The House of Representatives’ move to restrict public access to the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth of lawmakers is a setback to increasing transparency in the government and potentially violates the Constitution, Senator Grace Poe said on Tuesday.
“One should not fear making public the SALN because that is how we determine the transparency of a particular lawmaker or government official,” Poe said.
Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public information and mass media and sponsor of the Freedom of Information bill, said House Resolution 2467 imposing stricter rules for the public to gain access to lawmakers’ SALN records “could be a violation of the Constitution” because Article 11, Section 17, says every government employee and official must disclose his or her SALN.
“We have inter-parliamentary courtesy but it’s a bit ridiculous… to take it up like a law that you need to approve it in plenary,” Poe said when asked about her reaction to the House plenary approval of SALN disclosures.
Poe said Senate President Vicente Sotto III had already spoken that there was no plan to tighten the rules in the Senate to gain access to the senators’ SALNs.
“They [House] have their own set of rules. It does not mean that the Senate approves of that. Our Senate President has already spoken, and that’s not how it should be,” Poe said.
Senator Win Gatchalian believes the SALN should be made readily available to a person requesting it since it is part of the Philippine culture of transparency.
If public servants had transparency, he said, there was more reason for them to have accountability to the people.
“We should make the process simpler, faster and more transparent,” Gatchalian said.
“We also need to balance those requesting who might use this to harass. We can also put safeguards. For those requesting, it should be legitimate enterprises, legitimate personalities.”
Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, requires public servants to make all public documents accessible to and readily available for public scrutiny.
The House of Representatives last week adopted the House resolution authored by Speaker and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and others. Under the new rules, plenary approval is required before gaining access to a House member’s SALN. The requesting party must also pay P300 for each SALN request, or a total of P87,300 for the SALNs of all 291 House members.
The new House rules also earlier established a committee on review and compliance that will grant or block requests for SALN copies. Plenary approval is also required in cases of denial by the review committee.