Exposing the pols’ offshore accounts

CHEERS TO the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) for its comprehensive and timely two-part exposé on the undeclared offshore accounts of several Filipino politicians and former government executives. Coming as it did during election season, the expose should help voters choose better leaders.

PCIJ did the reports in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which worked with media partners all over the world to analyze “a cache of 2.5 million files (that) has cracked open the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con men and the mega–rich the world over.”

“The ICIJ investigation … found more than 500 other Philippine residents who have links with offshore trusts, corporations and other entities. Only about half the names have public profiles … Most are business people, professionals or people who work for foreign companies in the Philippines. But some are owned by public officials,” the first part of the PCIJ report said.

“Ferdinand Marcos’s daughter tied to offshore trust in the Caribbean”, the first of two reports, was published last April 4, 2013, with the sidebar “What Imee disclosed and didn’t”.

The report exposed Ilocos Norte governor Imee Marcos and her sons as beneficiaries of a trust formed in June 2002 in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. The offshore trust was not declared in the governor’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), which PCIJ bared in the accompanying sidebar.

Ms. Marcos’ father, the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, held secret offshore accounts too and those were found to contain ill-gotten wealth of up to $365 million, according to the report. The government’s Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) “is eager to find out if the entities connected to Imee Marcos might contain some of the estimated $5 billion that her father allegedly amassed through corruption.”

Ms. Marcos has not responded to the PCIJ report, and according to television reports, will consult her lawyers before reacting to the exposé.

The second part, “Manny Villar, JV Ejercito linked to offshore accounts”, was published the next day, April 5, 2013. It revealed that Senator Villar, Ejercito and two former government officials also have secret accounts in the British Virgin Islands.

Like Ms. Marcos, both Villar and Ejercito failed to declare these accounts in their SALNs, according to PCIJ.

Villar, a senator since 2001, was the fifth richest man in the Philippines when his offshore account in the Carribbean was formed in 2007. His wife, Cynthia Villar, is currently running for senator under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

Ejercito is also running for senator under UNA. He is an incumbent congressman from San Juan City, Manila.

Villar and Ejercito’s response to the issue was elaborated more on the sidebar “Repentant, reticent, rude”, also published on April 5.

“To be sure, owning or managing offshore corporations or trusts in tax havens is perfectly legal in the Philippines … these places are not necessarily about illicit activities but about legal and tax neutrality for international joint ventures,” the second report said. But it also pointed out the unethical and hypocritical implications of government officials’ taking money out of the local economy and putting them in offshore accounts instead.