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PCIJ: Justices, Ombudsman, House defy SALN law

/ 12:57 AM January 12, 2012

In one of the eight articles of impeachment against Chief Justice Renato Corona, the 188 members of the House of Representatives who signed the complaint censured him for refusing to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). But according to the records of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), in securing SALNs since 2006, “the sorry picture that emerges is one of rank non-compliance—or creative defiance of the law—not just by the justices of the Supreme Court from 1992, but also by the members of the 15th Congress, the executives of the constitutional commissions, the Office of the Vice President, and the star-rank officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, among others.”

The PCIJ’s latest report, written by executive director Malou Mangahas (with research and reporting by Karol Anne M. Ilagan), looks at patterns of non-compliance by public officials. Provisions in the Constitution and anti-graft laws require the full and prompt disclosure of their SALN.

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Not that Corona should not be impeached. But members of the House, as the PCIJ report shows, could well be guilty of the same omission and culpable of violating the Constitution and anti-graft laws.  A case of the pot calling the kettle black.

According to Mangahas, the PCIJ’s records from 2006 to December 2011 reveal a pattern of non-disclosure of SALNs by senior officials from all the branches of the government, except for the Senate.  She gives due credit to the Senate which she describes as “most exemplary in its compliance with the law.” She adds that the Senate has consistently disclosed copies of the asset records of all its members over the last decades, including the asset records of those who will now sit as judges in Corona’s impeachment trial.

First on the PCIJ’s list of public officials who continue to defy the SALN law is Conchita Carpio-Morales, a retired associate justice whom President Aquino appointed ombudsman in July 2011. Writes Mangahas: “Her office has rebuffed an omnibus request that the PCIJ filed in September 2011 to secure the SALNs of officials that many agencies had denied since 2006.

“Carpio-Morales’ office to this day also insists on the rule that SALN requests have to be subscribed and sworn to before a prosecutor of the Ombudsman’s Office, according to a controversial memorandum circular issued by her impeached predecessor Merceditas Gutierrez.”

If failure or refusal to disclose one’s SALN is now an impeachable offense, then Carpio-Morales and a whole caboodle of government officials deserve not only censure but the boot. According to the PCIJ, 185 of the 188 members of the 15th Congress who filed the impeachment case against Corona have not disclosed their SALNs.

The PCIJ reports that thus far, only two of the 282 members of the 15th Congress have actually disclosed copies of their 2010 SALN upon request: Mohammed Hussein P. Pangandaman (Lanao del Sur) and Maximo B. Rodriguez Jr. (PL-Abante Mindanao).  They are not among the 188 signatories to the impeachment complaint that the House submitted to the Senate impeachment court.

“Creative defiance” is how the PCIJ calls the way House members avoided RA 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials which requires public disclosure of SALNs. How creative? you ask. The House merely issued summaries of the House members’ net worth.

This, despite the PCIJ’s series of requests from September 2010 to December 2011. The most recent request was sent to Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., House justice committee chair and lead prosecutor in the Corona impeachment trial.

On Dec. 19, 2011, the PCIJ sent a new request to the Supreme Court via Court administrator Midas P. Marquez, for the SALNs of Corona and the 14 associate justices, beginning their first year in the tribunal. Again, alibis.

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The PCIJ had long been at work on the issue of SALNs. In October 2008, it filed a pleading with the “Special Committee to Review the Policy on SALNs and PDs” chaired by then Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario that the en banc had created, in response to PCIJ’s repeated requests since 2001. After Nazario retired in 2010, the committee’s task was supposedly entrusted to a new committee headed by Marquez.

The Supreme Court’s policy of keeping the public in the dark with regard to its members’ SALNs goes all the way back to the 1990s. Recalls the PCIJ: “[It] actually began with Andres V. Narvasa, who served as chief justice from Dec. 8, 1991 to Nov. 30, 1998. The Narvasa Court had been marred by reports, including a number authored by the PCIJ, alleging multiple instances of bribery and corruption involving some justices.” Since then, secrecy on the SALN has prevailed in the highest court of the land.

The Office of the Ombudsman remains unmoved and says that the PCIJ has “not advanced a clear and specific legitimate reason to justify your request.” The PCIJ quotes Tupas, “The new ombudsman should be the role model here in releasing SALNs. We impeached Merci Gutierrez for not disclosing her SALN.”

So now, even the President’s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte invokes security concerns and refuses to disclose her SALN. That is, even as her boss, the President, through spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, challenged the Supreme Court to reverse its stand banning SALN disclosures.

On a related note, one can say that the long-awaited Freedom of Information Bill is still sailing on uneasy waters.

Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com

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TAGS: articles of impeachment, chief justice renato corona, House of Representatives, Office of the Ombudsman, SALN law
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