SC okays guidelines on release of SALNs

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 20 2012 06:19 PM | Updated as of Jun 21 2012 02:34 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) has released the guidelines for the release of the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of its magistrates and all officials, officers, and employees of the Judiciary.

However, the high court granted the release only of the latest SALNs; any request for previous SALNs should be justified by the requestor.

In a 22-page unanimous resolution dated June 13 penned by Associate Justice Jose Mendoza, the high tribunal granted the pending requests made by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), media entities, and several individuals for the SALNs of the high court's justices, as well as that of the justices of the Court of Appeals (CA) and Sandiganbayan, subject to the limitations imposed by Republic Act (RA) No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees), its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), and the guidelines.

The above-mentioned limitations and guidelines are necessary, the Court held, because the Constitution, under Sec. 17, Art. XI, has classified the information disclosed in the SALN "as a matter of public concern and interest."

"In other words, a 'duty to disclose' sprang from the 'right to know...' the former is a command while the latter is a permission. Hence, the duty on the part of members of government to disclose their SALNs to the public in the manner provided by law," the resolution read.

"Like all constitutional guarantees... the right to information, with its companion right of access to official records, is not absolute... while no prohibition could stand against access to official records, such as the SALN, the same is undoubtedly subject to regulation," the resolution read.

The high court stressed that the SALNs should only be used for the purpose applied for.

The following are the guidelines drafted by the Supreme Court:

1. All requests shall be filed with the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Tax Appeals; for the lower courts, with the Office of the Court Administrator; and for attached agencies, with their respective heads of offices.

2. Requests shall cover only copies of the latest SALN, PDS (personal data sheet) and CV (curriculum vitae) of the members, officials and employees of the Judiciary, and may cover only previous records is so specifically requested and considered as justified, as determined by the officials mentions in par. 1. above, under the terms of these guidelines and the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA No. 6713.

3. In the case of requests for copies of SALN of the Justices of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals, the authority to disclose shall be made by the Court En Banc.

4. Every request shall explain the requesting party's specific purpose and their individual interests sought to be served; shall state the commitment that the request shall only be for the stated purpose; and shall be submitted in a duly accomplished request form secured from the SC website. The use of the information secured shall only be for the stated purpose.

5. In the case of requesting individuals other than members of the media, their interests should go beyond pure or mere curiosity.

6. In the case of the members of the media, the request shall additionally be supported by proof under oath of their media affiliation and by a similar certification of the accreditation of their respective organizations as legitimate media practitioners.

7. The requesting party, whether as individuals or as members of the media, must have no derogatory record of having misused any requested information previously furnished to them.

While the following are the regulatory mechanisms provided in Sec. 8 (c) and (d) of RA No. 6713:

(c) Accessibility of documents -

     (1) Any and all statements filed under this Act, shall be made available for inspection at reasonable hours.

     (2) Such statements shall be made available for copying or reproduction after ten (10) working days from the time they are filed as required by law.

     (3) Any person requesting a copy of a statement shall be required to pay a reasonable fee to cover the cost of reproduction and mailing of such statement, as well as the cost of certification.

     (4) Any statement filed under this Act shall be available to the public for a period of ten (10) years after receipt of the statement. After such period, the statement may be destroyed unless needed in an ongoing investigation.

(d) Prohibited acts -- it shall be unlawful for any person to obtain or use any statement filed under this Act for:

      (a) any purpose contrary to morals or public policy; or

      (b) any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.

While the Court noted as "valid" concerns of several magistrates that their SALNs may be used by individuals with "possible illicit motives," it held that "[p]ublic officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with the utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives."