A closer look at new House rules for 'easier' SALN access
The House has decided to collect a fee for copies of lawmakers' SALNs and redact information from wealth declarations.
Composite, file photo

A closer look at new House rules for 'easier' SALN access

(Philstar.com) - February 4, 2019 - 2:23pm

MANILA, Philippines — House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro (Capiz) said new House rules on the release of lawmakers’ Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth actually gives “easier” access to the wealth declaration documents.

Under Resolution No. 2467, which the House adopted last week, requests for a House member's SALN filed at the Office of the Secretary General are forwarded to the SALN Review and Compliance Committee. That committee will then evaluate the request and notify the lawmaker concerned.

The members of the current review committee are:

  • Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez (Leyte, 1st District)
  • Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza (Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, party-list)
  • Rep. Delphine Gan Lee (AGRI party-list)
  • Rep. Vicente Veloso (Leyte, 3rd District)
  • Rep. Cristina Roa-Puno (Antipolo, 1st District)
  • Rep. Joey Salceda (Albay, 2nd District)
  • Rep. Milagros Aquino-Magsaysay (Senior Citizen party-list)
  • Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo (Lanao del Norte, 1st District)

Castro said the SALN Review and Compliance Committee was created in accordance with Republic Act 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

READ: ‘Congressmen’s updated SALNs available to public’

While speaker of the House in 2012, Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. (Quezon City) issued Special Order 05-12 that ordered the creation of a committee to “establish the review and compliance procedures” relating to the SALN. Belmonte also said then that the release of a lawmaker’s SALN would be at their own discretion.

The new rules on access to House members' SALNs has been criticized by some sectors, including by members of the media, who said SALNs should be readily available to the public. 

Steps to access SALN

In an interview with ANC’s “Early Edition” on Monday, Castro explained that the committee has the authority to grant the SALN request.

He explained that only when the committee denies the request will the appeal be taken up by the House in plenary. He said this means a requesting party will not need to go directly to court for a subpoena of the wealth declaration.

"Only in case of appeal...that if the request is denied by the committee then the plenary may act on the request," Castro said.

The House resolution states, though, that: “The SALN Review and Compliance Committee may grant or deny requests for access to the filed SALNs of House Members, officers or employees, provided that access to copies of the SALNs of House Members by the public shall be referred to the House plenary for final determination.”

Criteria for evaluating requests

The SALN Review and Compliance Committee will look into the requests and check whether the wealth declarations will:

  • Be used only for the purpose stated in the request and no other
  • Not be used or disclosed for any purpose contrary to morals or public policy
  • Not be used or disclosed for any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public
  • Not be used or disclosed to compromise the decisions and activities of the House Member, officer or employee concerned
  • Not to be used or disclosed to interfere with law enforcement proceedings, deprive a person of the right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication, disclose the identity of a confidential source and/or unjustifiably disclose investigation techniques and procedures

Parties are also required to pay P300 per copy of SALN for the cost of reproduction and certification, which would require a requesting party to shell out almost P90,000 for a copy of SALNs of all lawmakers at the House.

The resolution also stated that the director of the Records Management Service shall blacken the following information:

  • declarant’s address
  • name of unmarried children below 18 years of age living in the declarant’s household
  • exact location of real properties
  • business address of the entity/business enterprise in which the declarant has business interest and/or financial connection
  • name/s of relative in government
  • details of government-issued identification card presented by the declarant in the copy of SALN

A brief from the Civil Service Commission defines business interests as “declarant’s existing interest in any business enterprise or entity, aside from his/her income from government.”

"Financial connection" meanwhile refers to “declarant’s existing connections with any business enterprise or entity, whether as a consultant, adviser and the like, with an exception of remuneration for services rendered.”

‘SALN’ with redacted info

Malacañang on Monday warned that the House move to tighten access to SALNs may be a violation of the Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, which requires public officials to disclose their finances.

The Constitution also provides that the declaration “shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.”

READ: Robredo says House’s ‘strict’ rules on SALN access ‘unjust’

The House of Representatives publishes a summarized list of lawmakers' SALNs every year. The summary, in table form, includes the lawmakers’ total assets, total liabilities and net worth.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has said the House resolution is a step backwards for transparency.

READ: NUJP: Tighter access to House members' SALNs means less transparency

The group noted that some redactions are understandable—such as withholding names of minors and the personal address of the lawmaker—but information on an elected official’s business, financial interests and relatives in government “could prove crucial in weeding out conflicts of interest and other anomalies.”

Investigations have been launched into public officials' possible impropriety on having business that may have received favor from the government, under the RA  3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Still no FOI Law

In December, the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition said that advocates had hoped that the Duterte administration would get a Freedom of Information Law passed. 

"With the rise of the president who held sway over our legislators and even had as one of his first official issuances an executive order that operationalized accessing information held by government, many expected a most open government and the passage of the FOI Law to be a Year 1 Christmas gift even," the coalition said in a statement published by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, a member of the coalition.

"Fast-forward to today and as we near mid-term elections, there is no FOI Law in sight," it said, adding attempts to freedom of information in the executive department have had limitations. 

"Several areas of concern have surfaced in fact, including excessive discretion on the approving person, privacy and confidentiality concerns, a wanting infrastructure, lack of training, ‘part-time’ institutional FOI officers, paranoia on supposed proprietary information, non-disclosure agreement first access later policies, among others," it also said.

"These all underscore that a clear Freedom of Information Law which clearly and completely outlines access and disclosure mechanisms is imperative for a functioning democracy. We don’t have that."

Former Rep. Erin Tañada III (Quezon), who was also part of the Right to Know! Right Now! Coalition, said the House resolution “protects corrupt officials and employees in government who do not want to be accountable to the public they serve.”

“As public servants, whether elected or appointed, we call for more public accountability and transparency, not less. Our people entrust the fate of governance on us," Tañada, a candidate for senator, added. — Kristine Joy Patag

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