THE TIES STILL BIND New Wealth Emerges Dominant in the House

THE 11TH House of Representatives, like its predecessors, is a millionaires' club. It is also a bastion of the landed elite. But compared to the 9th House, which was in office from 1992 to 1995, the sources of wealth in the current Congress are more diverse.

The origins of such wealth are also newer, no longer mainly mining or logging as in past legislatures, but primarily real estate development, trading, recreation, transportation and communication.

Only 11 congressmen declared a net worth of below P1 million, according to the statements of assets and liabilities that they submitted to the House. This is less than the 16 representatives in the 9th House who declared they were not millionaires.

The wealthiest is former Speaker Manuel B. Villar, who has a reported net worth of P328 million. The richer representatives with net worth of P200 million or more include Manuel Andaya, Ralph Recto, Vicente Sandoval and Augusto Syjuco.

The poorest congressmen, on the other hand, include four of the 14 party-list representatives-Gorgonio Unde, Renato Magtubo, Diogenes Osabel and Ariel Zartiga. This shows that electoral reform has somehow helped the non-rich gain a foothold in the traditionally wealthy legislature.

Still, the preponderance of wealthy men in Congress raises questions of just how representative the House is. After all, the census office places the number of Filipino families with annual incomes of more than P500,000 at just 331,000, only two percent of the country's 14 million families.

Compared to the 9th House, however, the sources of wealth in the present Congress are more diverse. While nearly all of the current crop of congressmen belong to the propertied classes, many no longer derive a significant portion of their income from land.

Altogether, 211 congressmen or 95 percent declared ownership of real property when they were elected to office in 1998. Two of every three have at least three pieces of real property.

The only representatives who did not declare ownership of real property are Alan Peter Cayetano, Carlos Cojuangco, Francis Joseph Escudero, Vida Espinosa, Jovito Plameras, Rodolfo San Luis, Ricardo Silverio and Rolex Suplico. Some of these, however, may not themselves own property but are part of landholding families. Cojuangco's father Eduardo Jr., for example, runs a plantation in Negros Occidental that is among the biggest in the country.

Of the 211 representatives who own land, 92 legislators (42 percent) have agricultural landholdings that include rice farms, coffee plantations and orchards, making farmland still a significant source of income. In addition, 16 percent declared business interests in agricultural companies. These include Pacifico Fajardo of Nueva Ecija, Julio Ledesma IV of Negros Occidental, Amadeo Perez Jr. of Pangasinan and Marcial Punzalan Jr. of Quezon.

Unlike the previous congresses, especially the pre-1986 legislatures, there are not many representatives now with business interests in logging (three) and mining (three). Those who declared business interests in the wood industry are Luwalhati Antonino, Juan Pablo Bondoc, and Juan C. Enrile Jr. Those with business interests in mining are Bondoc, Wigberto Tañada and Roilo Golez.

What remain significant sources of wealth for members of both the 9th and 11th House are real estate development and construction; hotel, recreation and restaurants; travel and transportation; banking and financial services, trading and retailing.

Some 18 percent of the present legislators are into property development and construction, including Villar who is known to have made his fortune in real estate. He declared interests in Fine Properties, Adelfa Properties, M.B. Villar Co. and Mooncrest Property Development Corp. Equally active in the real estate business are Maria. Amelita Villarosa who is treasurer and director in five realty firms; Celso Lobregat, a shareholder in also five such firms; Vicente Andaya, an investor in four; and Victor Sumulong, a stockholder in three.

A notable difference, however, between the 9th and 11th Houses is the importance of investments in communication, education, and power and energy as sources of wealth for some congressmen.

Twenty representatives declared business interests in the communication sector. They include Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, whose family publishes the Philippine Star; James Gordon Jr. of Subic Broadcasting Corp., Joseph Felix Durano of Danao Telecoms and Prospero Pichay Jr. of Carlo Publishing House and DZME.

Seven congressmen have shares in schools. Eduardo Gullas is chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Visayas. Hernani Bragazana, now agrarian reform secretary, is a shareholder in two schools in Alaminos, Pangasinan. Rodolfo Bacani owns the Bacani Computer Training Center in Sampaloc, Manila, while Napoleon Beratio owns the Magallanes Western Cavite Institute.

The 12 representatives who declared interests in the power and energy sector include. Fajardo, who co-owns Blackgold Inc.; Rafael Nantes, an incorporator and partner in the National Battery Corp. and People's International Enterprises Co.; Federico Sandoval, president of Genesis Industrial Gases Corp. and a director of Gengas LPG Inc.; and Herminio Teves, owner of the HGT Power Plant.

Despite their wealth, several representatives have turned the legislature into an employment agency for their relatives. Congress today employs 102 relatives of 64 congressmen. Most are children of House members, closely followed by siblings and spouses.

Enrique Garcia of Bataan employs six relatives in his office, including his wife, two brothers, a daughter, a nephew and a niece. The office of Allen Quimpo of Aklan has five, while Benjamin Cappleman of Ifugao and Rodolfo Tuazon of Samar each have four. Putting relatives in the legislative payroll is actually not a new practice. At least 19 of the legislators were themselves employees of the House, mostly of their lawmaker-relatives, before their election to Congress.

