What is a lifestyle check?

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
What is a lifestyle check?

Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog's house along the Iloilo River Esplanade. President Duterte announced earlier this year that he had ordered a lifestyle check on the mayor. File photo

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Richard Gordon, in a draft committee report, has recommended lifestyle checks on Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and lawyer Manases Carpio — the husband of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio — over their alleged involvement in smuggling at the Bureau of Customs.

Although Gordon did not recommend charges over the allegations, he said that “personalities who, due to their close relationships to persons possessing high authority, are held to higher standards of accountability to the people precisely because of such close relationships.”

READ: Call for lifestyle check on Duterte kin a 'cover up', Trillanes says

But what are lifestyle checks? 

A lifestyle check, according to the website of the Office of the Ombudsman, is an “investigation strategy developed by anti-corruption agencies to determine the existence of ill-gotten and unexplained wealth” of government officials and employees. 

Unexplained wealth, according to the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, "is an amount of property and/or money manifestly out of proportion to [an official's] salary and to other lawful income."

The Office of the Ombudsman and the National Bureau of Investigation are empowered to conduct the lifestyle check on public officials, but the two agencies refused to elaborate on the processes of the lifestyle check without a formal letter request sent to the head of their agencies.

But papers presented to the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders by Assistant State Prosecutor Niven Canlapan and lawyer Maria Melinda Mananghaya-Henson of the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon shed light on processes of lifestyle checks done by the DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman.

Department of Justice lifestyle check

Calapan, in his paper “Investigative Practice in Immigration Corruption Cases in the Philippines,” said that the lifestyle check is one of the methods used “in preventing corruption” in public officials. 

He enumerated the following steps in conducting a lifestyle check:

  • Knowing the personal circumstances of the subject of the investigation
  • Determining the unlawful acts of the subject, which include accepting bribes or kickbacks, malversation or conversion of public funds
  • Locating subject’s property, assets, and liabilities,
  • Assessing the value of property
  • Determining whether the source of income is lawful or unlawful
  • Knowing hobbies or pastime activities such as fondness of jewelry collections, frequenting casinos, or club memberships
  • Comparing the increase in yearly income as stated in the subject’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth
  • Knowing the immediate family, relatives and friends of the subject
  • Discovering if the subject has a real estate or other property under the names of family and kin
  • Conducting surveillance and take photographs and videos if practicable
  • Making a comparative analysis of the official/employee’s assets, liabilities, net worth and income starting from the time the subject is suspected to have committed the unlawful act

Calapan added that after pieces of evidence are gathered by either the NBI or the Philippine National Police, the findings will be forwarded to the Office of the Prosecutor General—under the Department of Justice—or the Office of the Ombudsman for proper filing in court.

Office of the Ombudsman lifestyle check

Henson, for her part, stressed that the Office of the Ombudsman follows similar steps in conducting lifestyle checks.

In her paper entitled “Tracing Corruption Proceeds in the Philippines through Lifestyle Checks,” Henson said that a lifestyle investigation emanates from a complaint, “in any form, intelligence information and reports from the media.”

The investigator will then evaluate the information or complaint. “Field investigators use two tools for case evaluation and planning—the Evaluation Action Slip and Investigation Plan of Action,” Henson added.

The Evaluation Action Slip records “whether the public officer involved is low ranking or high ranking; whether allegations constitute violations of other existing laws; whether the allegations include verifiable leads; whether there is already a pending case involving the same public official.”

An Investigation Plan of Action is prepared if the need for evidence—what, where, when, how, and from whom—is indicated.

Henson said that a proper investigation will then commence. “Evidence may either be documentary or testimonial,” she noted.

She added that the Office of the Ombudsman is empowered to issue subpoena and seek assistance to obtain documents from other government agencies during its probe.

Sworn statements may also be taken, as well as site inspection and surveillance.

Information on the assets of the public official may be taken from documents that include

  • personnel records
  • property records as stated in the subject’s SALN
  • business and income records through Certificate of Yearly Compensation, Allowances and other Benefits which may be obtained from the accounting department of the office
  • expenditures records
  • and records of liabilities

“After conducting the investigation, investigators prepare an Investigation report recommending either closure and termination of the investigation; or filing of formal criminal and administrative charges against the public official,” Henson added.

Who can report?

Those who have “legitimate information to report” and wish to request for a lifestyle check on government officials may call the Office of the Ombudsman at 927-4102 or (032) 927-2404 from Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

They can also send a text message to 09266994703, where reports are received on a 24/7 basis.

It takes about an hour to lodge a request for lifestyle check.

The call will go through a hotline agent who will log the name, circumstances of the public official or details of violation in a Call Information Sheet.

The team leader will then review the details and recommendations before elevating the request to an administrative officer. 

The administrative officer will then verify the identity of the public official, check existing cases and records on database. An endorsement will be prepared for the Ombudsman sectoral offices.

The CIS will then be routed to the proper office.

Recent lifestyle checks

President Rodrigo Duterte was catapulted to the chief executive position on a promise to ruthlessly rid the country of crime and corruption.

In August, he ordered the NBI to conduct a lifestyle check on Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog, whom he said is a protector of drug lords. Mabilog has denied the allegations but has gone on extended medical leave citing his health as well as supposed threats to his life.

According to a report in The Freeman, NBI agents visited Mabilog's home in Iloilo City in late August "citing orders from their direct superior. "

In the absence of any search warrant and because they were not accompanied by Mabilog's lawyer, the agents were only allowed into the receiving area of Mabilog's house in the city's Molo district.

"The NBI agents did not insist. They just took pictures of the area where they were allowed to and some cars parked inside the compound. They saw six cars, but Mabilog’s brother JV, who later arrived, claimed that only three belonged to the mayor and his wife," The Freeman reported.

In July 2016, Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno ordered a widespread lifestyle check of the Philippine National Police over allegations from the president that some police officials were in cahoots with illegal drug syndicates.

"As public servants, we are expected to be exemplars of honesty, integrity and professionalism. So if the policemen or any other civil servant for that matter have acquired unexplained wealth while in active service, they have a lot of explaining to do," Sueno said after ordering PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa to go ahead with the lifestyle check.
Duterte fired Sueno in April 2017 over corruption allegations and "loss of trust and confidence."

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