Investigating Officials: Check lifestyles

Extravagant lifestyles are one of the most obvious indicators of corruption and among the easiest to document. They are also a violation of the law, if an official is unable to prove where she got the wherewithal to support such a lifestyle.

The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act 3019) says that a public official can be dismissed if he “has been found to have acquired during his incumbency, whether in his name or in the name of other persons, an amount of property and/or money manifestly out of proportion to his salary and to his other lawful income.” There is a presumption of culpability if an official cannot explain where she acquired income or assets. Among the things mentioned in R.A. 3019 as indicators of unexplained wealth are unexplained bank deposits, “manifestly excessive expenditures,” and ostentatious display of wealth, including frequent travel abroad.

Visits to offices and houses are a good way to begin a lifestyle check. Among the things to look out for are fancy vehicles (boats, cars, jet skis, etc.) parked in these homes or used for ferrying officials, sumptuous parties hosted by them, the retinues they keep (bodyguards, valets, maids), the suits and jewelry they wear. Other lifestyle indicators are foreign trips, children sent abroad for schooling, or, as in the case of former president Estrada, luxury houses built for mistresses and family members.

After taking note, one can begin asking questions. Remember that public officials are banned by the anti-graft law from receiving gifts. Find out whether they have a plausible explanation for the manner in which they live. What salaries do they get from the government? Did they inherit or marry into land or other forms of wealth? Did they make money from a business or profession?

To answer these questions, one must do a background check. Ask for curriculum vitae; interview family, friends, staff, classmates, and townmates; scour newspaper archives for articles about these officials.


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