by Dea Villarosa | 2012-61382
These were some of the calls heard during the recently concluded University of the Philippines University Student Council (USC) elections. No matter the phrasing or the party, it was the common advocacy of many to push for their student leaders to efficiently and consistently implement information dissemination regarding pertinent university issues.
And true to its moniker as a microcosm of Philippine society, these same sentiments echoed not just in UP, but also in the country’s upper legislative chamber. Less than a week ago, the Senate finally (!) approved the Freedom of Information Bill on its third reading, making it a step closer to being passed as a law.
But why does it look like the exception rather than the norm?
Is it not in our Constitution, Art. III Sec. 7 to be exact, that “the right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized”?
Furthermore, Article II, Section 28 says that “the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest,” obliging the government to disclose pertinent information. (“Philippines Freedom Info” 2006)
Well, it was only now that the Freedom of Information bill has achieved progress with the country’s lawmakers ever since its inception in 1992. (Madrona 2012) Even then, the president himself has not declared urgent the need for a Freedom of Information Act, though he has expressed his support. (Chiu 2014)
But I believe one somewhat recent event has partly served as the catalyst for acceleration of this proper implementing law to be signed, not to mention for greater accountability and transparency for public officials.
Of course, who could forget the 2012 impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona?
Perhaps the most controversial of the impeachment articles was Article II, which said that he failed to disclose his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN). Although contested that Corona indeed filed and disclosed his SALN, the exclusion of certain properties as well as suspicions of ill-gotten wealth stored abroad drew the ire of the public, and ultimately, that of the body that voted for his impeachment. (House of Representatives 2011)
Since then (or so I observed), there has been an increased drive in calling for transparency and accountability for public officials, especially with the media — the main middle man in this situation — devoting sites to making public information like SALNs. Further intensified with the presence of social media, many, especially the youth, have become increasingly vigilant with regards to transparency in the government.
Hence, my groupmates and I decided to look and see whether the government’s available data could adequately answer our question:
Who among the members of the 15th Congress are richest?
But before answering it, we defined our terms as well as our methodology in constructing and interpreting our dataset.
▪ “15th Congress” pertains to the legislative body of the Philippines from 2010-2013.
▪ “Assets” are resources owned, including personal (moveable) and real assets.
▪ “Liabilities” are claims against assets in the form of existing debts and obligations. (Weygandt et al. 2010)
▪ “Net Worth” is the ownership claim on total assets.
▪ “Average Net Worth” is the total net worth from 2010 up to 2012* divided by 3. This is the basis we used to determine wealth.
▪ “Richest” was arbitrarily defined as a senator or congressman with average net worth of more than PhP 100 million.
*data gathering was done in 2013, hence 2013 SALN would not be covered.
Fortunately, SALN data was readily available, courtesy of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the Congress government website.
Our data gathering and analysis gave us the following.
The richest Congressman is none other than the People’s Champ himself — Lone District of Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, with average net worth of ₱1,319,163,251. He is followed in the list by Sen. Manuel “Manny” Bamba Villar, Jr., worth ₱1,010,683,696. 2nd District of Ilocos Norte Rep. Maria Imelda Romualdez Marcos, 3rd District of Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, and 4th District of Quezon City Rep. Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte, Jr. close off the top 5 of the list at ₱826,400,000, ₱671,188,491, and ₱609,027,806 average net worth, respectively.
Twenty-three other Congress members made it to the cut-off, for a total of 28 “rich” Congress members.
Of those 28, 21 are from the House while only 7 are Senators — an expected proportion, given the actual population of each house. Also, all of the lower house members were district representatives; there were no party list representatives in the list.
For a more in-depth look at our rich officials, I decided to go into the profiles of the top five richest members of each house to examine what may be the contributing factors of their wealth.
Thanks to the PCIJ’s data, I was able to construct the following time-series graph, for the senators at least. It shows the trend that one’s net worth follows from 5 years before the 15th Congress (2005) up to 2012, the last data available.
Figure 1. Top 5 Senators’ Net Worth from 2005 to 2011.
The gaps indicate that the SALN was unavailable for the particular time.
1. VILLAR, Manuel Jr. Bamba
It’s hard to associate the topnotcher of this particular list with his ever-catchy jingle in the 2010 presidential elections: “nakaligo ka na ba sa dagat ng basura?”
