Public officials can't 'disdainfully defy' wealth disclosure rule: Enrile

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 10 2018 12:28 PM | Updated as of Mar 10 2018 12:29 PM

MANILA - The man who presided over the historic trial that removed the last Philippine chief justice has called attention to the constitutional requirement for public officials to fully disclose their wealth, as an impeachment proceeding loomed for the country’s current top magistrate.

The filing under oath of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) “must be obeyed and fulfilled by all persons concerned,” said former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

“No public officer or employee of the government, no matter how high his rank or how vast his power may be, can cavalierly ignore these commands, much less disdainfully defy them,” he said in a paper, a copy of which was obtained by ABS-CBN News.

Enrile, now 94, presided over the Senate impeachment trial that convicted the late Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012 for failing to declare around $2.4 million in bank deposits.

A separate account worth P80.7 million supposedly co-mingled with relatives was also excluded from Corona’s SALNs.

The current chief justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, is now battling similar efforts to remove her, partly on allegations that there were certain assets omitted from her SALN.

QUO WARRANTO

Enrile did not comment specifically on the case of Sereno, who is widely expected to be impeached by the House of Representatives following an endorsement by its justice committee.

But detractors of Sereno are trying another route to oust her as well.

The Office of the Solicitor General filed a quo warranto petition before the Supreme Court insisting Sereno’s appointment in 2012 was void. She allegedly failed to submit the required number of SALNs while applying for the job.

Sereno also had only one SALN while teaching at the University of the Philippines prior to her appointment to the high court, Rep. Vicente Veloso, the justice committee vice chairman, had alleged.

Sereno’s spokesperson insisted the issue would provide for an “interesting discussion” during the impeachment trial. 

“We will say to you that she did not violate any rules. I don’t want to go into details because I don’t want to preempt our defense,” lawyer Jojo Lacanilao told ANC’s Early Edition on Friday.

JUDICIAL REVIEW

In his paper, Enrile sought to clarify the nature of an impeachment trial and the standard of proof required to convict an official — issues that were also raised during the Corona proceedings.

“Technical rules of evidence are not required,” he said, noting the trial’s lone objective of removing an impeachable officer.

Enrile said the principle of double jeopardy “has no bearing in an impeachment proceeding.”

Even if already convicted and removed from office, an official could still “face criminal prosecution in the ordinary courts,” he said.

In 2012, the possibility of a constitutional crisis was raised if Corona would contest his conviction by senators before the Supreme Court.

Enrile said there was “no judicial review in impeachment cases under our constitutional law.”

“The only possible exception, if at all, would be where, in an impeachment case, there would be an issue of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction,” he said.