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Monday, December 06, 2021
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Sanchez: Whiff of corruption

Nature Speaks

SALN stands for statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

It is a declaration of assets (i.e., land, vehicles, etc) and liabilities (i.e., loans, debts, etc) including business and financial interests, of an official/employee, of his or her spouse, and of his or her unmarried children under 18 years old still living in their parents' households.

It's a test for government officials that nothing underhanded is being done.

The submission of a SALN is required by law under Article XI Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution and Section 8 of Republic Act 6713, or the "Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees."

It includes a waiver authorizing the Ombudsman or his authorized representatives to attain documents that may show assets, liabilities, net worth, business interests, and financial connections from all appropriate government dealings.

After all, the then Chief Justice María Lourdes "Meilou" Aranal Sereno, a Filipina lawyer and judge who served as de facto Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines from 2012 until her removal in 2018.

Duterte's SALN is a secret, said the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. So much for transparency. It makes a mockery of public wealth disclosures of all presidents since Cory.

With the Office of the Ombudsman's latest memorandum circular, SALN access is now restricted across all branches of government. The Ombudsman, with its Memorandum Circular 1, has blocked public access as well as public inspection at reasonable hours of the SALN, for the first time since the law mandating public disclosure of these records was passed in 1989.

Duterte's 2018 and 2019 statements of assets, liabilities and net worth should have been made public within 10 days from the day they were filed. The Ombudsman initially rebuffed repeated requests by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism to obtain copies, claiming that it was still revising the guidelines for public access to the SALNs of government officials.

More than a year since that review started in May last year, the Ombudsman finally came up with its new guidelines: the anti-corruption body is no longer allowing the public to see copies of the SALNs.

The Ombudsman circular states that copies of the SALN may only be provided to a requester if: he or she is the declarant or the person who filed the SALN or the duly authorized representative of the declarant; there is a court order; or the request is made by the Ombudsman's field investigation units.

Of the six SALN custodians, the Office of the Ombudsman is now among the four that have the most restrictive rules in SALN access. No wonder the country slid down to 14 points, according to Transparency International.

Early in his term, Duterte's pledge to fight one of Asia's worst corruption battles had a rough 12 months. The Philippines has fallen 14 places in a year in Transparency International's latest corruption perceptions index, which was published last week.

A place Duterte was elected to clean up in 2016 now ranks 113th, at par with Kazakhstan and Zambia. The Philippines has fallen 18 rungs in total on Duterte's watch. The bad news does not stop there. Gross domestic product growth in 2019 was the slowest in eight years. While the US and Japan can only dream of a 5.9 percent growth rate, it means Duterte has missed the two main targets voters elected him to hit.

The Philippines is looking at a rocky 2020 as the trade war collides with cooling domestic growth. Transparency International -- Philippines is close to my heart. I wonder what my friend retired judge Dolores Español would say if she was still alive today. Or the late Ilongga Senator Míriam Defensor-Santiago for that matter.


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