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MANILA, Philippines – It took the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, which resumes at the Senate court on May 7, to raise public awareness about the SALN (Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net worth), and make officials more diligent - or at least more astute - in declaring to the public what they own and have interests in.
April 30 was the last day of the filing of SALN for all government officials. Next Monday, the Senate sitting as an impeachment court will resume the trial of Corona, who is accused of betrayal of public trust for alleged nondisclosure of his SALN from 2002 to 2010, as well as his wealth.
Lawmakers acknowledged that Corona’s trial has “rocked the boat,” especially for officials who have not been completely truthful or meticulous in declaring their SALN, and has become an eye-opener to the public.
Raising the 'SALN Quotient'
Palawan Representative Antonio Alvarez said the Corona trial has raised what he called was the “SQ” or the SALN Quotient not only of public employees but of the public. “The impeachment trial has become a national televised tutorial on how to correctly accomplish the SALN form,” Alvarez said.
Citizens Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) Representative Sherwin Tugna said, however, filing SALN this year was not much different from last year. “But for those who intentionally misdeclare or do not truthfully declare assets in the past because this will reveal unexplained wealth, the Corona impeachment trial has rocked the boat for them,” he said.
Tugna, one of the prosecutors in the Corona trial, said he has always personally prepared his SALN, adding “it is my sworn statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.”
Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali, one of the prosecutors in the trial, said that because of the Corona case, officials are now taking a more serious look at how their SALN should be filed. “I was more serious when I filed mine last week,” he said.
Asked what he meant by it, Umali replied, “I had to review my past SALN, which was prepared only by my staff.”
Staff prepare SALNS mostly
He added that in a number of cases, officials leave the preparation and filing of SALN to their staff.
Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares, another prosecutor in the trial, said it was not difficult to fill out the SALN, but that officials have to be very careful because of the possibility of making the wrong entry or not declaring everything.
“The main principle here is that the people will be more forgiving of a mistake if your asset is not inordinately more than your income. The moment your asset cannot be supported by your income, then you are presumed to have intentionally doctored your SALN,” he said.
Zambales Representative Ma. Milagros Magsaysay said the trial made the people aware of how important a document the SALN is, and now want transparency from elected and appointed officials.
Quezon City Representative Winston Castelo said the impeachment trial proved to be an “eye-opener” for many officials. The chief justice’s failure to truthfully disclose his SALN could cost him the post.
“The Ombudsman, who will be given copies of our SALN should now take a look at it without fear or favor. Government officials should also publicize it and be able to explain it contents,” Castelo said.
A barometer for honesty
Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada III said the SALN is now viewed as a barometer for checking if a public official is honest. “But to ensure that honesty is a reality, the SALN should be disclosed publicly. In terms of accuracy, it may not be totally accurate but it should at least approximate accuracy,” he said.
Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara said the Corona trial has an “instructive effect” on how the SALN should be accomplished. ”This can send ripples throughout the bureaucracy,” he added.
Tanada and Angara both serve as prosecution spokespersons in the trial.
Ifugao Representative Teodoro Baguilat and Bagong Henerasyon party-list Representative Bernadette Herrera-Dy said that while filing the SALN is a yearly practice since they became public officials, they took more time in this year’s filing to review their entries, saying the consequences are hard like what the Corona trial has shown.
ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio Tinio said the Corona trial educated the public on the intricacies of filing the SALN and taught them to he more discerning of what the officials declare in public as their value.
Akbayan party-list Representative Arlene "Kaka" Bag-ao said the SALN should be taken seriously and should be accomplished faithfully “to make it reflect our real net worth.”
Fellow Akbayan Representative Walden Bello said “it remains to be seen” if the Corona trial has had much impact on how the officials filed their SALN this year.
Alvarez warning: shun complex reports
Amid the increased consciousness on the SALN brought about by the Corona trial, Palawan’s Alvarez cautioned the government against making “complex reportorial requirements” that could take transparency to “absurd levels.’
“The proposed requirement that a government employee like a public school teacher should declare how much she spends for cellular phone usage, groceries, electricity is taking the transparency principle to absurd levels,” Alvarez said.
Of 285 House members, only three voluntarily disclosed SALN’s to the press as of Tuesday: Colmenares, Tanada and Bag-ao.
Colmenares declared Total Assets and Properties of P2,394,600; Total Liabilities of P1,696,899 and Net Worth of P697,701.
Tanada declared Total Assets and Properties of P18,557,176; Total Liabilities of P2,000,000 and Net Worth of P16,557,576 .
Bag-ao declared Total Assets and Properties of P2,470,517.57; Total Liabilities of P1,372,197.27 and Net Worth: P1,098,320.30
Colmenares and Bag-ao are both members of the Panel of Prosecutors in Corona trial, while Tanada serves as one of the spokespersons for the Prosecution team.
Several lawmakers, meanwhile, promised to make available in the coming days the copy that they submitted to the Office of the Secretary General of the House of Representatives.
Lawyer Ricardo Bering, director of the Records Management Service of the House, said that the release of the detailed SALN should have the prior consent of the individual congressman.
The House traditionally releases a summary of the SALN of all lawmakers, and ranks them according to their net worth. In the past, such reports from both the Senate and House were not rushed, however, and reporters usually waited for two weeks before bugging the secretariat. Now, with the Corona trial shining a light on the SALN process, mediamen concede it has out pressure on them to be the first on the line, as advocates of transparency.
Corona’s SALN is the strongest evidence the prosecutors are holding to convict the chief justice and remove his from post. During the three months of the trial that began in January, Bello claimed that there is a P55.8-million discrepancy between the P22,936,980 in net worth declared by Corona in his 2010 SALN that was filed on April 29, 2011, and his real net worth of at least P78,800,354.
Corona allegedly has some $10 million in various deposits that were not declared in his SALN, and which various groups want investigated.
SALN rule in Constitution, 2 statutes
There is no actual stand-alone SALN law, but the necessity of filing it is embodied in various laws and in the Constitution. Art. XI, Section 17 states: “A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth. In the case of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.”
Republic Act 3019, The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act of the Philippines, states in Section 7: “Statement of Assets and Liabilities. Every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office and, thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of the corresponding Department Head, or in the case of a Head of Department or Chief of an independent office, with the Office of the President, a true detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities, including a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year.”
Finally, Section 8 of Republic Act 6713, Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, states: “Statements and Disclosure. Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.” With a report from Fiona Rozario-Nicolas, TV5