CONTROVERSIES arising from improper filing of Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Network (SALN) by high-ranking public officials in the recent past should serve as lessons to the newly-elected officials who would be serving a new mandate beginning June 30.
The 1987 Constitution mandates government officials and employees, elected and appointed, regular or temporary status, to file their SALN upon assumption into office and every 30th of April every year.
Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, required that the declaration in the SALN must be made under oath.
Filing of the SALN is a serious obligation that everyone in public office should comply with. The public ought to know what they have and what they owe before joining government, and how these are growing or depleting over the years that they are in public service.
The SALN is a declaration of assets, meaning, real property, its improvements, acquisition costs, assessed value and current fair market value; personal property like jewelry, books, motor vehicles, and other investments and the acquisition costs; plus cash on hand and in banks, stocks, bonds, and other investment instruments.
All business interests and financial connections of public officials and employees must likewise be declared, as well as loans and other financial liabilities.
The SALN is a public document. It must be accessible to the public.
But on this very simple obligation, compliance has been far from desirable even among high officials of the land.
The first high profile case regarding the SALN involved former President Joseph Estrada who faced perjury charges at the Sandiganbayan after he left Malacanang in 2001 for understating his assets in 1999. Estrada was however acquitted after the prosecution failed to present hard evidence that the disgraced president’s questionable disclosure in his SALN was made with evil intent and legal malice.
Early last year, Congress spent so much time in the impeachment of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona over his non-declaration in his SALN of monies in bank and other investments.
At the height of the campaign for last month’s mid-term elections, re-electionist Senator Loren Legarda’s SALN was likewise questioned because of her alleged non-declaration of a P36-million condominium unit in New York City from 2007 to 2011.
While the controversy did not substantially affect her bid to keep her Senate post, Legarda is now facing graft charges in the Office of the Ombudsman not only over the New York property but also over her purported concealment of ownership of a multimillion-peso Balinese-inspired mansion in Forbes Park, Makati where she resides.
Public Interest advocate Louis Biraogo has accused Legarda of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, or Republic Act No. 3019, for not declaring the properties in her SALN.
That was the same offense that led to the impeachment and eventual ouster of Corona last year.
Legarda had denied Biraogo’s accusations, saying that the properties were included in her SALN.
Having browsed through voluminous files of SALNs of public officials through the years, I have observed various creative ways of presenting the properties and other wealth in the SALN in an obvious attempt to conceal ownership.
The Civil Service Commission has already come out with clear guidelines in the filing of the SALN. Public officials should no longer ignore the requirement that the SALN must be “true, detailed and sworn to,” including disclosure of business interests and financial connections, including those of their spouse and unmarried children below 18 years old, and also to enumerate their relatives in government service.
With the new CSC guidelines, public officials and employees should no longer have any excuse to mis-declare or under-declare what they own.
To be consistent with the Aquino administration’s “daang matuwid” slogan, this should be matched with a lifestyle check by the Department of Finance through the Bureau of Internal Revenue to make sure that public officials do not live beyond their means.
It is also a challenge to the media and the public to scrutinize the SALN of the officials and employees to make sure that they are worthy of the trust bestowed on them to serve the public.
The SALN is an important document that should define whether a public official or employee befits being in public service. An official whose SALN is questionable is not honest, and should not be trusted.
Section 1, Article XI of the Constitution is very clear: “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”
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