Sen. Manny Villar hails from the slums of Tondo, Manila. Growing up, he helped his mother Curita sell seafood at the market in order to help educate himself and his siblings. He went on to study in UP Diliman, wherein he earned Bachelor’s and Masters’ degrees in Business Administration, fueled by his determination to make his family’s life better. From his humble beginnings, he started a career in accountancy and finance, and eventually, with a starting capital of only PhP 10,000, he put up his own housing company, which made him the billionaire he is today. (Asiaweek 2006)
He entered politics in 1992, representing Las Piñas and Muntinlupa in the lower house, and was chosen as House Speaker in 1998. In 2001, he was elected Senator, and in 2006, he went on to lead the Senate as its President. His party, the Nacionalistas, chose him as their standard-bearer in the 2010 presidential elections, wherein he placed third. Currently, his wife Cynthia sits in the Senate.
2. RECTO, Ralph Gonzalez
This relative of Claro M. Recto started out in public service in 1992, wherein he won as 4th District of Batangas Representative. After three terms, he was then elected as Senator in 2001, serving for one term, then won again in the 2010 senatorial election. He is the former director-general of National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), appointed by Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2008.
3. MARCOS, Ferdinand Jr. Romualdez
Also from a political family, Bongbong, as he is known, became vice governor of Ilocos Norte at the age of 23 in 1980, during his father Ferdinand Sr.’s dictatorship. He ascended to the seat of governor from 1983 to 1986. Despite his father’s infamy after the 1986 revolution, Bongbong won a seat in Congress in 1992 as the 2nd district of Ilocos Norte representative. He again served as governor of Ilocos Norte from 1998 to 2007, and in 2010, he was elected as a Senator of the Republic.
4. ESTRADA, Jinggoy Ejercito
Perhaps his fame in showbiz combined with his father’s influence catapulted his career. Senator Jinggoy E. Estrada, son of Former President Joseph Estrada, has been known for his roles in many Filipino films, like his father. He went on to be elected as Mayor of San Juan, and he later went on to win twice in his senatorial bids.
5. BONG REVILLA, Ramon Jr. Bautista
Like Senator Jinggoy, Senator Ramon ‘Bong’ B. Revilla Jr. has been known for his career in show business as an actor. He won his first election in 1995 as vice governor of Cavite, and won as governor 3 years later. Later, he would go on to win twice at the senatorial level, first in 2004, then in 2010. His wife Lani is the incumbent 2nd District of Cavite representative, and has been so since 2010.
- PACQUIAO, Emmanuel D.
Incidentally, like the topnotcher on the previous list, Rep. Manny Pacquiao also hails from humble beginnings. In fact, his life story is the subject of a feature documentary film showing in cinemas today. (Disclaimer: I was not sponsored to say that.)
Manny’s early life was mired in poverty, enough to make him drop out of high school. However, through his resilience, he moved to Manila, and from his life in the streets, he was discovered as an amateur, and his career steadily improved, making him perhaps the best boxer in the world today. (Telegraph 2011)
His first attempt to move from sports to politics ended in failure, with his loss in the 2007 election. However, three years later, he successfully won as the representative of the Lone District of Sarangani, and he went on to become vice chairperson of three committees for the majority, namely: Millennium Development Goals, Poverty Alleviation, and Youth and Sports Development. (Palatino 2013)
- MARCOS, Maria Imelda Romualdez
The Former First Lady of the Republic is as powerful as ever, whether in terms of wealth or in political influence. A beauty queen and singer then, she married her husband Ferdinand in 1954, and he was a member of the House of Representatives then. Eleven years later, Ferdinand won as President, and it was through this power that they amassed great wealth, much of which has yet to be recovered today. Despite the family’s infamy, in 1995, after her return from exile, Mrs. Marcos was elected as representative of the first district in her home province of Leyte, and was reelected for the same position in 2010. (AETN 2013)
- BENITEZ, Alfredo Abelardo
Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Bantug Benitez was born in Palo Alto, California to Filipino parents. He was elected into office as the representative of the third district of Negros Occidental, with his top priorities in his legislative agenda being enhancement of health and medical care through the Universal Health Card, education outreach programs and cyber-education, and bolstering the sugar industry in the area, among others.
(SunStar Bacolod 2010)
- BELMONTE, Feliciano, Jr.
