Malaluan is Trustee of Action for Economic Reforms and Co-Director of the Institute for Freedom of Information. This piece was published in the January 16, 2012 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.
Chief Justice Renato C. Corona’s impeachment has called attention to the legal requirement that public officers and employees submit a declaration of their assets, liabilities and net worth, or what is commonly referred to as SALNs. Under Article II of the Impeachment Complaint, Chief Justice Corona is accused of having “failed to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth”, that some of his properties “are not included in his declaration of his assets, liabilities, and net worth”, and that he has “accumulated ill-gotten wealth.”
The legal requirement to file SALNs is found in the 1987 Constitution, in Republic Act 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees), and in Republic Act 3019 (Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).
The earliest of these laws, RA 3019 (Sec 7), requires that “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 of 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.”
While RA 3019 does not provide for an express duty to disclose SALNs to the public, this duty was subsequently made a requirement by the 1987 Constitution for the highest officials of the country, and for lower-ranking officials, by RA 6713.
Article XI, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution, in addition to reiterating the requirement for public officers or employees to submit their SALNs, required that the declaration by 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 the general or flag rank, “shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.”
Commissioner Blas Ople of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 discussed the policy behind the need to disclose SALNs to the public and to specifically require this from the highest officials of the country. He said: “In a society, it is understood that we have to lead by example and those who have this burden more than the others are the holders of the greatest power.” Elsewhere he adds: “(O)ne of the objectives it wishes to serve is the development of a higher level of ethical practice in the government. So that it is addressed to the public’s right to know, but at the same time it would put all public officers within the compass of a duty to disclose their own conflict of interest when this arises or to make available information, such as statements of assets and liabilities and net worth, as a matter of obligation under this provision.”
The requirement to disclose was extended by RA 6713 to all public officials and employees. Section 8 of RA 6713 provides that “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 years of age living in their households.”
The manner of disclosure of SALNs is in turn provided by Section 8 (C). Subtitled “accessibility of documents”, it provides that SALNs shall be made available for inspection at reasonable hours, and for copying or reproduction after ten working days from the time they are filed, subject to the payment of a reasonable fee to cover the cost of reproduction and mailing of such statement, as well as the cost of certification. Complementing this duty to disclose is the people’s right to information guaranteed under the Bill of Rights.
In summary, the existing laws on SALNs of public officials impose at least three main obligations: to make a truthful declaration, to submit such declaration, and for the custodian to publicly disclose them in the manner provided by RA 6713. (to be continued)