By Karol Ilagan, PCIJ

Contrary to laws, public access to the SALNs has been problematic, with custodians issuing directives that either go beyond reasonable requirements or plainly restrict access.

There are three laws that govern the filing of the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth or SALN: Republic Act (RA) 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), the 1987 Constitution, and RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).

The requirement to file wealth disclosure records began in 1960 with the passage of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Back then, officials were required to submit, apart from their assets and liabilities, amounts and sources of their income, their personal and family expenses, as well as income taxes paid.

But these details weren’t made public. They became available for public scrutiny in the 1987 Constitution for the highest officials of the country, and then in RA 6713, for lower-ranking officials as well.

The late Blas Ople, a commissioner of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, said that one of the goals of the policy to disclose SALNs is to develop “a higher level of ethical practice in the government.”

Article XI, Section 17 of the Constitution requires that the SALN of the president, vice president, members of the cabinet, Congress, Supreme Court, constitutional commissions and other constitutional offices and officers of the armed forces with the general or flag rank be disclosed to the public following procedures set by law.

RA 6713, which was passed in 1989, extended the requirement to all public officials and employees, except those who serve in an honorary capacity as well as temporary laborers and casual workers.

Also known as the SALN Law, RA 6713 imposes three main obligations on public officials and employees: to make a truthful declaration; to submit such declaration; and for the custodian to publicly disclose these records.

Public officials and employees need to file under oath their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth and disclosures of their business interests and financial connections. They must also disclose the wealth of their spouses and unmarried children under 18 living in their households. (See sidebar: What’s in a SALN anyway?)

The SALN is filed in three instances: within 30 days after assumption of office, on or before April 30 of every year; and within 30 days after separation from the service.

Once filed, the SALNs become the responsibility of the custodians, which must keep and make them available to the public. Among the SALN repositories are the Office of the Ombudsman, Secretaries of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court, Court Administrators, Office of the President, and the Civil Service Commission. An official’s or employee’s office must also keep a copy of his or her SALN. (See sidebar: A citizen’s guide to where and how to file a SALN)

By law, SALNs should be accessible and open for inspection at reasonable hours, available for copying after 10 working days from the time they are filed, and available to the public for 10 years from receipt of the record.

In practice, public access to the SALNs has been problematic, with custodians issuing directives that either go beyond reasonable requirements or plainly restrict access. (See main story: Duterte’s SALNs secret; PCIJ makes public wealth disclosures of all presidents since Cory) – PCIJ, October 2020

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