SUPREME Court Chief Justice on-leave Maria Lourdes Sereno is embroiled in impeachment and quo warranto proceedings simultaneously going on at the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives. Both are intended to remove her from office. Both are being pursued principally on the basis of Sereno’s alleged non-filing of her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) for a number of years before her appointment to the Supreme Court.
Sereno’s predecessor, the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, was impeached for non-disclosure of some of his assets in his SALN
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also faced impeachment, and so did her predecessor, deposed president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, over misdeclarations in their SALN.
At least three laws require all public officials and employees to file every year a “true, detailed and sworn statement” of the assets, liabilities and net worth, including disclosure of business interests and financial connections, and to “declare to the best of their knowledge their relatives in the government service.”
Article XI Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution provides for public disclosure of the SALN of the President, Vice President, members of the Cabinet, Congress, Supreme Court, constitutional commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank.
Book 1, Chapter 9, Section 34 of the Administrative Code of 1987, as well as Section 8 of Republic Act 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) mandate the filing of SALN under oath.
The SALN must be filed within 30 days after assumption of office, on or before April 30 of every year and within 30 days after separation from the service.
RA 6713 recognizes the public’s right to know the assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests of public officials and employees, including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under 18 years of age living in their households.
The current and previous impeachment proceedings involving some of the country’s highest officials have put the spotlight on the compliance of government officials with the filing of the SALN.
The proceedings, which have further divided the country politically, have shown the importance of the SALN in keeping a check on the honesty and adherence of a public official to the principles of good governance and leadership by example.
Corona was impeached for betrayal of public trust because he did not disclose his dollar deposits in his SALN. During the impeachment trial in 2011, Corona admitted to owning $2.4 million in dollar deposits but cited the Foreign Currency Deposit Act, which provides confidentiality to dollar accounts as the reason for his non-disclosure of his greenback assets in his SALN.
Estrada faced perjury cases at the Sandiganbayan for not including in his SALN billions of pesos in bank deposits under various account names as well as properties and shell companies registered in his name and those of his family members.
The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has designed a SALN form in 2015 that is easy to fill out. It is quite detailed. For instance, the form requires the exact location of the property in the declaration of real estate, as well as the assessed and current fair market value and tax declaration of the property.
Liabilities include balances in credit card purchases.
However, these requirements are commonly and rampantly violated.
Many government officials resort to various creative schemes to avoid declaring properties by having these registered in the names of relatives, law offices, business associates, and even foundations as fronts.
Indeed, SALN is a good tool to improve transparency in government and to help curb corruption. However, the government should improve compliance with the laws mandating its submission.
The SALN is an anti-corruption measure so the public can track officials’ changes in wealth while they are in government. But if compliance is not taken seriously, this becomes useless.
Now that Sereno’s missing SALNs at the University of the Philippines (UP) were reported to have been found, would Associate Justice Teresita de Castro also come out to prove Sereno wrong that she filed only 15 out of 39 SALNs while in government?
While the SALN has been used as a primary instrument in removing an unwanted or uncooperative official, perhaps it is about time we have an office dedicated to tracking down compliance with the SALN requirements and verifying the assets declared by the officials and employees.
SALN should not only be used as a political tool to oust public officials who can only be removed by impeachment. It should serve as an effective tool against corruption and for measuring a public official’s honesty and integrity.