GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/25 March) — That two-part exposé of the Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) last March 14 and 15 on how top Philippine government officials comply with the legal requirements in the filing of their SALNs (Statement of Asset, Liabilities and Net Worth) as mandated by the 1987 Constitution was both timely and provocative – timely to highlight the CJ Corona impeachment; provocative in matters concerning Filipino conscience if there is such a conscience.
[“SALN: Good law, bad results (1)” and “SALN: Good filers, big barriers (2)” and the two sidebars are accessible under “Special Report” in www.mindanews.com and in the PCIJ website, pcij.org]
Obviously, taking note of the public interest on the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, PCIJ would like the nation to be seriously concerned about how the country’s top officials have trivialized “a good law”. PCIJ observed that the impeachment “seems” to have given the SALN “the attention it deserves at last” but wondered whether this “would finally shame public servants into taking seriously and accomplishing it beyond token compliance”.
The prosecutors have charged: “Corona misdeclared, underdeclared, or did not declare multimillion pesos of cash and other assets.” This, however, is highlighted by “one inconvenient truth” that is: “misdeclaration, underdeclaration, and non-declaration of all sorts of assets in SALNs are rampant across branches of government, political parties, and administrations.”
With very few exceptions as rare as water hole in the desert, PCIJ showed that most top officials – the President, members of his Cabinet, the Ombudsman, and some of the impeachment court judges and prosecutors – are, in varying degrees, liable of PCIJ’s general finding from “about 1,500” SALNs gathered since1998: “SALNs are mostly deficient in form and substance, with the habitual and seemingly non-disclosure pointing to flagrant sins of commission instead of mere sins of omission.”
PCIJ reveals the constraints from a double-faced bureaucracy thwarting its efforts to expose how the SALN law has been trivialized. It bemoans: “Tellingly, too, instead of providing the public greater access to SALNs, internal guidelines in the judiciary, the House of Representatives, and the Ombudsman have led to the opposite and have created more barriers to securing copies of a document that was supposed to help foster transparency in government.”
If previous exposés did not generate much interest, this last one did. It’s in impeachment headlines. The CJ Corona defense panel had asked the impeachment court to subpoena PCIJ editor Malou Mangahas as its witness and use the exposé as its evidence; but the IC denied and PCIJ rebuffed the CJ Corona lawyers’ request for its irrelevance.
From the PCIJ exposé, it can be seen how the SALN law is being honored on the breach. The President and all other top officials of the land in the same boat should feel the pang of conscience. They are off the “matuwid na daan ó landas” (straight path) still blaring their “wang-wang” (siren).
This should provoke the Filipinos and their leaders to look far beyond the exposé and see how most laws are honored. It may not be difficult to understand the state of the rule of law in the country and, consequently, the state of the country. To cite a few examples:
Our tax laws and their implementing rules and regulations are good. But at the extent they are being evaded, it is wondered if the Bureau of Internal Revenue is collecting 50 percent of all collectibles. The government borrows billions of pesos to cover deficits.
Our forest laws are good. They require logged-over areas to be reforested. The loggers did not comply; the government did not mind. Our rivers have dried up. Whole towns are devastated when typhoons bring heavy rains.
Our election laws are good. But they are very easy to violate; on the contrary, it is most difficult to prosecute the violators. How many in Congress and in the local governments can honestly say they have won without violating the rule limiting election expenses?
IPRA or RA 8371 renders justice to indigenous people by granting them their ancestral lands. But justice is meaningless without the means to develop the lands. Then come the miners who under the mining laws have prior rights over the minerals below the land; the indigenous people only own the title. Here’s a case of one law ruling over another law.
The farther we look beyond the PCIJ exposé, the more we will see how good laws that like the SALN law are implemented to primarily serve not the public interest so intended but that of the rulers of the land. That is the rule of law our rulers so zealously defend rooted in their unscrupulous conscience.
Also beyond the PCIJ exposé is the need for an upright Filipino conscience to prevail. (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)