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LAWS are made to ensure an orderly place where one could live a life embarking on equality among the people. These set of rules require general adherence, and should apply to everybody – including the President.

In the Philippines, it seems like we have laws, rules, and regulations to oversee just about everything. We don’t always like these rules, since they often mean that someone is telling us what to do, or keeping us from doing what we want.

Yet to live in a civil society, we must have some rules to follow.

In a recent statement issued by retired Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, he cited the need for everyone – the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government — to abide by the law. He was particularly referring to the case of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who hardly made an effort warding off an impeachment complaint, which had just been unanimously junked by the members of the House committee on justice.

Leonen was made target in a complaint for his supposed failure to file his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) covering the years that the latter was with the University of the Philippines. Jardeleza is right. The law applies to all and as such, not even President Rodrigo Duterte should be an exemption to the rule.

Since Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016, only his SALN covering 2016 and 2017 were made public, which makes people wonder if he really has been complying with the law requiring all government officials and personnel to file their annual SALN.

Not even the Office of the Ombudsman would release one as it has done for the last 30 years, which in itself runs against its own Memorandum Circular No. 1 mandating public disclosure of these records.

Under this circular, SALNs should be made public within 10 days from the day they were filed, and to date, Malacañang would only toss the media to the Office of the Ombudsman for a copy of the President’s SALN.

The Ombudsman then invokes what they aptly claim as review in progress of their guidelines for public access to the SALNs of government officials. Recently though, the Ombudsman came up with its new guidelines: the anti-corruption body is no longer allowing the public to see copies of the SALNs – unless the requesting party is the declarant or the person who filed the SALN or the duly authorized representative of the declarant; in view of a court order or if it is the Ombudsman that is asking for it.

Since the law mandating the filing of SALN among government officials and personnel yearly, Duterte seemed to have been the only President who has refused to make public the supposed SALNs he filed – if he really did file one – covering 2018 to the present.

Interestingly, it was Duterte himself who issued Executive Order 2 requiring full public disclosure of many public documents. The order specifically said, “all public officials are reminded of their obligation to file and make available SALNs for scrutiny.”

Republic Act (RA) 6713, also known as the SALN Law, says that the actual SALNs should be open for public inspection at reasonable hours, available for copying after 10 working days from the time they are filed, and available to the public for 10 years from receipt of the record. These statements contain detailed information on an official’s real and personal properties, loans and other liabilities, and net worth as well as business interests, financial connections and relatives in government.

With all certainty, wealth disclosures are seen as an important anti-corruption tool. The requirement that public officials declare their income and assets can help deter the use of public office for private gain. Income and asset disclosure systems can provide a means to detect and manage potential conflicts of interest, and can assist in the prevention, detection, and prosecution of illicit enrichment by public officials.

The SALN serves as a tool for transparency as well as prosecution as the law allows for lifestyle checks. The wealth record offers a way to make sure that officials do not benefit, and do not increase their wealth because of their work (in government). Through the SALN, one can track the way officials’ wealth changed over the years in which they were in power.

The SALN law is a potent weapon which the public may use against a government official who is believed to be amassing wealth illegally. In fact, this is the same law that caused the downfall of former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada and two former Supreme Court chief justices – the late Renato Corona and Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

And history is about to repeat itself when Congress starts validating the merits of an impeachment case filed against another magistrate in the person of Leonen.

But what’s keeping us from filing the same impeachment case against Duterte?

For one, Duterte wields so much power and influence at the House of Representatives from where the impeachment procedure should start. There is no way to muster enough numbers to elevate the case to the Senate where the senators would sit as presiding judges in the impeachment case.

Another is the administration’s track record of embarking on violence as seen in the death of over 6,000 individuals in the government’s war on drugs alone.

The last, but certainly not the least, is the continuing pandemic scare.

My take: It is so simple. If you are a government official, you know for a fact that SALN is a must. It is under the Constitution. If you don’t like the idea of filing SALN, then get out of the government. Resign.

As for Leonen, he is part of the judiciary. But that does not necessarily give him an exemption to the rule.

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