Philippine congressman Manny Pacquiao is House 1st billionaire

Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. in Manila/Philippine Daily Inquirer

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Manny Pacquiao, one of the world's highest paid athletes, is now the first billionaire member of the Philippines House of Representatives.

Ricardo Bering, chief of the House records division, told reporters that boxing's pound-for-pound king reported a net worth of more than 1 billion pesos (US$23 million) in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

The 285 members of Congress were given until April 30 to submit their SALN.

Although official copies of the SALN would be available to the public by next week, Bering confirmed Pacquiao's lofty status.

In previous years, the Villar couple then Las Piñas representatives Manuel Villar (now a senator) and his wife Cynthia--were the richest House members, but they never breached the 1-billion-peso mark in their SALN.

In 2009, Cynthia Villar reported a net worth of 947.883 million pesos ($22 million). Her Las Piñas seat is now held by son Mark.

The Magazine of the US TV sports network ESPN on Monday said that Pacquiao was the world's highest paid athlete in 2010, raking in $32 million from two sold-out fights--against Ghana's Joshua Clottey in March and Mexico's Antonio Margarito in November. The pay was equal to what baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees got, ESPN said. Pacquiao's earnings do not include his income outside the ring such as his various endorsement deals.

Disclosure of Pacquiao's net worth came amid intense scrutiny by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) of lawmakers' income tax payments.

Bering said BIR Commissioner Kim Henares had sent the House a letter seeking a copy of the SALN of Pacquiao, Bulacan Rep. Linabelle Ruth Villarica and the former presidential sons--Ang Galing Pinoy party-list Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo and Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado "Dato" Arroyo.

Mikey and his wife Angela have been accused of tax evasion in 73.85 million pesos ($1.7 million) for failing to file the proper income tax based on the increasing value of their net worth as seen from their SALN reports from 2004 to 2010.

The BIR recently advised Dato that it was also scrutinizing his SALN from 2007 to 2010.

Both Arroyos complained that they were being singled out and that their cases were being used to divert the public's attention away from the country's pressing problems, such as the rising cost of fuel and commodities.

Mikey slammed what he called a "trial by publicity," claiming that the government had released the information on tax evasion charges or tax probes to the media before the Arroyos were informed by the BIR.

The older son of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is now a Pampanga representative, also claimed that even before he got word from a special Department of Justice (DoJ) panel about his tax evasion charges, media were already reporting that he was being subpoenaed to produce documents in the case.

"I am willing to cooperate in the preliminary investigation because I have not committed any crime or wrongdoing and have nothing to hide. But inasmuch as I would want to take part and answer the allegations leveled against me and my wife, I have yet to receive a copy of the subpoena from the DoJ.

"This seems to reinforce our earlier belief that this whole controversy is one big publicity stunt to further malign our name in public with baseless and malicious accusations. This is all trial by publicity, plain and simple," said Mikey in a statement.

With a report from Christine O. Avendaño