In 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.