Public may inspect congressmen's SALNs

by Jojo Malig, ABS-CBNNews.com

Posted at Jan 12 2012 01:06 AM | Updated as of Jan 12 2012 09:06 AM

MANILA - People are free to inspect the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of lawmakers in the 15th Congress, a House official said Wednesday.

House Records Bureau Director Ricardo Bering, in an interview with ANC Primetime, said all congressmen have already filed their SALNs for 2011.

"Nasa amin ang mga filed statements ng mga congressmen," he said. "The public may have access to the documents by visiting our office."

Bering issued the statement following a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) that majority of current congressmen, including those who will serve as prosecutors in the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, have not disclosed their SALNs.

One of the 8 articles of impeachment against Renato Corona is his alleged refusal to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth or SALN, the PCIJ pointed out.

RA 6713

The PCIJ said the House defied Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials – which requires disclosure to the public of the actual copies of SALNs – by merely issuing a public release on the summaries of the net worth of the House members.

Bering, however, said congressmen have complied with the law requiring government officials to disclose their wealth.

"Kung filing ng SALN, I think they (congressmen) have complied with the disclosure provision by filing the SALNs with the office of the secretary-general," he added. "The SALNS are ready for inspection. The public can inspect these documents."

Bering said all House prosecutors in the Corona impeachment trial submitted their SALNs.

He said the House secretariat initially prepares a summary of congressmen who filed their SALNs. The summary is also released to media, he added.

"For practicality, we cannot possibly publish the 285 filed SALNs," Bering said.

He added that they are doing everything manually.  "We do not have that facility yet, iyung online access, but we are contemplating on that," he said.

He said any delay in the release of certified true copies of SALNs could be attributed to procedures that must be followed. "If there was a delay, maybe it's just because of some procedure that we have to follow in the processing of the request."

"Kung isang congressman lang, we can do it in one to two days," he said.

"For the 15th Congress, iyung mga request po na maramihan, for example wholesale request for the 285 SALNs of the members of Congress, we have not acted on it," he said.

A question of disclosure

PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas, in an interview with ANC also on Wednesday, took to task the House agencies that handles the SALNs of lawmakers.

She said the PCIJ found out that only 2 congressmen have voluntarily made public their SALN, while none of the House prosecutors have made their SALN public.

Mangahas said House should not just release SALNs summaries to the public.

"That is not disclosure. The law says release these documents," she said.

She said they have copie sof SALNs of the 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14 Congresses, but not the current Congress.

The PCIJ even paid thousands of pesos for photocopies of SALNs of previous congresses, she added.

Mangahas said the PCIJ told House Committee on Justice chair Niel Tupas in a December 19, 2011 letter that the House secretary-general, legal, and records office have not acted on the PCIJ's request for 16 months.

"The public interest should be everybody should release their SALN," Mangahas said.

"What do you make of a summary of SALN? Nothing. We only find out the wealthiest and the least affluent," she said. "Disclosure means release the documents, not summarize."

"We wait patiently. Even if you have a law that's there, the process in the house seems to be what's flawed," Mangahas said. "The secretary-general should release because the law says release."

Valte quoted out of context?

The PCIJ report also took a potshot at a Palace official, Presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte, who allegedly refused to disclose her SALN.

The report said Valte expressed her reluctance to release her own SALN because of security concerns.

"That for me personally is a concern because I’m the one here (in government) and not my family. These are the types of concerns that we are trying to solve when it comes to the freedom of information bill," the PCIJ quoted Valte to have said at a press conference on September 23, 2011.

The allegation triggered an outburst from the Palace official on social media site Twitter.

"Dear @PCIJdotOrg, thank you for making it seem that I refused to disclose my SALN to you. If you even checked the question I responded to, I wasn't being asked 2 disclose my SALN," Valte said.

"Nobody from your group has asked me 4 it. I have no problem giving it, minus my home address & my son's (a minor) name. How irresponsible!" she added.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, who also uses Twitter, expressed support for Valte.

"@PCIJdotOrg - you have taken the quote of @abi_valte out of context. Pls reproduce the question and her entire response," he said.