Law demands SALN disclosure
During the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, the matter of transparency came to the fore when the Senate through an insistent Senator-juror Franklin Drilon secured a copy of Corona’s Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) from the reluctant Supreme Court Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal.
The Constitution is very clear. “Public office is a public trust.” “Government officials shall at all times be accountable to the people.” Thus filing a SALN is an obligation that government officials owe the sovereign people.
What is the purpose of public disclosure of the SALN? Accountability. When the official first assumes office and every year thereafter, he is required to file his SALN up to the last year in his office. This way people can check if there are unreasonable leaps in his income. If he can’t explain, a case of unexplained wealth a case can be filed against him.
The Supreme Court during the time of Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan issued a resolution exempting the judiciary from making a full disclosure of their SALNs to the public. Funny, but of all the government officials it is only the Supreme Court that does not allow their SALNs to be disclosed to the public. Not even the president the highest government official is exempt from the disclosure rule.
The exemption has made the Supreme Court some sort of an untouchable institution until the impeachment trial put the policy in the limelight. What’s wrong with disclosing one’s SALN? For as long the appointee did nothing wrong or irregular, there is nothing for him to hide and be scared of.
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There are now about five petitions pending before the Supreme Court asking it to stop the impeachment trial because members of the House of Representatives allegedly failed to read and verify the articles of impeachment.
I think the petitions would not prosper given the fact that the Senate already assumed jurisdiction over the complaint and by virtue of the principle of interdepartmental courtesy. The Supreme Court will not look into that question.
It is no longer a justiciable but a political question that the courts usually do not touch or inquire into.
One aspect of the trial that the defense probably dreaded is that some senator-jurors asked clarificatory questions that they perceived to be helpful to the prosecutors.
The defense has asked Sen. Franklin Drilon to inhibit from the trial. I think the move is untenable. Drilon’s question was within the purview of the senator-juror. There was really nothing to it except that it aided the process of finding out the truth, which is the purpose of the impeachment trial.
The defense should abort their plan because it won’t work in the interests of their client. They should realize that senator-jurors are expected to ask probing questions, and they should be prepared for that as the Senate allowed them to object to all the moves of the prosecution.
I encourage people to continue watching the impeachment trial because we stand to learn a lot from it. For would-be lawyers, the trial is a showcase of points discussed in evidence and criminal procedure class. Even jurisprudence is being formulated, especially in the petitions filed before the Supreme Court. My political science students in parliamentary procedure will learn a lot especially about parliamentary decorum.
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