Probably the most striking difference between the 9th and the 11th Congresses is the number of congressmen who consider lawmaking a full-time job. A total of 111 or half of the members of the House today divide their time between their business concerns and their legislative duties. In the 9th House of Representatives, only 15 percent remained involved in various businesses, either as company officers or shareholders, after their election. Many congressmen also have spouses who are active in business (26 percent) or their own professions (11 percent).

It should come as no surprise if some lawmakers are found lobbying on various occasions for their sector's or industry's interests. For example, Abdulla Mangotara, a landowner, filed the National Irrigation Fees Condonation Act. Emilio Macias, another landowner, introduced the Landowners Protection Act and Special Land Registration Act.

It is debatable whether congressmen violate the conflict-of-interest rule by filing bills that could benefit the sectors or industries they represent. Some congressmen appear more comfortable with the position taken by former Rep. Mariano Yulo, chairman of the House ethics committee in the 9th House: That no conflicts of interest occur if the bills benefit not only the congressmen but their constituents as well.

Former Sen. Rene Saguisag, once chairman of the Senate ethics committee, on the other hand, has previously questioned the practice of legislators advocating measures that benefit themselves and prefers members of Congress who engage in a particular business to at least inform the House. Saguisag was a principal author of Republic Act 6713, the Code of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees that requires the annual filing of statements of assets and liabilities and carries provisions against conflict-of-interest situations.

By and large, the current crop of legislators filed more bills that are of national significance than their counterparts in the 9th House. Of the 12,485 bills filed by the 220 representatives as of October 2000, a third are national bills. In the 9th House, such bills made up only a tenth.

The congressmen also filed more national resolutions than local resolutions. The House, however, is still faster to act on local bills than national bills. Of the 262 laws passed by the 11th Congress, only 34 are of national significance.

Even if more national bills and resolutions were filed in the present House, it may be too hasty to judge its performance based solely on quantity. For example, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas has filed more than 900 or the most number of bills in the 11th House, most of them bills of national significance.

A close study, however, shows that outside of two bills, one seeking to amend the Omnibus Election Code and another proposing a franchise for the Laoag International Airlines, all of Farinas's bills were after the amendment, reenactment of repeal of the late President Ferdinand Marcos' controversial decrees, from Presidential Decree No. 1 issued of 1972 to Presidential Decree No. 1673 of 1980.

Even if representatives disclose their assets and liabilities annually, it is still difficult to pinpoint the exact extent of their wealth. Although all of them routinely file the statements, many do not file them properly, often underreporting the value of their property or totally omitting certain assets or business affiliations. "Like the income tax law, the law has helped make this country a nation of liars. Anyone who files, especially high officials, grossly underreports," Saguisag said.

The law, for example, requires public officials to indicate in the statements the kind of land location (including house number and street name), and the assessed fair market values and acquisition cost. They must identify the agencies to which they are indebted when they report their liabilities.

Many representatives, however, have the propensity not to tell the actual worth of their real estate. Of the 211 congressmen who owned real property, 73 failed to give assessed value, 66 the current fair market values, and 82 the acquisition costs. There are also legislators who put down current market value and understate them. The current market value of Villar's real property, for example, is exactly the same as what he had declared six years ago despite the roller-coaster rise and fall of real estate prices.

In addition, 26 congressmen failed to classify the kind of property they have, 14 omitted to give the location, 19 failed to indicate the year the properties were acquired, and 14 failed to give the mode of acquisition. The word "various" became a convenient way out for congressmen who chose not to dwell on details.

At least 71 congressmen failed to give details on the model and make of their vehicles. Fifty also left the public in the dark as to where their stock investments were. Only 20 bothered to write down in which companies they had bought shares.

One hundred congressmen or nearly a half of the House declared they or their spouses have no business or financial interests. Yet in some instances, they or their spouses do. Cebu's Clavel Martinez, for example, failed to disclose that her husband is president of the Martinez Group of Companies.

Rarely did congressmen indicate the monetary value of their business interests. The exception is Teves. Antonio Roman and Rodolfo Tuazon also gave full details of their businesses.

The importance of filing proper statements of assets and liabilities cannot be overemphasized. The U.S.-based Center of Public Integrity, which has examined financial disclosure laws in the United States, has said these annual declarations are about the only source of information about the representatives' sources of income, and are often a better indicator of motivation on the part of lawmakers than campaign contributions.

"If legislators and other public officials fully disclose those activities and interests, others-their constituents, news organizations and their peers in legislature-are at least armed with the information they need to decide whether a particular lawmaker's actions have been influenced by factors other than the public good," it said.

In the Philippines, the statements are designed to help the public detect potential conflicts of interest, especially of officials who draft laws and make policies that affect corporate and business affairs, and guard against nepotism or dispensing favors to relatives. Whenever officials fail to submit a full and accurate listing of their assets and relatives in public office, the intent of the law ordering the filing of such information is frustrated.

Saguisag said that education and publicity are possible ways to pressure government officials and employees to follow the assets law. He says the Civil Service Commission's information campaign has not been effective, recounting, "Many government officials and employees were shocked when I told them there was such a law."

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