MALACAñANG on Thursday said it is open to lifestyle checks or the scrutiny of the bank accounts of all personalities who are allegedly involved in the pork barrel scam, including Cabinet members, as long as they are “lawfully conducted.”
“This administration has consistently advocated openness, transparency and accountability of public officials. In line with this advocacy, the SALN of the President and Cabinet members have been released and made available to public. We note the call for a lifestyle check of public officials, as well as the call for the opening of bank deposits,” said Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
The Palace was reacting to calls by members of the House minority bloc, for the personalities named by Janet Lim-Napoles in her affidavit to reveal their bank accounts.
The lawmakers made the call on Wednesday, a day after President Benigno Aquino 3rd belittled the expanded affidavit submitted by Napoles to the Department of Justice.
The list included 20 former and incumbent senators, 100 congressmen and several Cabinet members.
Among the more prominent Cabinet personalities were Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority Director General Joel Villanueva.
But Coloma explained that while the proposal seemed easy to do, there are requirements under existing laws, such as the Anti-Graft Law (Republic Act 3019) and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards of Government Officials and Employees (RA 6713) “before such check can be lawfully conducted.”
“This is in line with the Constitution’s guarantee to due process of law,” he said, quoting President Aquino.
On the inclusion in the Napoles list of incumbent government officials, Coloma maintained that “mere allegation does not affect the presumption of regularity in the performance of their current duties.”
Moreover, he said, “there is need to recognize their rights to presumption of innocence specially while no concrete proof of wrongdoing has been presented against them.”
“As the President has always emphasized: Let the evidence point to the direction of the inquiry and let justice be carried without fear or favor,” Coloma added.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, a member of the House minority, said it would be “simpler” for those implicated in the scam to “just open their bank accounts [to scrutiny].”
“That would be setting a good example because with the bank accounts disclosed, you would have the necessary documentary evidence if Napoles really transferred a certain amount of millions to lawmakers and Cabinet members,” the lawmaker reasoned out.
Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan backed Colmenares, saying the opening of bank accounts is tantamount to a lifestyle check. Antonio Tinio of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list chided Aquino for taking up the cudgels for some members of his Cabinet.
Coloma stressed that the government remains committed to pursuing evidence-based inquiry and that any legal actions shall be based on firm and substantiated proof that can pass judicial scrutiny.
“The President believes that filing weak cases based on speculation or supported only by unverified information will be an exercise in futility, as those accused can go scot-free by invoking the principle of double jeopardy,” he pointed out.
“Given the proliferation of lists and scenarios surrounding the testimony of Mrs. Napoles, it is likely that certain quarters may be deliberately muddling the issue. They may be carrying out a strategy of burn the house down by implicating as many political personalities as possible, thereby misdirecting the inquiry and dissipating efforts to make those involved accountable before the bar of justice,” he added.
Other congressmen believe that instead of disclosing bank accounts, those implicated in the scam should reveal their Statement of Assets, Liabilties and Net Worth (SALN) to clear their name.
“Bank accounts are not always a good indicator of hidden wealth because there could also be dummy accounts. No need to show bank accounts. SALNs are more comprehensive in terms of determining wealth and besides, SALN is a public document,” Ifugao’s Teddy Baguilat, chairman of the House Committee on Agrarian Reform, said in a text message.
“I believe it would be more practical to look into the SALN instead since the SALN covers not only bank accounts but other assets such as real estate properties, vehicles, etc…as well as business and financial interests of an official, of his or her spouse, and even that of his or her unmarried children under 18 years old still living in the parents’ households,” Marcy Teodoro, chairman of the House Committee on Legislative Franchises, said.
House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list and Walden Bello agreed with Baguilat and Teodoro.
“The disclosure of their SALN is a better alternative and more in consonance with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” Tugna said.
“All should bare their SALNs,” Bello added.