PCIJ IMPEACH REPORT: THE ACCUSED, ACCUSERS MOCK ASSET RECORDS LAW
[PHOTO - PRESIDENT AQUINO VS. CJ CORONA]
MANILA, JANUARY 12, 2012 (MALAYA) By MALOU MANGAHAS Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism - PART 1 - IN ONE of the eight articles of impeachment against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, the 188 members of the House of Representatives who signed the complaint censured him for refusing to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth or SALN.
By their act, the House members raised a virtual Sword of Damocles over those in public office who insist on keeping the full details of their SALNs secret.
But the House accusers could well be accused of a similar omission, and culpable violation of the Constitution and anti-graft laws. Indeed, the PCIJ’s records from 2006 to December 2011 reveal a sorry picture of rank non-disclosure of SALNs not just by Corona and all the justices of the high court since 1992, but also by the incumbent House members who have brought him to trial.
Worst, defiance of the SALN law has been shown as well by the Office of the Ombudsman under Aquino appointee Conchita Carpio-Morales, a retired Supreme Court associate justice who became Ombudsman in July 2011.
If one’s failure to disclose SALNs is now an impeachable offense, then a long list of officials should also now be expunged from public office, including Ombudsman Carpio-Morales and by their own assertion, even 185 of the 188 members of the 15th Congress who filed the impeachment complaint against Corona but have not disclosed copies of their own SALNs.
Thus far, only two of the 282 members of the 15th Congress have actually disclosed copies of their 2010 SALN upon request: Mohammed Hussein P. Pangandaman (Lanao del Sur) and Maximo B. Rodriguez Jr. (PL-Abante Mindanao). Neither is among the 188 signatories to the impeachment complaint that the House submitted to the Senate impeachment court.
The PCIJ was able to obtain the 2010 SALNs of five more members of the Lower House, including three who had signed the impeachment complaint against Corona. But that was only because their SALNs seem to have been mixed inadvertently with the asset records of the members of the 14th Congress that PCIJ was allowed to photocopy early this year.
[The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism is a non-profit media
organization specializing in investigative journalism. It is based in Quezon City,
Philippines. Established in 1989 by nine Filipino journalists, the organization funds
investigative projects for both the print and broadcast media. It has published over
400 articles in Philippine newspapers and magazines, produced documentaries and
published books on current issues. The Center also offers writing fellowships to
deserving reporters, journalists and academics.]
Last year, in apparent creative defiance of Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials – which requires disclosure to the public of the actual copies of SALNs – the House merely issued a public release on the summaries of the net worth of the House members.
The PCIJ had filed four request letters for SALNs of the members of the 15th Congress from September 2010 to December 2011. The first three were addressed to House Secretary General Marilyn B. Yap. The fourth and most recent letter dated Dec. 19, 2011 was addressed to the House justice committee chair, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., lead prosecutor in the Corona impeachment trial.
Simultaneously, also on Dec. 19, 2011, the PCIJ sent a new request letter to the Supreme Court addressed to Court Administrator Midas P. Marquez, in yet another effort to secure the SALNs of Corona and his 14 associate justices, from their first year of appointment to the tribunal.
Last week, Marquez promised to give the PCIJ an official statement from the tribunal on its latest request but also said that because of Corona’s upcoming impeachment trial, positive action may not come. The first en banc session of the high court is scheduled on Jan. 17, 2012 yet, he said.
In October 2008, the PCIJ had filed a pleading with the "Special Committee to Review the Policy on SALNs and PDS" chaired by then Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario that the en banc had created, in response to repeated requests that PCIJ had filed since 2001 for the SALNs of the justices and judges.
The PCIJ is a party to the Administrative Matter 09-8-06 SC and 09-8-07-CA cases filed with the committee. After Nazario’s retirement in 2010, the committee’s task has supposedly been entrusted to a new study committee headed by Marquez.
