MANILA, Philippines—Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Friday expressed anew his reluctance to press congressmen to fully disclose details of their personal wealth and sign waivers that would allow the opening of their bank deposits to public scrutiny two weeks after the House prosecution team succeeded in having Chief Justice Renato Corona convicted for being secretive and dishonest about the size of his assets.
“Anybody who wants to do it can do it. In my case, I just think it’s pressuring them for me to (order them) and I don’t like to pressure. When you are a politician, you have ready-made opponents there ready to nitpick you and so forth,” Belmonte said.
He also disparaged some members of Congress who have willingly disclosed to the public their statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) and volunteered to sign bank waivers.
“Most of the people who have released theirs (SALN) so far are not actually real politicians because it’s their parties that get elected,” he said.
Belmonte has fended off calls for him to cause the release of the full version and not just the summaries of the SALNs of the 284 members of Congress, saying he has to form a joint committee together with the Senate to set the guidelines for their release and that he has to first get a consensus vote of all members on the matter.
On Friday, Belmonte suggested that the clamor for greater transparency from lawmakers about their personal wealth was a passing phase and indicated that the public should let it blow over.
He said the demand for SALN disclosures and bank waivers was “highlighted only by recent events.”
He added: “This transparency really is a process of different things. Hindi naman kailangan ito kung wala naman iyon (there would be no need for disclosures and waivers if the impeachment had not taken place.”
He concluded, “The impeachment is over, let’s move on.”
Echoing Belmonte, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said that the matter of SALN releases and bank waivers should be decided “by the individual sense of the members.”
Gonzales noted that Corona released his SALN and signed a bank waiver because he was subpoenaed or forced by the Senate trial court.
He said the Speaker had already called a meeting of leaders in the majority coalition to form the committee to craft the protocol for SALN releases jointly with the Senate.
“We will let the House leadership decide first because it would be difficult if we do something and nobody follows us,” said Gonzales.
Belmonte and Gonzales initiated the impeachment complaint against Corona which was filed, signed and approved in less than five hours and which took the Senate trial court five months to decide.
Militant lawmakers lamented that “omerta” had become the mantra of the House as its leaders ignored demands to release full details of their personal wealth, and rejected calls to sign a waiver on their bank deposits while ostensibly advocating for transparency and good governance in removing Corona.
“Sadly, the dark shadow of omerta dominates the House. We are not supposed to behave like Mafia criminals who lead secret lives because we are elected public servants,” said Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino.