The Supreme Court has ruled that while the laws on Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth aim to curtail the acquisition of unexplained wealth, they “do not automatically impose liability on erring public officials or employees.”
The SC made the ruling while ordering the dismissal of the administrative charges against Hurley Salig, who was then officer-in-charge of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) of Cavite, when he was slapped with an administrative case in 2005 for allegedly committing corrupt practices and amassing unexplained wealth.
“Wherefore, the petition is granted. The Decision dated May 23, 2014 and the Resolution dated Nov. 17, 2014 of the Court of Appeals . . . are reversed and set aside. The administrative charges against
respondent Hurley D. Salig are dismissed without pronouncement on costs of suit. So ordered,” the SC declared, in a decision that was made public last December 20, 2021.
Salig was employed in 1986 as a forester under the Bureau of Forest Development. He rose from the ranks until he was designated officer-in-charge of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) of Cavite.
In 2005, a complaint was filed against him alleging that he committed corrupt practices and acquired unexplained wealth.
The anonymous complainant alleged that Salig owned a three-story building in Calamba in Laguna, five vehicles, two nightclubs in Calamba, and other real properties.
The complaint was transmitted to the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission which endorsed it to the Office of the Ombudsman since Salig was not a presidential appointee.
In his counter-affidavit filed on Oct. 23, 2007, Salig said that his and his wife’s properties were lawfully acquired and that they took out loans to fund their business ventures.
He said that he inherited the house and lot in Los Banos, Laguna from his parents and that he acquired the property in Calamba City through a bank loan.
For their businesses, Salig said he obtained loans for them. For his vehicles, he said they were financed by various banks to support their car rental and travel and tour business.
The Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon did not agree. On March 26, 2012, the anti-graft body found Salig guilty of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and violation of RA 6713 for failure to declare his wealth in his SALNs for 2002 to 2005. He was ordered dismissed from the service.
The Ombudsman ruled that Salig acquired the properties that were manifestly disproportionate to his salary and other lawful income.
When his motion for reconsideration was denied, Salig elevated the case to the Court of Appeals which modified the anti-graft body’s ruling as it found him guilty of simple negligence with a penalty of six months suspension without pay.
The anti-graft body elevated the case to the SC. It insisted that there was a glaring discrepancy between Salig’s income and his and his wife’s properties and business interests since he was employed as a forester in 1986 until his appointment as Officer-in-Charge of PENRO.
It also claimed that the alleged additional resources in the form of loans to finance the vehicles and business ventures were found to be insufficient.
“It is clear that Section 10 of R.A. 6713 and its IRR allow for corrective measures. The head of office has the authority to establish compliance procedures and review whether SALNs have been submitted on time, complete, and in the proper form,” the SC said, in a decision penned by the now retired Associate Justice Edgardo Delos Santos.
“If it is determined that an employee did not file his or her SALN, or that the SALN has not been properly accomplished or has incomplete data, the head of office or compliance committee should inform the employee concerned and require him or her to file, correct, or supply the essential information, and make the necessary corrections,” he SC said.
The high court stressed that the review and compliance procedure serves as a mechanism that affords the public official or employee a final opportunity to comply with the requirements before any sanction is meted out. It seeks a fuller and more accurate disclosure of the necessary information.
“While the SALN is an instrument that ensures accountability, the review and compliance procedure work as a buffer that prevents the haphazard filing of actions against public officials and employees,” it said.
“Here, Salig’s failure to correct entries, supply missing information, or give proper attention to the filling out of his SALNs, without first calling his attention on the matter, could not be considered as indicative of untruthful declaration of assets, absent any concrete proof,” it added.
According to the SC, the concerned office or committee should have given Salig the opportunity to correct the entries in his SALNs to conform to the prescribed requirements at that time.
“Section 10 of R.A. 6713 and its IRR are clear that in the event the authorities determine that a statement is not properly filed, they shall inform the reporting individual and direct him or her to take