4 presidential bets OK with releasing their SALNs
Four presidential candidates said they favor the release of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) filed annually by public officials as a means to detect unexplained wealth and as a safeguard against corruption.
The candidates—Vice President Leni Robredo, former security adviser Norberto Gonzales, labor leader Leody de Guzman and Sen. Manny Pacquaio—agreed on the necessity of SALNs and the disclosure of their contents while answering a series of questions at the Usapang Halalan 2022: The CBCP Election Forum hosted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines that was live-streamed on Friday night.
The CBCP said the forum was organized to help voters discern the “moral compass” of each candidate. Seven other presidential bets did not attend the forum due to prior commitments.
Under the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, all officials of national and local governments are required to file their SALN on April 30 of each year.
People have right to view
In a memorandum issued in 2009, then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez specifically allowed media entities to request the SALN of public officials for dissemination as long as journalists clearly identify themselves as such and have no intent of using a SALN for purposes “contrary to morals.”
In September 2020, Ombudsman Samuel Martires issued a new memorandum that introduced a restriction providing that a requester cannot avail of a copy of an official’s SALN if the official concerned does not issue a notarized letter of authority allowing the release of the document.
Martires’s move was apparently prompted by President Duterte’s refusal to release copies of his SALNs since 2018.
Robredo said while the law on the SALN was clear, it was the Ombudsman’s “opinion” that now makes it difficult to release it to the public.
“Sa akin, kalokohan ‘yun,” Robredo told Rico Hizon, one of the moderators.
Robredo, an economist and a lawyer, maintained that the SALN is a public record and people have the right to view its contents.
‘It should be publicized’
“It is also one way for people to determine if there is unexplained [wealth] being added to our assets …The SALN is a way of monitoring the movements of our assets. Although I think the SALN is not enough. There are other means to monitor like a lifestyle check. But the mere fact that there is a law that requires the [filing of the] SALN, that means it should be publicized without question,” she added in English and Filipino.
Robredo also said it was mportant that heads of government offices responsible for information that the public may demand make sure they are not exploited for “political ends. What the law requires should be delivered.”
At his turn, Gonzales noted that foreign governments like that of Sweden, even allow the public disclosure of income tax returns, not only of officials but also of citizens. “Just go to any public library,” he said.
Hizon asked De Guzman whether he would agree to release his SALN and subject himself to a lifestyle check.
“Only thieves and liars would not agree to that … The SALN is a transparency issue,” he said in Filipino.
Pacquiao, a world famous boxer who earned millions as a professional, said his SALN was a product of hard work and wants all public officials to pledge to adhere to transparency when they begin serving in government.
He added however, that laws are now being violated “because people have no respect for them. People should respect the law, not only when they choose to comply.
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