House of Coronas: SALNs still secret

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12:08 AM December 12th, 2012

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By: Leila B. Salaverria, December 12th, 2012 12:08 AM

A year after Chief Justice Renato Corona was ousted for not being forthright in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, members of the House of Representatives still reject requests to release their SALNs.

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., lead prosecutor in the impeachment trial of Corona, said that since the SALN played a central role in the House move to impeach Corona, the chamber should be “role models for public officers” and be more forthcoming with their SALNs.

“I think the House should really make the SALNs available because of that impeachment,” Tupas told reporters.

Tupas said he already released his own SALN shortly after Corona’s conviction in May. The spokespersons of the House prosecution team and militant lawmakers also voluntarily released their SALNs.

“If we prosecuted Corona and we pinned him down based on that single article, SALN, I think it is just proper for the (House) leadership to make the SALN easily accessible to the people,” he added.

Guidelines not final

The House earlier formed a committee to draft the rules for the release of SALNs, but these guidelines have yet to be finalized.

The draft has been referred to the rules rewriting committee before it is approved, according to House leaders.

At present, the release of SALNs is left to individual lawmakers.

The House secretary general releases the net worth of House members every year, ranking them from the richest to the “poorest,” but the list does not contain the details of the legislators’ assets and liabilities.

Tupas said the elections in May 2013 were no excuse for lawmakers to withhold the release of their SALNs.

Political excuse

Other officials are reluctant to release the documents, saying their political opponents might use the data to concoct stories against them.

“We know election time is highly emotional. Of course, during elections, everybody’s looking for a flaw [in their opponent], but for me that’s not enough reason,” he said.

Tupas said the only time he did not want to release his SALN was at the height of the impeachment trial, because doing so would have muddled the issue by turning the attention to the prosecutors instead of to the one on the stand.

The House swiftly impeached Corona on Dec. 12, 2011, getting 188 lawmakers to sign the complaint against him. This did away with the need for plenary debates on the impeachment complaint, since the support of only one-third of the 285 members is necessary to go to trial.

After a five-month trial, Corona was found guilty for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, stemming from his failure to declare assets and bank accounts in his SALN.

Tupas said the reforms stemming from Corona’s impeachment covered all branches of government.

“We can slowly feel the reforms not only in the judiciary but also in the entire bureaucracy. To me that’s a game changer in the campaign for reforms of the Aquino administration,” he said.

Some problems

But Tupas also acknowledged that a complete overhaul of the system would not take place overnight.

“It’s not because we had this impeachment, and everything will just change. Because as we know, there’s still some problems even in the judiciary. Transparency is still a problem. But in terms of accountability, slowly there are changes,” he said

For instance, he said, members of the judiciary were more aware that they could be held to answer for their actions through the process of impeachment.

Tupas noted that the selection process for Corona’s replacement had been very transparent, with the interviews conducted publicly. This has to be preserved, he said.

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