Corona and his SALN: Nothing to Fear if there’s Nothing to Hide
January 12, 2012
By Bonching0614 (Post Editor)
DEED OF SALE House panel Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., (left) shows a deed of sale of a Bellagio unit in Taguig City allegedly belonging to Chief Justice Corona and his wife. At right is Rep. Miro Quimbo, prosecution panel spokesperson.(Photo credit:MARIANNE BERMUDEZ,http://newsinfo.inquirer.net)
As a simple political term, it is just a shortcut for “statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth”. For the politically literate, SALN are these documents that publicly divulge who are the ‘richest’ and the ‘poorest’ among our current government officials; an opportunity to hail the ‘humble’ and scrutinize the ‘luxurious’. However, these past few days and weeks, the unprecedented tirades and mockery between the accused Corona and the members of the prosecution panel seem to put SALN out of context.
SALN should be used basically for the sake of transparency and accountability, not to inspire another political circus in the making. The issue started when members of the prosecution team, helmed by Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. of Iloilo, publicly released documents revealing that Corona owns a 303-square-meter Bellagio unit at the Bonifacio Global City, amounting to almost 14. 5 million pesos. In addition to that, they also said that they have found significant discrepancies between the 1992 and 2002 SALN report of Corona. According to reports, Corona declared a net worth of P14,968,000 in his SALN after entering the government in 1992 and ten years later in 2002, he declared a net worth of P13,968,000. These are strong evidences against the Chief Justice considering that his own failure to disclose his SALN publicly is one of the eight articles of impeachment issued against him. Former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, which heads Corona’s legal team, reiterated that the said penthouse condominium and other things under investigation are conjugal properties of Corona and his wife so there’s no point to use those evidences for the impeachment trial. But if Corona is really living within his own means, then how come they can’t disclose even a simple document to at least shed a light to the questions being hurled against him?
Deliberate hiding of SALN records from the public violates Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials. However, members of the High Tribunal cannot be forced to divulge to the public their SALN because an internal rule of the SC bars them from doing so. According to The Manila Times, the internal rule has been enforced since 1989 to shield magistrates from harassments by the rich and famous who have pending cases before the Supreme Court. In short, the Chief Justice Renato Corona is entitled to refuse public’s request to reveal his ‘private’ SALN documents. Perhaps he thinks that he doesn’t owe the public anything as he was appointed by the President and NOT by the people. But using this reason is a lame excuse to hide any traces of graft and corruption. The public elected the President who appointed him thereafter so as far as public accountability is concerned, members of the Supreme Court must also have the responsibility to tell the whole truth. SC Spokesperson Midas Marquez told the media that Corona’s SALN will be diclosed at the ‘right place and time’, pushing the prosecution panel to doubt that any trace of veracity will be found on Corona’s SALN once they issue it publicly. He even quoted:“Hindi madudoktor ang SALN dahil lahat iyan ay naka-file na sa office of the clerk of court.” But the eye-opening question is this: Who controls the “clerk of court”? Based on the existing power of Supreme Court over the clerk of court, one doesn’t need to be a genius to predict that any transparency is impossible to be achieved in this scenario.
Sadly, the SALN controversy doesn’t involve Corona alone. It turned out recently that 185 of the 188 congressmen who voted to impeach Corona had also failed to submit their SALN. 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 but the whole document itself to assure transparency. Based on this premise, it turns out that SALN is becoming a popular tool nowadays for public officials to either reveal each of their own dark secrets or gain widespread popularity by using Corona as a scapegoat.
Filipinos, is this how we should use and look at SALN? Beyond any political strategy and ambition, SALN should serve as a great avenue for our political leaders to gain transparency and eventually, the public’s trust. Corona should reveal the truth for truth’s sake because through this process, he will be able to at least clear some dirt from his name. But Corona should not be alone in this responsibility because every public servant owes us an explanation on where and how they spend the money entrusted to them. SALN can either be a blessing or a curse but if everyone in the government uses every opportunity to be as transparent as possible, then we won’t need the Freedom of Information Bill anymore.