WHEN POLITICIANS WED, it almost always seems like they throw all caution to the wind and forget about how they are supposed to comport themselves as public officials. They should, according to the Constitution and the law, live by some principles, not least of them these two: Lead simple lives and avoid conflict of interest situations.
The upscale wedding of Sen. Francis Joseph G. Escudero and actress Heart Evangelista (baptized as Love Marie Ongpauco) on Feb. 15, 2015 was just the latest in a series of grand political unions.
Check out the Files of FRANCIS JOSEPH ‘CHIZ’ G. ESCUDERO on PCIJ’s MONEY POLITICS ONLINE:
Escudero, of course, was not the first politician to have shown he is given to excess when it comes to marrying.
On Oct. 27, 2009, then Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas II exchanged wedding vows with broadcast journalist Korina Sanchez at Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City. More than 10 bishops and priests officiated the ceremony attended by about 3,000 people, and before a crowd of spectators outside the church.
On Jan. 22, 2012, then Valenzuela City Councilor Shalani Soledad, one of the former girlfriends of President Aquino, tied the knot with Pasig City Representative Roman Romulo in glamor and style at St. Benedict Church in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Some of those prominent and powerful from politics and business attended, too.
But at the Escudero-Evangelista nuptials, no less than President Benigno S. Aquino III was enrolled as best man, although pressing affairs of state prevented him from attending the ceremony. The two men have been chummy since their days as members both of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
For starters, the Escudero-Evangelista gig was held at the Balesin Island Club, an exclusive, members-only resort in Polillo, Quezon province. Alphaland Corp. developed the resort; its chairman and chief executive officer, Roberto V. Ongpin, also stood as one of the principal wedding sponsors.
Two lavish wedding receptions were held for the couple and their guests – the first on Balesin Island and the second, three days later, at the high-end Blue Leaf Filipinas in Aseana City in Parañaque City.
The groom and bride would not disclose how much they’ve spent on the wedding and the receptions. Escudero would only say that they spent only what they could afford.
Suggestions that the wedding had locked him in a conflict of interest situation on account of some sponsors from big corporate entities, Escudero had been quoted in an ABS-CBN news report as saying: “Tatayuan ko ano ang tingin kong tama at lalabanan ko ano ang tingin kong mali. Anumang conflict, ang importante dinedeklara iyon para kung ano man ang posisyon mo sa isang bagay, maliwanag at alam ng publiko (I will stand by what I think is right and fight what I think is wrong. What’s important is to declare any conflict so that whatever your position is on anything is clear to the public}.
Numerous sponsors were drafted into the wedding, because, Escudero explained, “siguro kasi sa larangan ng showbiz ang napangasawa ko kaya maraming sponsors kaugnay sa bagay na iyon (Maybe we had many sponsors because my wife is in showbiz).”
A lawyer by profession, it is unusual that Escudero seems to make light of the relevant provisions of the Constitution and the law.
Under Section 4 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6713 or the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees,” public officials and their families are supposed to live simply and modestly and “to not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.”
Then, too, how Escudero managed to bankroll such a grand wedding is not clear. In his 2013 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth or SALN, he declared a net worth of only P8.243 million, including = cash of only P3.183 million.
The roster of wedding sponsors are an evident trigger of a conflict of interest situation for Escudero. Such conflict, the law and jurisprudence say, could be either real, perceived, or potential.
Apart from Roberto V. Ongpin of Alphaland, the other sponsors who saw Escudero wed Evangelista were the other top guns of Philippine business — Ramon S. Ang of San Miguel Corp. a food-infrastructure conglomerate; Fernando Zobel de Ayala of the Ayala Group of Companies that is into retail, telecommunication, and real estate ventures; Lance Y. Gokongwei of JG Summit Holdings, a food-retail-property-retail-airline combine; Hans T. Sy of the SM Group of Companies, a property and mall developer; and Andrew L. Tan of the property developer Megaworld Corp. Then, too, the couple had sponsors from among the top executives of the television networks ABS-CBN, GMA-7, as well as Viva Entertainment Inc.
Indeed, while he had said that having many sponsors was largely on account of his wife’s job as an actress, the couple’s longer list of sponsors from business and politics seemed to have been hinged more on Escudero’s job as a politician.
From the world of politics, those who attended as wedding sponsors included Sen. Grace Poe; Adelbert W. Antonino, former mayor of General Santos City; lawyer Gilberto M. Duavit Sr., former representative of the first district of the province of Rizal; Faustino S. Dy Jr., former governor of the province of Isabela; and Esther E. Hamor, mayor of Casiguran town in Escudero’s home province of Sorsogon.
Some of the bills that Escudero has filed as a legislator offer clues to how he has engaged with some of these sponsors.
For instance, Escudero was the principal author in the senate of R.A. No. 9649, an act amending the charter of General Santos City, that was signed into law on July 7, 2009.
In August 2010, the local government of General Santos City had cited R.A. 9649 as a ground for the filing of administrative and criminal charges against the officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Register of Deeds for issuing an ancestral land title to the Bansalao-Banisil family of the B’laan tribe.
In a MindaNews report, former city Mayor Darlene Magnolia Antonino-Custodio, daughter of Adelbert Antonino, pointed out that under the amended city charter, proper consultations with the local government is needed before NCIP can issue a Certificate of Ancestral Land Title. (Like Escudero, Darlene Custodio had also served in the House of Representatives.)
For another, Escudero has also filed Senate Bill (S.B) No. 2104, which aims to amend Batas Pambansa Bilang 68 or the “Corporation Code of the Philippines” and allow a one-person corporation. Under the current law, at least five but not more than 15 persons are needed to form a private corporation.
Also as a senator, Escudero filed S.B. 2449, which seeks to amend the National Internal Revenue Code to lengthen the period for qualified VAT-registered individuals to apply for claims for refunds and tax credits.
Meanwhile, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is currently investigating a property deal between the Boy Scout of the Philippines (BSP) and property developer Alphaland Corp. whose chairman and CEO is Roberto V. Ongpin, an Escudero wedding sponsor.
The Senate had summoned Ongpin to explain the agreement between BSP and Alphaland on the development of the BSP’s one-hectare property in Makati City.
Then, too, two of Escudero’s wedding sponsors, Ramon S. Ang and Gilberto Duavit Sr., had also served as Escudero’s election campaign donors in 2007.
Ang, president and chief operating officer of San Miguel Corp., had donated P9 million to Escudero on his first run for the Senate in 2007. Duavit, a former politician and former chairman of the Republic Broadcasting System (now GMA Network, Inc.), gave Escudero P1 million in campaign contribution, also in 2007. – Fernando Cabigao Jr., PCIJ, February 2015