MANILA — Senate aspirant and Sorsogon Gov. Francis “Chiz” Escudero wants those seeking elective posts in the 2022 national elections to disclose their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) to give voters informed decision when choosing the next public officials last November 13.

“Releasing one’s SALN will also boost a candidate’s credibility and integrity,” Escudero said. 

“Kung alam ng mga botante ang SALN  mga tumatakbo, maari itong makatulong sa ating mga kababayan sa kanilang pagpili ng mga kandidato para sa darating na halalan,” he added.

Escudero, who is seeking to return to the Senate in 2022, said the execution of a bank secrecy waiver by public officials and those seeking public posts will be the “proof of their honest intent in rendering public service and an assurance against theft of public funds.” 

“Wala akong nakikitang dahilan para ito ipagdamot sa mga botante kung nais ng kandidato na tunay na maglingkod sa publiko,” he said.

In a report by ABS-CBN NewsEscudero during his two terms as senator filed a bill seeking to require public officials and employees to submit a bank waiver to the Office of the Ombudsman alongside the filing of their SALNs. 

In 2010, Escudero filed Senate bill 107 or the Submission of Waiver of Bank Deposits bill for the mandatory signing of bank waivers following the controversy involving the illegal use of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) funds.

“I will refile the bill in my next Senate term. A similar waiver was required of Chief Justice Renato Corona during his impeachment trial and it only follows that all those in government service should be subjected to the same rules and standard,” Escudero said.

In a Senate press release, Escudero said that signed waivers on bank deposits should accompany the filing of the SALN of public officials. 

“The bill on the waiver of secrecy of bank deposits is the missing link to prevent public officials from using the banking system to hide plundered funds,” he said.

Ombudsman proposes imprisonment for those making SALN commentaries 

In another report by ABS-CBN Newsthe Office of the Ombudsman in 2020 issued a memorandum listing qualification to gain access to a public official’s SALN. 

The move limits the release of a public official’s SALN for official probes, by court order or upon authority from officials themselves.

“All requests by government agencies for the SALNs of their officials and employees for any purpose shall be denied unless the request form is supported by the declarant’s notarized letter of authority,” according to the memorandum. 

In September, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said he wants the country’s laws on the release of SALNs of public officials reconciled with proposed jail time for those making commentaries on such documents.

“I want to reconcile (Republic Act ) 6713 with (Republic Act ) 3019 on the SALN, provide safety nets so that a SALN can be published but no person should be allowed to comment on the SALN of a particular government official or employee,” Martires said during his appearance before the House Appropriations Committee for his agency’s proposed 2022 budget, referring to the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, respectively. 

In another report by ABS-CBN NewsMartires said those liable may be imprisoned for not less than five years despite suggesting that “stringent penalties” on those making a public comment on any SALN is not allowed under RA 6713. 

“What is happening right now is we compare the SALN of this government official, current year and the previous year. If there is an increase, they will immediately say, “O, bakit tumaas ang SALN ni Ombudsman?” he said, maintaining that the publication of a SALN is allowed but “making any comment” on it is not.

“I am a victim of that. I had wanted to prove to my staff what the media can do to destroy a government official. I give my SALN. What happened? The following day, it was the banner story in one of the leading newspapers. “Ombudsman richer by PHP15M in 3 months.” So, parang kumikita ako ng PHP5M isang buwan”, he added. 

Martires is also proposing that “repositories of the SALN be given authority to release, saying current guidelines are not clear on this and that they even get blamed for not releasing the SALN of the President and the Vice-president.” 

“Pinagtataka ko naman po, bakit napaka-interesado natin sa SALN ng Presidente at Bise Presidente? Bakit hindi tayo interesado sa SALN ng ibang opisyal ng gobyerno?” he asked. 

“I really do not know what purpose these people have for asking the SALN of the President, specifically, and the Vice-president. What is in those offices? Is it only the President and Vice- president who’s capable of corruption? Isn’t corruption starting in the grassroots, from the ranks of the clerks?”  

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate opposed the Ombudsman’s stance, labelling it dangerous as he cited the public’s right to freedom of expression.

“Hindi ba napaka-dangerous noon, na ipenalize natin ang ating mga mamamayan kung nagtatanong sila dahil guaranteed naman sa ating Constitution na meron silang freedom of expression and also the principle of transparency and accountability?” Zarate said. 

“In the case of the President, the Vice-president, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law,” Article XI, Section 17 of the Constitution states. 

Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela, on the other hand, called Martires’ proposal to criminalize commentaries on public officials’ SALN as ridiculous and will send a “chilling effect for an act that should not even be treated as a crime.” 

“Bakit gagawing krimen ang pagiging mapagmatyag sa yaman ng mga nakaupong opisyal, 

pero hindi iniimbestigahan ang mga opisyal na sangkot sa maling paggamit ng pondo ng bayan sa panahon ng pandemya?” she said. 

“Any attempt to clip free discourse on the wealth of public officials is a direct attack on free speech, and a move to shield sitting officers from public scrutiny,” she added, noting that “SALNs are supposedly public documents, and public interpretations based on such should be allowed.” 

Last July, the Supreme Court junked a petition challenging Martires’ memorandum circular last year, saying there was no actual case. 

Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has told her successor to follow the anti-graft law “to the letter.” 

“It goes against the constitutional principle that public office is a public trust,” she said. 

“You are supposed to be transparent,” she added.