Plenary approval for one SALN?

Published February 8, 2019, 12:40 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

e-cartoon-feb-8-2019In Article XI,  Accountability of Public Officers, of the Philippine Constitution, there is this provision  in Section 17:  “A public office r  or employee  shall, upon assumption of  office,  and as often thereafter as may be required  by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and  net  worth.  In the case of 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  general  or flag rank, the  declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by   law.”

And in Article II,  under  State Policies, it is provided  in Section  28: “Subject to reasonable conditions prescribed  by law, the State adopts and implements a  policy of full public disclosure  of all its transactions  involving public  interest.”

Last Monday, Malacanang,  through presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo,  said the House of Representatives  may  have violated  these  provisions  when  it  recently  approved House Resolution 2467 stating that  plenary approval by the House  is required  before a lawmaker’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and  Net worth  ( SALN)  may be released.  Any request  for  a  congressman’s SALN must  give the  reason  for  the request  plus  payment  of  P300 for each copy.

Presidential  spokesman Panelo  pointed out that at  the start of his administration,  President  Duterte  issued Executive Order  No. 2  on Freedom  of  Information,  to make the SALNs  of  officials in the executive  branch available  to the public to  promote transparency.  At the  time he issued the executive  order, the  President  said  it could only apply to officials in the Executive Department  and called on Congress  to enact   a law to make SALNS  of  all government officials – including those in the  legislative and judicial departments – available to  the  public.

There  is  a reason  for  opening  officials’ SALNS  open to the public, especially those handling  great amounts of public funds  such as the members o

f Congress  who decide in the annual General  Appropriations Law  where  all  the national government’s tax money and other income will  go. This is to discourage any  move to pad their personal assets with  government  money.

At  the  same time, however,  our  officials must be shielded  from  criminal elements  who might  see their  substantial assets as targets of opportunity.

There is, therefore,  a need to strike the proper  balance between  disclosure and  concealment  of  one’s SALN, whether a public official or a private citizen.

In his statement last  Monday,  presidential  spokesman Panelo  said House  Resolution 2467, in requiring the entire House  to give its plenary approval for  the release of any congressman’s SALN, may be violating  — or may be close to violating – the Constitution.  Requiring the House’s plenary approval for one  congressman’s  SALN  may  indeed  be  too much of a requirement.

It does  go against  President  Duterte’s  avowed  policy  of  openness and transparency in government.