No abuse in copies of SALNs issued by CSC, so far, says official

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 23 2020 09:56 PM | Updated as of Sep 23 2020 10:45 PM

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MANILA - An official of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) on Wednesday said they have yet to receive reports that copies of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) sourced from their office have been weaponized against public officials and employees.

Assistant Commissioner Ariel Ronquillo issued the remarks after Ombudsman Samuel Martires, whose office has limited public access to SALNs in its control, said Tuesday that a SALN is not needed to investigate officials for corruption and that the document could be weaponized against them.

Speaking to ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, Ronquillo said copies of SALNs requested from their office, which belong to government officials of lower positions and rank and file employees, are usually used for legitimate investigative purposes.

"Sa experience po namin, wala pa pong insidente na naabuso po ang SALN na hiningi sa amin," he said.

(In our experience, there is no incident yet that a SALN requested from our office has been abused.)

The office of the Ombudsman, which is the repository of SALNs of top government officials like the President, Vice President and heads of Constitutional bodies, started implementing this month the limited public access of such document, allowing its release only for official investigations, by court order, or upon authority from the concerned officials themselves.

The policy was questioned by some sectors, with lawyer Chel Diokno saying it puts blinders on the public and pointing out that the law provides that the SALN should be made accessible to the public, citing the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.

"Without those lifestyle checks, without the access to SALN you're actually putting blinders not only on the press but on the public and that’s not a good thing for confidence in our government," Diokno told ANC earlier in the day.

Ronquillo, of the CSC, acknowledged that the SALN is an instrument to disclose one's properties "and that these properties are legitimately acquired, and there's no public fund involved, or this is not a product of malversation or any illegal doing."

"Ito po ay Constitutional mandate sa lahat ng nagtatrabaho sa gobyerno," he said.

He pointed out as well that under the law, a repository agency such as the Office of the Ombudsman, can issue its own policy regarding SALNs in its custody.

"Nasa batas din po na 'yung mga repository, repositories or custodians ng mga SALNs ay mayroon pong kapangyarihan na magbigay ng polisiya kung paano maa-access 'yung mga SALNs na nasa kanila," he said.

(Repositories or custodians of SALNs are allowed by law to issue policies regarding access to the SALNs they have.)

The policy may differ among the authorized repository agencies, such that the Ombudsman's rules, for example, may not necessarily be applicable to the SALNs under the CSC.

"Mag-aapply lang po 'yun sa mga SALNs na nasa kanila...CSC is not bound by that policy," Ronquillo said of the latest guidelines adopted by the Ombudsman.

(The Ombudsman's policy applies only to SALNs in their custody.)

According to Ronquillo, it would be better if all repository agencies have the same policy when it comes to securing copies of SALNs, but he also said other repository agencies may have legitimate reasons to limit access to SALNs under their custody.

"Mas ideal na dapat pare-pareho 'yung mga polisiya ng mga ahensiya ng gobyerno na custodian o repositories ng mga SALNs," he said.

(It would be ideal if all repository agencies have the same policies when it comes to SALNs.)

"Siguro po mayroon ding dahilan, legitimate reasons also on the part of other repository agencies kung bakit sila naggagawa ng ganoong policy," Ronquillo added.

(Maybe other repository agencies have a legitimate reason to issue that policy.)

Under the country's charter, all public officials and employees, whether regular or under temporary status, are required to file a SALN.

"The entire concept of having SALN includes the concept of making it accessible to the public. Parang useless din naman ang SALN kung di makikita ng taumbayan 'yan," said Diokno, who chairs the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and is Dean of the College of Law of the De La Salle University.

(The SALN seems useless if the public cannot see it.)

The use of SALN and lifestyle checks has also proven to be a "potent weapon to weed out corruption," he said.

Several public officers have been removed from their posts over issues with their SALNs, one of whom was the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona.