Honesty, full and unvarnished, is something that one could wish of Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte and his children. Is he honestly poor or honestly rich? The disclosures in his asset records across 20 years are woefully inconsistent, or less than fully open. The asset records that a daughter-mayor (Sara Z. Duterte) and a son (Paolo Z. Duterte) who was vice mayor, had filed over the last 10 years similarly breed a web of riddles.
PCIJ checked the 22 asset records (Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth) that Duterte had filed since 1998; another 11 asset records filed by his son, and eight other records filed by his daughter since 2007, against Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) records on the law firms and the companies they own or co-own, the background of their business partners and relatives in government, and relevant laws.
Among PCIJ’s findings are:
– The Carpio & Duterte Lawyers entity, which has Sara and husband Manases ‘Mans’ R. Carpio as partners, was born over 10 years ago but has not registered at all with the SEC. The law prohibits mayors and governors from practicing their professions, but Sara has not formally, publicly declared her leave of absence from the law firm. Her husband has appeared as legal counsel to big companies with big cases before government regulatory agencies.
– The Dutertes have either belatedly disclosed their interests in certain companies, remain listed in some other as shareholders but did not disclose these in their SALNs, or are part of certain companies that are not at all registered.
– Duterte and Paolo have separately listed several “donated” real properties but do not identify their donors by name, to validate their donors’ potential or real conflicts of interest with their public functions.
– The Dutertes have reported “liabilities” in their SALNs as “various personal loans” (Sara) or “personal loans” or “miscellaneous payables” (Duterte, Paolo) that they owe Davao city-based businessmen who are apparently among their business partners and campaign donors.
– For 10 years running from 1999 to 2009, the President’s SALNs showed an unchanged liability he called “miscellaneous payables” of an absolute PhP1,000,000. By 2013, he gave a new name for his liability –“personal loan” — from creditor and campaign donor “Sammy Uy.”
– The Dutertes have all consistently grown richer over the years, even on the modest salaries they have received for various public posts, and despite the negligible retained earnings reflected in the financial statements of the companies they own or co-own. The numbers show that across the 10-year period from 2007, Duterte’s wealth nearly tripled, Paolo’s more than tripled, and Sara’s grew more than six times.
– The Dutertes have interests in at least 23 corporate entities, a majority involved in the food and catering business, a few in freight and trucking services, and others in education, medical service, and foundation work.
– Apart from scores of business partners — some of whose names appear repeatedly across the boards of several companies — the Dutertes also have at least 16 relatives by blood and affinity working in appointive positions, mostly at Davao City Hall, and also in executive and judiciary posts.
PCIJ sent two batches of request letters for comment to the Dutertes (Oct 2018 and Jan 2019) but they had not replied before the story ran. In an invectives-laced remark, Duterte accused the PCIJ of having been bribed by the political opposition to do the story, which has by then made a big splash on social media.
What makes this project innovative?
Investigating the wealth of presidents is a most difficult project. The PCIJ team had to check and re-check every bit of data that leads on to more data, for validation and corroboration. Duterte has fired, mostly by press release, lesser public officials and appointees, supposedly on just "mere whiff of corruption." He has been most intolerant, however, of media scrutiny into the state of his wealth, and that of his children. PCIJ's goal for this report was to make it correct, unassailable, and sticky, by the professional and ethical standards required in law of public officials. This project also marked a big, if testy, push in the ability of PCIJ's editorial and data teams to do an investigative report spanning 20 years of data, and to render these both in accessible narrative form, but also in fun and innovative visualization. For the first time, PCIJ produced an interactive map to illustrate the network of over 140 named business partners of the Dutertes in the 23 companies and two law firms that they own or co-own.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
For sure, Duterte and his daughter Sara have been sufficiently discomfitted by the PCIJ report. In an invectives-laced speech a day after the last part of the report ran, Duterte had remarked: "Makita mo 'yung utak ng mga investigative journalism kaya… Pera-pera lang. Binabayaran 'yan kung gano'n kalaki. Pati nu'ng lawyering ko... Putang-ina ninyo. Hoy, 'yung mga dilaw, all the time I was with my mother. Maski na noong mayor na ako, ang nagpapakain sa akin nanay ko. 'Yung nanay ko ang may pera. 'Yun ang nanay ko nag-iwan ng pera sa amin. Pero kung magkano, eh bakit sabihin ko sa inyo?" (Look at how these investigative journalists think.. They're all about money. They are being paid handsome amounts... even my lawyering work... you sons of bitches, you yellow (opposition) cohorts. Even when I was mayor, my mother was feeding me because she had money. My mother left us money. How much? Why should I tell you?") As the three-part report ran, PCIJ also mounted a social-media drive to push the story among communities. In four days, PCIJ's Twitter posts of parts of the story, and a bundle of related infographics, have drawn over 155,100 retweets and comments, but less modest engagement numbers of Facebook. Beyond these numbers, however, the story had apparently triggered serious rethinking, and vigorous discussion among Filipinos and expats about Duterte, and his family's largely token compliance with transparency and accountability laws. Daughter Sara has indicated plans to run for President in 2022, after her father's term ends. PCIJ syndicated the report among print, broadcast, and online media agencies in the country. At least half a dozen national and regional online and print news agencies have run the report, while other newsweeklies in the regions have informed PCIJ that they would follow soon. The report was also featured in national television and radio news programs.
Source and methodology
PCIJ had to work up its database of the relevant and necessary documents as first step. These included the asset records of Duterte (across 20 years, from 1998 to 2017), his daughter Sara (8 years, 2007-2012, and 2016-17), and his son Paolo (2007-2017). PCIJ secured these asset records from the Office of the Ombudsman in Mindanao; the authors had to personally file requests for the whole set of SALNs at the Ombudsman's field office in Davao City. The declarations that the Dutertes made about their business interests and financial holdings were then checked with all the available documents at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Trade and Industry, and other executive agencies. PCIJ did further research and field interviews to check the backgrounds and profiles of the Dutertes' business partners. Other related data were obtained from the election spending reports (donors database) of the Commission on Elections, agency audit reports of the Commission on Audit, the Supreme Court's roll of attorneys, case files and related reports on some of the big corporate clients of the Dutertes' law firms, and registration records of specific executive departments. PCIJ interviewed law professors, legal ethics and tax/finance experts to validate its findings. In October 2018, PCIJ sent the Dutertes (Father, Daughter, Son) by courier, fax, and email a first batch of request letters for comment on specific questions, and if possible, for sit-down interviews with the three. PCIJ received no response, hence a second batch of request/query letters was sent to the Dutertes in January 2019. Before the report ran, all three parts underwent fact-checking, and libel-proofing by PCIJ's lawyer.
Microsoft Excel, Gephi, other data visualization tools and templates assisted this report.
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