The recent brouhaha over the linking of Senator Manny Villar and House Representative JV Ejercito to shady offshore corporations based in the British Virgin Islands is timely. The brouhaha surrounds a recent report published by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) of revelations following a thorough international investigation conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)…
The ICIJ investigation, of which PCIJ was part, found that Villar is the beneficial owner of a BVI international business corporation called Awesome Dragon Holdings Limited. It was incorporated in the BVI on July 26, 2007 while he was president of the Senate.
Villar served as Senate president from July 2006 to November 2008.
The ICIJ investigation also found that Ejercito is a director of a BVI company called Ice Bell Properties Limited formed on July 8, 1999, when his father was still president. Ejercito was then a nominee to Congress of the Kabataan ng Masang Pilipino, a party-list group affiliated with his father’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino.
Indeed, the Philippine Senate in the course of overseeing the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona last year had laid the groundwork for the development and implementation of measures to track down and stop government officials from squirreling away ill-gotten wealth into secret bank accounts both locally and overseas. In my May 2012 article Moving on after the trial: repeal of the Foreign Currency Deposit Act followed by a full-scale audit and investigation, I enumerated the following key premises comprising this framework:
(1) Understating wealth held in both local and foreign currency on the hallowed pages of the Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) has been clarified beyond further debatability as an absolute violation of the law.
(2) The attempt made by the prosecution team to introduce information on Corona’s dollar-denominated bank accounts as evidence in the trial and then to get the Senate impeachment court to go as far as to actually debate the possibility of bypassing Section 8 of Republic Act 6426 (“Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines”) to allow the use of this information in the trial implies a clear legislative agenda over the next several years to repeal what are now evidently outdated bank secrecy laws in the Philippines.
(3) Information routinely gathered and tracked by the Anti Money Laundering Council of the Philippines (AMLC) can be employed by the Ombudsman to investigate government officials when banking activity and movement of funds that can be interpreted as suspicious are detected.
(4) Police action can be mounted and criminal charges filed on the basis of evidence gathered by investigations conducted by the newly-strengthened partnership of the Ombudsman and the AMLC.
The above four premises are nothing new. Indeed, the only hard and long journey required of us is to see the legislative agenda to reform the country’s bank secrecy laws through — a big challenge indeed for a famously forgetful people whose ningas-cogon tradition routinely dooms them to chronic mediocrity and flaccidity of purpose.
So while Villar provided what looked like a forthright response to media queries on his BVI accounts (admitting that he is “the ‘ultimate shareholder’ of Awesome Dragon Holdings Limited [but that] it was a dormant company with a capital of just one US dollar”), Ejercito issued a statement that merely skirted the hard question…
To the best of my knowledge, I have truthfully and accurately declared all my assets, liabilities, and net worth in my SALN.
The timing of this so-called exposé is highly suspicious considering that I am one of the UNA candidates consistently on the winning list of monthly surveys done by different polling organizations, and that I have just recently barged in to the top 3 of the SWS Survey.
I have heretofore had high respect for the PCIJ. I hope that they are not falling prey to the manipulation of desperate people in dirty politics.
…the hard question being whether he is or isn’t a director in Ice Bell Properties Limited.
Ano nga ba talaga?
Well, so ok, if the past is the past then perhaps we might instead look to the future. And the future seems to be one that begs a relevant legislative agenda on the matter of politicians’ secret troves of wealth. Perhaps this is what the May 2013 elections involving the Legislative Branch should be all about — applying the lessons learnt and the precedents set during the burning at the stake of former Chief Justice Corona in 2012.
It is likely that all that has come to light so far is merely the tip of the iceberg of what may be a decades-long systematic concealment of wealth by politicians, oligarchs, and feudal clans transcending partisan lines and crossing branches of government.
Which of the candidates can fill what is currently a vacuous portfolio of legislative agendas with the real goods — ones that can potentially lift the skirt off what could be a vast institutionalised wealth concealment machine?
Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.
[Photo courtesy GlobalResearch.ca.]