Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gloria’s mysterious millions: Stacks of stocks, sparse data

The lawyers and spokesperson of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo have spoken, in many words saying that the 114-percent surge in her declared net worth from 2000 to 2008 could be explained.

At a press conference Monday, her lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the ongoing PCIJ report – whose part 1 was released earlier that day -- was “speculative and judgmental." He added that PCIJ must come up with proof to support its “most unfair and uncalled for" findings on Arroyo’s wealth.

Lawyer Ruy Rondain, who also serves as counsel to First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, seconded: “My feeling is that if the PCIJ has any evidence, it would be better if they bring it out because the report is just full of insinuations."

Indeed, there are more details that the PCIJ has uncovered, and which Arroyo’s lawyers themselves may well want to look at. Contained in various documents obtained from the Office of the Ombudsman, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Register of Deeds of local government units, and other relevant public agencies, these details raise more questions that even Makalintal and Rondain may not be able to answer.

For instance, in the Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) she filed in 2008, President Arroyo had declared ownership of only six real estate properties, with total book or acquisition value of a measly P5.7 million.

These include a “gift purchased" residential lot in Antipolo, Rizal; a house and lot in Baguio City; raw land in Coron, Palawan; a fishpond in Malolos, Bulacan; an agricultural lot in Nasugbu, Batangas; and a commercial lot in Tayabas, Quezon.

Until recently, the First Couple had owned a three-hectare agricultural lot in San Rafael, Bulacan that, according to then Senator Arroyo’s 1995 SALN, they acquired for P1.2 million. They sold it for P42 million on Dec. 23, 2008.

It was to be the only real estate property that the Arroyos liquidated to account for a significant cash inflow. Cash might have come in from the sale of three other real properties they owned -- a residential lot in Las Pinas, an island in Cagayan, and a condominium in Makati City – but these were sold in 1994 and 1999, or before Arroyo became president.

No La Vista, no Forbes

Curiously, over the last 17 years or from 1992 when she first served as senator, Arroyo had not once declared two prime real estate properties that her own Cabinet officials believe she owns or has interests in: her house on No. 14 Badjao Street in posh La Vista Subdivision in Quezon City, and her parents’ house on No. 92 Cambridge Circle, North Forbes Park in Makati City.

By August 8, 2008, official records show that ownership of 10 house-and-lot properties of the Arroyo clan in La Vista had been transferred in the name of La Vista Holdings and Investments, Inc., from another company whose registration the SEC had revoked in August 2003.

La Vista Investments and Holdings is the only company that Arroyo listed in her 2008 SALN in which she and her husband have “business interest and/or financial connections." The First Gentleman, President Arroyo said, is a shareholder of La Vista Investments.

Raul Gonzalez, chief legal counsel today and for five years justice secretary of Arroyo, recalls attending meetings at the North Forbes house until two years ago.

Karina Constantino David, Civil Service Commission chairperson until 2007, says she knows that the house on Badjao Street is clustered among several houses that all belong to the Arroyos and their children and immediate relatives.

In their separate SALNs, Arroyo’s sons Juan Miguel and Diosdado, both members of the House of Representatives, as well as the First Gentleman’s brother, Ignacio Jr., and sister, Maria Lourdes, now a party-list representative, have all declared owning houses worth multimillions of pesos in the Arroyo enclave on Badjao and Kalinga streets in La Vista.

An elephant’s mind

That Arroyo seems to have forgotten about these houses and other assets surprises Gonzalez, who swears that the Philippines’ 14th president has the memory of an elephant.

Arroyo, he says, remembers the minutest details, facts, figures, faces, numbers, and names from even years back. He says it is unthinkable for Arroyo to forget what she and her husband own.

“What is obvious, how can you forget what is obvious? How can I forget my wife has a chicken farm? How can I forget my wife is engaged in looking for properties which are foreclosed and sold in public auction and she tries to buy them those things she can afford," Gonzalez says.

“She is very meticulous, she is very retentive," he says of the president. “My God, she has the memory of an elephant, and things you discussed six months ago she can tell you."

Macalintal and Rondain meanwhile say that Arroyo’s wealth could be explained not just by her real estate properties, but also by her shareholdings in companies that she and her husband own.

In truth, in her 2008 SALN, Arroyo had declared that stocks already made up 70 percent, or P110 million, of her declared net worth of P144.5 million. Her SALNs, however, do not say in which companies she has acquired capital shares, and whether these are listed in the stock market.

The PCIJ obtained all documents available at the SEC on the business entities in which the president and the First Gentleman, their sons, and other relatives in public office have interest in a diligent effort to find out whether these could account for the surge in Arroyo’s stocks portfolio.

Stocks, also called capital shares or equity, represent claims of ownership in a corporation – whether or not publicly listed in the stock market.

Few profitable firms

The president, according to SEC records updated as of October 2008, still has business and financial connections in at least five entities: Optima Research & Consultancy Agency, Inc., incorporator as of Sept 15, 1980; L.T.A. Realty Corp., incorporator, as of Sept. 28, 1992; EVA Development Corp., incorporator/board member, as of May 18, 1993; Circulo Pampangueno of Guam, Inc., board member, as of Sept. 29, 1997; and Centrist Democrat International Asia-Pacific, Inc., stockholder, incorporator, board member, as of July 24, 2005.

The First Gentleman, by the SEC’s records, still has business interests and financial connections in at least nine entities: Trans Realty Co., Inc., incorporator, as of Oct. 8, 1980; Raco-Trading Philippines, Inc., incorporator, as of Oct. 9, 1980; L.T.A. Realty Corp., incorporator, as of June 28, 1982; Aviatica Travel & Management Corp., incorporator, as of July 22, 1987; Eva Development Corp., incorporator, board member, as of May 18, 1993; Philippine Blooming Trade and Development Corp., incorporator, as of Sept. 5, 1995; and Pacific Mint International Corp., incorporator, board member, as of May 15, 1997.

The First Gentleman is also connected with three foundations: Ateneo Law Class ’72 Foundation, Inc., board member, as of March 14, 1996; Kaibigan ni Gloria Macapagal Arroyo Foundation, board member, as of May 17, 1999; and First Gentleman Foundation, Inc., incorporator, as of May 28, 2002.

All these firms are not listed in the SALNs that Arroyo filed from 2001 to 2008. But since most are not particularly big or profitable, they could not have served as sources of the First Couple’s additional cash or equity shares.(Malou Mangahas, PCIJ)

(Last of three parts)


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