Better known as Sonny, the 4th District of Quezon City Representative is the current Speaker of the House. Before 2010, he also served from 1992 to 2001, and it was during his term that he co-authored major bills such as the General Appropriations Act of 2001, as well as the Salary Standardization Law, among others. He also served as Mayor of Quezon City from 2001 up to 2010, during which time he was recognized as the Most Outstanding Mayor of the Philippines by the Local Government Leadership Awards, due to his “nine years of prudent fiscal management, aggressive tax management strategies, as well as increasing efficiency and growing discipline in the management, and use of city resources.” (House of Representatives)
- LEDESMA, Julio IV
Julio “Jules” Ledesma IV is the Representative of the 1st District of Negros Occidental, and currently serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means and Vice Chairman of the Ethics Committee. His business venture is the Ledesma Agribusiness Group, consisting of his fisheries, farming, and agricultural corporations. (San Carlos City Interactive 2013)
Based from all our information, we can see the following points.
The rich politicians tend to come from landed families, with many sources of wealth elsewhere.
Be it through business ventures, show business, or athletics, there’s a reason politics and money are so interrelated. To earn a spot at the country’s legislative body is no easy effort — no matter how well you mean for your countrymen, it takes resources — “guns, gold, and goons”, so they say — to launch a campaign and subsequently get elected into office. So obviously, one would have to be influential, if not rich, way before his or her term, and we’ve seen that with our roster of businessmen, lawyers, actors, and of course, dynastic politicians.
Of the 28 “rich” politicians, as mentioned earlier, a staggering 21 (75%) of them at one point had relatives up to the third degree of consanguinity in office at the national or local government, while only 7 did not. While correlation between family ties and wealth for this particular data set has yet to be accurately proven, this fact definitely supports many scholars’ ideas (Hutchcroft 1998, Yu 2005) of the Philippines as a patrimonial, oligarchic state, wherein the Philippines, being a “weak state”, is dominated by a powerful oligarchic class with strong economic base — and subsequently, wealth — outside (and even inside) the state.
Wealth may not necessarily increase during one’s term, but it may increase because of it.
It was noted that very few of the 28 rich congressmen had incomes that increased significantly throughout their term. Those whose incomes did increase largely were, interestingly enough, found at the top of the list.
Figure 2. Comparison of Net Worth of Richest Members of the 15th Congress
Also, refer to Figure 1.
As we can see in Figure 2, the graphs appear to converge further down the scale, showing less and less of a difference through the years that one is in office.
However, in Figure 1, four of the top five senators showed net worth that comparatively increased from 2005, i.e. before their term in the 15th Congress. Interestingly, those four are also politicians with relatives in office (Estrada, Recto, Marcos, and Revilla).
It must be noted, however, that this sample must not be used to generalise for the entirety of the dataset, as it a) focused only on the senators and b) used a very small sample size.
And with that, I move on to my recommendations.
Given all the recent events, and other reasons stated above such as public interest, the idea of exploring our politicians’ wealth instills a greater sense of importance for the values of accountability, transparency, and what it all boils down to — trust.
As I have learned in Political Science 14, public office is a public trust, as government authority emanates from it, and to violate said trust is of course unconstitutional. However, with all the veils of bureaucracy, together with the rampant corruption in the government, and to some extent citizen apathy, ensuring and demanding that our public officials preserve that public trust is not the most worthwhile task. This is also another rationale for a proper implementing act for our right to information — the Freedom of Information Act — to be passed into law.
For future researchers of this same topic, I would recommend a more intensive, exhaustive analysis of trends in net worth. Since data was not always accessible, I would also implore the researchers to make extra investments in terms of time and legwork to gain access to said data — though, of course, if the FOI were to be passed, this would not be a problem.
As for how to interpret a politician’s wealth, it’s not right to immediately assume that something shady is going on if his or her net worth exceeds our 100 million peso mark; after all, our justice system operates on the presumption of innocence. However, like the good, informed citizens we are, we have to stay vigilant with our government, and, as we always say in UP — be critical.
Author’s Note: This blog post was created in fulfillment of my Political Science 14 class requirement under Prof. Alicor Panao. I’ve cross-posted it here in fulfillment also of the CWTS blog post requirement, and of course, to make it easier to share it. 🙂
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Asiaweek. 2006. MR. BILLION: How Cheap Homes Made a Filipino Rich. http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/95/0818/biz1.html
Chiu, Patricia Denise. 2014. Belmonte renews vow: FOI bill to pass in 16th Congress. http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/352040/news/nation/belmonte-renews-vow-foi-bill-to-pass-in-16th-congress
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The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.
Yu, Samuel. 2005. Political Reforms in the Philippines: Challenges Ahead. Contemporary Southeast Asia 27, no. 2 (2005): 217–35