ramon Tantoco, Roberto Oca, and Antonio Lopa. These common donors gave a total of P86.5 million in contributions from 2001 to 2010.
Common Contributors of the Estradas in Past Elections
Candidate(s) Common Contributor Total Amount Contributed
Loi Estrada (2001)
Jinggoy Estrada (2004, 2010)
Johnny Ng P 8,000,000.00
Butch Africa 7,500,000.00
Sandy Javier 7,500,000.00
Fortunato Aguas 4,000,000.00
Loi Estrada (2001)
Jinggoy Estrada (2004)
Clara Lobregat 6,000,000.00
Ben Paulino 6,000,000.00
Feliciano Cuevas 4,500,000.00
Len Oreta 4,500,000.00
Mariles Cacho 4,000,000.00
Antonio Evangelista 3,000,000.00
Ramon Tantoco 3,000,000.00
Oscar Sevilla 2,500,000.00
Robert/Roberto Oca 2,500,000.00
Antonio Lopa 2,500,000.00
Jinggoy Estrada (2010)
Joseph Estrada (2010)
Eric Tagle 13,000,000.00
Eddie/Eduardo Gaisano 8,000,000.00
  • Big-time businessmen Lucio Tan, Manny Pangilinan, Ramon Ang, and Enrique Razon once bankrolled the national campaigns of the Estradas – at least on record.
  • But during the 2013 mayoralty polls in Manila, Ang and Razon shifted their support to Erap’s bitter opponent, Alfredo Lim. Ang gave P5 million, while Razon shelled P3 million to finance Lim’s campaign.

Political bettors and risk takers are known to put their money on winning candidates who will give them better chances of recouping their investments. 

Political analyst Ramon Casiple said that election contributors have motives of their own when supporting certain candidates. For businessmen, it’s an “investment,” Casiple said.

“It’s like gambling, where they bet on these candidates. They believe their picks would surely win,” Casiple said. For some contributors who donate millions of pesos, they want the ‘return’ of their ‘investment’ to be doubled or tripled after elections. Quid pro quo is part of traditional politics already,” he added.

Allen Surla, a political science professor at De La Salle University, said the dynamics between a candidate and a donor is a symbiotic relationship that only lasts if both parties are benefitting from it. “If the relationship no longer works, then the political donor leaves and finds another one.”

In a culture where connections matter, “a businessman will always look for a politician for investment. He will always need a politician for support,” he added.

Estrada’s political fortune will depend largely on how he is able to remain relevant and useful. – Rappler.com

Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this story, we said “second term as president” when this should be “second year.” We have made the correction and regret the error.

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