We have heard about the obligation of public officials to file a statement of assets and liabilities. Now, a sitting congressman (like a true son of the First Couple) is facing questions about assets he allegedly has in the
The law on this is pretty clear, or at least it appears to be so before someone is actually accused of a violation.
The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act
Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, requires that a public officer file his statement of assets and liabilities as follows:
“SEC. 7. Statement of Assets and Liabilities. — Every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office and, thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of the corresponding Department Head, or in the case of Head of Department or Chief of an independent office, with the Office of the President, a true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities, including a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year: Provided, That public officers assuming office less than two months before the end of the calendar year, may file their first statement or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of said calendar year.” [Underscoring supplied]
The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees
There is a similar and more detailed requirement in Republic Act No. 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees:
“SEC. 8. Statements and Disclosure. — Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households. [Underscoring supplied]
(A) Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Financial Disclosure. — All public officials and employees, except those who serve in an honorary capacity, laborers and casual or temporary workers, shall file under oath their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and the Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and those of their spouses and unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.
The two documents shall contain information on the following:
(a) real property, its improvements, acquisition costs, assessed value and current fair market value;
(b) personal property and acquisition cost;
(c) all other assets such as investments, cash on hand or in banks, stocks, bonds, and the like;
(d) liabilities; and
(e) all business interests and financial connections.
All public officials and employees required under this section to file the aforestated documents shall also execute within thirty (30) days from the date of their assumption of office, the necessary authority in favor of the Ombudsman to obtain from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue, such documents as may show their liabilities, net worth, and also their business interests and financial connections in previous years, including, if possible the year when they first assumed any office in the government.”
Disclosure of the business interests and financial connections of public officials and employees are made pursuant to Section 1(a)(2), Rule VII of the Rules implementing R.A. No. 6713 which states:
“(2) The Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections shall contain information on any existing interests in, or any existing connections with, any business enterprises or entities, whether as proprietor, investor, promoter, partner, shareholder, officer, managing director, executive, creditor, lawyer, legal consultant or adviser, financial or business consultant, accountant, auditor, and the like, the names and addresses of the business enterprises or entities, the dates when such interests or connections were established, and such other details as will show the nature of the interests or connections.”
The Supreme Court has found that the requirement for such statements is a means to prevent corruption and unexplained wealth. It quoted the succeeding section of R.A. 3019 thus:
“Sec. 8. Prima Facie Evidence of and Dismissal Due to Unexplained Wealth. — If in accordance with the provisions of Republic Act Numbered One Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Nine, a public official has been found to have acquired during his incumbency, whether in his name or in the name of other persons, an amount of property and/or money manifestly out of proportion to his salary and to his other lawful income, that fact shall be ground for dismissal or removal. Properties in the name of the spouse and dependents of such public official may be taken into consideration, when their acquisition through legitimate means cannot be satisfactorily shown. Bank deposits in the name of or manifestly excessive expenditures incurred by the public official, his spouse or any of their dependents including but not limited to activities in any club or association or any ostentatious display of wealth including frequent travel abroad of a non-official character by any public official when such activities entail expenses evidently out of proportion to legitimate income, shall likewise be taken into consideration in the enforcement of this Section, notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary. The circumstances hereinabove mentioned shall constitute valid ground for the administrative suspension of the public official concerned for an indefinite period until the investigation of the unexplained wealth is completed.
Section 8 above, speaks of unlawful acquisition of wealth, the evil sought to be suppressed and avoided, and Section 7, which mandates full disclosure of wealth in the SALN, is a means of preventing said evil and is aimed particularly at curtailing and minimizing the opportunities for official corruption and maintaining a standard of honesty in the public service. "Unexplained" matter normally results from "non-disclosure" or concealment of vital facts. SALN, which all public officials and employees are mandated to file, are the means to achieve the policy of accountability of all public officers and employees in the government. By the SALN, the public are able to monitor movement in the fortune of a public official; it is a valid check and balance mechanism to verify undisclosed properties and wealth. THE OMBUDSMAN, et al. vs. VALEROSO, [G.R. No. 167828. April 2, 2007.] (Underscoring supplied)
Unfortunately, the courts have not adhered to a strict and literal interpretation of what the law requires. Mere negligence can be claimed as a defense. In one case where the accused was charged of gross misconduct and dishonesty for failing to comply with Section 7 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and Section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, it was held:
Negligence is the omission of the diligence which is required by the nature of the obligation and corresponds with the circumstances of the persons, of the time and of the place. In the case of public officials, there is negligence when there is a breach of duty or failure to perform the obligation, and there is gross negligence when a breach of duty is flagrant and palpable. Both Section 7 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees require the accomplishment and submission of a true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities. Petitioner was negligent for failing to comply with his duty to provide a detailed list of his assets and business interests in his SALN. He was also negligent in relying on the family bookkeeper/accountant to fill out his SALN and in signing the same without checking or verifying the entries therein. Petitioner's negligence, though, is only simple and not gross, in the absence of bad faith or the intent to mislead or deceive on his part, and in consideration of the fact that his SALNs actually disclose the full extent of his assets and the fact that he and his wife had other business interests. PLEYTO vs. PNP-CIDG, [G.R. No. 169982. November 23, 2007.].”
The Sandiganbayan has recently acquitted a general from a charge of perjury based on the SALN which he filed. It gave credence to his defense that it was a good faith error on his part when he failed to itemize the three (3) vehicles which he owned in the statement subject of the complaint. Hence, the amount that he placed there could have related to any one of them. And since the other two (2) were owned with his wife, the failure of the AFP to provide a form which required him to include conjugal properties as part of his declaration absolved him from any wrongdoing [Punongbayan, “Former AFP comptroller acquitted of perjury” (The Philippine Star) Updated June 19, 2009 12:00AM, http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleid=478996].
The pressing need to curtail corruption must take priority in how the SALN is evaluated. The SALN’s purpose of detailing the public officials’ (growing) wealth must not be belittled by accepting claims of negligence. If they can’t be subject to perjury for “mistakes” in their SALNs, what good is there in requiring the SALN?
It does seem tricky, if you look at the statement required with a view to hide and to obfuscate. But in reality, it is as simple as telling the whole truth and nothing but. It does not seem too much to ask of our public servants.