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Disclose it

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:46:00 08/12/2009

Filed Under: Government

Back in the early years of the present administration, then Presidential Chief of Staff Rigoberto Tiglao proposed that all officials post their SALs or Statements of Assets and Liabilities (now known as Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth or SALNs) online. This reformist proposal was hotly debated within official circles, and eventually dropped. Ostensibly, the purpose was to protect the privacy of officials which, however, in retrospect seems flimsy considering the regime of lifestyle checks the administration has?theoretically, at least?imposed on all its officials.

However, it took a non-government entity to institute a lifestyle check on the chief executive. Last Monday, the PCIJ?s story on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s increased prosperity grabbed national attention. In broad strokes, the PCIJ detailed what is officially known about Ms. Arroyo?s properties and investments.

Since she assumed office in 2001, the President?s declared net worth ?more than doubled ?from P66.8 million in 2001 to P143.54 million in 2008,? which represents a ?growth rate of 114 percent,? according to the PCIJ. If calculated from the time the President was still a senator, then her ?declared wealth charts an exponential growth of 2,000 percent.? This is in marked contrast to the President?s predecessors: the PCIJ calculated that Aquino?s declared net worth grew by only 4.8 percent from 1989 to 1992; Ramos? rose by 34.2 percent from 1992 to 1998, and Estrada?s by 7.2 percent from 1998 to 1999?all officially speaking, of course, and therein lies part of the problem.

The country knows that Estrada, in particular, did not report many of the assets later on linked to him; therefore, if the public assumes that SALNs do not err on the side of completeness or transparency, there is the distinct possibility President Arroyo is even wealthier than she admits on paper.

The PCIJ criticizes the President?s SALN as representing token compliance with the law and not full disclosure; for this reason, any attempt to determine if the President?s wealth increased because of simple business acumen (setting aside the uncomfortable question of how a chief executive forbidden from engaging in private business could either find time or opportunities for entrepreneurship) is difficult.

If we take the President?s protestations of innocence of malfeasance at face value, and accept her anti-corruption crusade as genuine, then her rather opaque declarations of net worth represent a place where improvement can be made?with the President leading by example. She should welcome investigations into her finances by the private sector, and make every effort to provide clarification and illumination especially concerning the shares of stock she owns, the value of which rose from P55 million in 2006 to P110 million in 2008. The government, after all, has been an active player in the market in the last few years.

Correction, confirmation

Publisher?s note

TWO RECENT news stories and an editorial mistook an intellectual exercise for hard fact.

Yesterday?s editorial mistakenly attributed the alleged itemization of the Le Cirque bill incurred by President Macapagal-Arroyo and her party to the ?New York Post.? In fact, the hypothetical itemization was done by columnist Manuel Quezon III in his blog on Aug. 8, and introduced as ?a theoretical breakdown of how the presidential party could have racked up the bill.?

Our story on Aug. 9 reported that ?The purported menu included caviar; such appetizers as lobster salad, wild burgundy escargot and soft shell crab tempura; main courses of black cod, halibut, Dover sole, saddle of lamb and prime dry-aged strip steak; and Krug champagne at $510 a bottle.? There was, in fact, no such menu, only a hypothetical list of ordered items.

Our story on Aug. 10 reported that ?The restaurant tab, purported copies of which have since circulated on blogs, showed that the Arroyo delegation had five servings of wild golden osetra caviar ($1,400), 11 bottles of Krug champagne ($5,610), and 25 orders each of the Chef?s Seasonal Menu and Tasting Menu (totaling $1,450 and $4,500 respectively), along with 17 other items.? There were no such copies circulating, only links and images from Quezon?s blog.

Based on these two stories, yesterday?s editorial criticized the presidential party?s insensitive self-indulgence. We stand by that assessment, however, since the original New York Post report is a fact. It read, in part: ?Macapagal-Arroyo ordered several bottles of very expensive wine, pushing the dinner tab up to $20,000.?

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