The high court’s policy to recede in the dark, especially where SALNs of all judiciary personnel are concerned, actually began with Andres B. Narvasa, who served as chief justice from December 8, 1991 to November 30, 1998. The Narvasa court had been marred by reports, including a number authored by the PCIJ, alleging multiple instances of bribery and corruption involving some justices. "The best Supreme Court that money can buy," legal circles had described the tribunal at the time.
The exposes triggered the early retirement of an associate justice even as the Narvasa court also summoned lawyers it suspected to be among the PCIJ’¦s unnamed sources to an inquiry board composed of justices at Padre Faura.
Those who succeeded Narvasa, Hilario G. Davide Jr. (who served from November 30, 1998 to December 20, 2005), Reynato S. Puno (who served from December 20, 2005 to May 17, 2010), and Corona (chief justice since May 2010) followed the practice of secrecy in regard to the SALNs of all judiciary personnel.
NOT LAWFUL COMPLIANCE
The Constitution and anti-graft laws require the disclosure of the real, detailed SALNs of public officials, within 10 working days after these have been filed within the yearly April 30 deadline. Disclosing summaries of entries in the SALNs, such as what the 15th Congress and two associate justices had done recently, is not contemplated in the law as full compliance.
To be fair, supposedly as an accommodation of the PCIJ, the House shared copies of the SALNs of the members of the 14th Congress under Speaker Prospero Nograles, Jr. that ended its term of office in May 2010.
Still, even Tupas, (photo) interviewed by the PCIJ, acknowledged the gross omission of the House in withholding copies of the 2010 SALNs of the current legislators. "Yes, what should be revealed are the full details of the assets, liabilities, and net worth, copies of the SALNs," he told PCIJ.
"I didn’t know until recently that was how it’s done in the House. I didn’t know it’s that bad. I didn’t know this issue with SALNs is that complicated," Tupas said.
"The point is, in the Supreme Court, there is zero compliance," he said. "The Constitutional provision is clear: Release your SALNs, that is compliance." He said he was willing to release his own SALN, adding that, "we have to start somewhere somehow in enforcing the law."
Tupas admits that by their failure, a long line of public officials, possibly including the Ombudsman, constitutional commissioners, and House members, who have failed to disclose their SALNs might now have to be summoned as candidates for possible impeachment. Promised Tupas: "I will hold hearings on compliance with the SALNs law soon. For all other SALNs, there should be a congressional investigation."
Over the last 26 months, the PCIJ filed and refiled request letters to secure copies of the SALNs, Personal Data Sheets/Curriculum Vitae (PDS/CVs) of the members of the Lower Chamber. Four letters were filed with the 15th Congress to secure copies of the SALNs as of July 2010 (assumption of office) and December 2010. For the 14th Congress, PCIJ wrote two letters of request, the first in October 2009, the second in May 2010.
Failing to get a response, PCIJ included its request for such documents for members of the 14th Congress in subsequent letters asking for copies of similar sets of papers covering the 15th Congress.
The PCIJ sent letters of requests dated Sept. 6, 2010, Feb. 17, 2011, and Feb. 24, 2011 to Marilyn B. Yap, House secretary general for the SALNs and the personal data sheets/curriculum vitae (PDS/CVs) of the members of the 14th Congress, and the members of the 15th Congress, upon their assumption into office as of June/July 2010, and as of December 2010.
Yap approved the release of SALNs filed for 2008 and 2009 of the members of the 14th Congress, which was dominated by allies of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But the request for those of the 15th Congress members was denied.
On May 4, 2011, Director Roberto P. Maling of the Secretary General’s Office told PCIJ that the Records Management Service would not be able to provide copies of the SALNs because the process is "tedious." He said PCIJ was able to get copies of the 2008 and 2009 SALNs because the Records Office just made an exemption.
When asked about future SALN requests, Maling said the House of Representatives will only provide a summary of the assets, liabilities, and net worth of the House members and not the actual copies of the document.
Pangandaman and Rodriguez of the 15th House, however, on their own sent PCIJ copies of the SALN in response to its request. - To be continued
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