It seems President Arroyo’s oldest son, Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo opened his mouth and jumped into it with both feet in a recent – and decidedly very hostile – interview with Arnold Clavio and Winnie Monsod on the “Unang Hirit” morning news program (YouTube clips of the interview are available here). At issue was Congressman Arroyo’s SALN, or Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth, which showed him increasing his personal fortune from PhP 5 million in 2002 to over PhP 99 million in 2008. At issue were two particular points, the ownership of a house worth about $1.32 million in Foster City, California (actually, the house’s exact taxable value is $1.346 million, but we’ll get to that in a minute), and his ill-advised choice of words in describing the sources of much of his rapidly-expanding wealth as “gifts and campaign contributions” that he neglected to report earlier.
His explanation for the “gifts and contributions” was not really an explanation, but simply his pointing out that the SALN could be amended for prior years if the proper back taxes were paid. He didn’t actually say he was going to do that, but he did clarify the possible corrective action. His explanation for the house was that it was not actually owned by him or his wife personally, but by a limited-liability company called Beachwood Park LLC. Winnie Monsod, perhaps familiar with the usual nature of property-owning “corporations” here, came within a breath of accusing Rep. Arroyo of having a dummy company to hide his wealth.
So in this corner: Rep. Arroyo, admitting on TV that he personally profited from undeclared gifts and campaign contributions. No citizen of any democracy should need an explanation as to why that is inappropriate, and in many instances illegal, behaviour on the part of an elected official. Politicians in Congresses and Parliaments around the world are routinely hounded out of office in shame for that sort of thing, and sometimes end up in jail.
And in the other corner are Winnie Monsod and her staff, who are either too dull or too lazy to do a simple piece of homework. In the United States, property deeds – which contain the full ownership details and financial particulars of any piece of property – are filed with the Recorder of Deeds in the county where the property is located. The same information is also available to licensed real estate professionals through several databases. The Arroyo house is in San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco, where these records are available for public inspection and can be retrieved with minimal information, such as a street address. GMA-TV has correspondents in the US, based in California; if they are not in the San Francisco area, it’s only about an hour’s flight from Los Angeles. If news maven and former Senatorial candidate Monsod smelled a rat, why she didn’t make a phone call and have someone make what would be a very easy investigation is kind of boggling; at best it is sloppy, unimaginative journalism. The public interest is not served by her raspy, unsubstantiated sniping at the Congressman. It would have been, however, and it would have been a major scoop and total burn on Mikey Arroyo had she done her job properly, because she would have discovered this:
This gem was posted by someone in the PinoyExchange forum, and originated from a real estate and property management firm in the US. The sole owner of the property is Mrs. Mikey Arroyo, who obtained it as a result of “interspousal deed transfer”, which, unless she happens to have been married before, would mean Mr. Mikey Arroyo.
When it takes a nameless individual forum-poster who lives on another continent to expose, with something that probably took less than five minutes to find and publish, some deep flaws in this country’s institutions, the only people who are really losing this battle are the spectators. As the country approaches an important election, those voters will have to demand much higher standards from their politicians and media outlets alike; right now, that’s looking like a very tall hill to climb.
THIS JUST IN (Sept. 3 @ 11:00 pm):
Upon further examination earlier today, it was discovered that the post in Pinoy Exchange linked above was actually copied from the Vera Files. There initially appeared to be some odd graphic irregularities on the posted document, and given that the Jolog Queen is a part of that operation, there was immediate suspicion that we may be dealing with a forgery. However, there was an even earlier post in Pinoy Exchange with the same information, and that was verified as also having come from a U.S.-based real estate professional.
In addition, several documents were obtained that further confirm the information, including this one, in which Congressman Arroyo signed the property deed over to his wife:
Giving Congressman Arroyo the full benefit of the doubt, one other search was made, this time for the “Beachwood Park LLC” that he stated was the actual owner of the property. The office of the Secretary of State of California, however, does not have a listing for this company in its business listing database, nor under various alternative names such as “Beach Wood”, “Beech Wood”, “Beach Park”, etc. That’s not to say with certainty that it does not exist – even the State of California offers that disclaimer – but it casts grave doubts on Mr. Arroyo’s statements to say the least.
And of course, none of this makes the ‘journalism professionals’ at GMA look any better either, not when a bunch of private individuals with ordinary Internet resources can gather this sort of information without even getting out of their chairs.