“HOW IRRESPONSIBLE,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail R. de la Fuente-Valte said on Tuesday, commenting on the PCIJ story on the non-disclosure of SALNs of many public officials.
In a series of tweets on Jan. 11, she told PCIJ: “thank you for making it seem that I refused to disclose my SALN to you. If you even checked the question I responded to… I wasn’t being asked 2 disclose my SALN. Nobody from your group has asked me 4 it. I have no problem giving it, minus my home… address & my son’s (a minor) name. How irresponsible!”
Valte’s boss, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, followed with: “@PCIJdotOrg – you have taken the quote of @abi_valte out of context. Pls reproduce the question and her entire response.”
Valte apparently seems unaware up to now that six days ago, there had already been a pending request for a copy of her SALN or Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth. In addition, Valte seems to have misread the PCIJ story, which focused primarily on top public officials who had kept these documents under lock and key. It did mention her and used a quote from her. But it did not say that she was “being asked 2 disclose my SALN.”
The point of the PCIJ story was simple enough: Three months ago, Valte considered disclosing SALNs as a “sensitive” matter, one of “the types of concerns that we are trying to solve when it comes to the freedom of information bill.’” Too, she said then: “That for me personally is a concern because I’m the one here (in government) and not my family,”
And yet in December 2011, she and Lacierda would become the most ardent advocates of SALN disclosure. Then the Palace announced its decision to push for the passage of the FOI bill. To be sure, we should all be happy about these recent developments.
The PCIJ respects as absolutely valid Valte’s concern about keeping some details of her SALNs secret. This is why in some jurisdictions, only redacted copies of the asset records of public officials – minus the addresses or the names of their children – are being disclosed. Ironically, though, many senior public officials are quite liberal with sharing even private information in social networking sites as Facebook.
In any case, perhaps her assistant failed to inform Valte about the recent request for her SALN. Last Jan. 6, the staff of GMANewsTV had filed a request for Undersecretary Valte’s SALN and Personal Data Sheets/Curriculum Vitae as of 2009-2011. The request was made for purposes of research, for updating the database of the network, and for an upcoming episode of “Investigative Documentaries (ID).”
The program aired every Thursday night on Channel 11 has PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas as its host. Three PCIJ editors, cofounders Sheila Coronel and Howie Severino, and Multimedia Director Ed Lingao, are also members of the program’s Board of Advisers. Research for the episode was being conducted jointly with the PCIJ.
Follow-up calls made with Kristine Basa, executive assistant of Valte’s boss, Lacierda, yielded no prompt SALN disclosure. Instead, Basa referred the ID program staff to the Malacañang Records Office (MRO). A staff from the MRO said the request was forwarded to the MRO because it is the repository of documents in Malacañang.
And so, on advice of Valte’s assistant, the “ID” program staff wrote a second request letter dated Jan. 11, 2012, this time addressed to MRO Director Marianito Dimaandal.
The latest update: the MRO today forwarded the request back to Valte’s office. The MRO said it returned the request to Valte’s office on account of the publication of the PCIJ story.
The request now sits on Valte’s table, pending action until Monday, when she will reportedly return from her leave. Basa assures us though that next week, Valte will sign the request and her SALN would soon be “good for releasing.”
So all that Valte has to do now is trigger its disclosure. Under Republic Act No. 6713, a public official, if he or she should have a copy of his or her own SALN, should just disclose it, and not have to refer or endorse requests to other agencies.
The fact is we’d really like Valte to get over her “concerns” and just comply with her obligation in law as a public official. In short, disclose her SALN.
A brief on the briefing
On Secretary Lacierda’s request, here are the relevant portions of Undersecretary Valte’s press briefing on Sept. 23, 2011 – and the questions that prompted her remarks – transcribed verbatim.
Question (Reporter Weng dela Fuente): Ma’am, on another issue, CBCP Chairman Bishop Pabelon is asking the President why is he not pursuing the Freedom of Information bill, kasi parang dito raw masisilip ang seriousness ng Aquino Administration in fighting corruption and in transparency?
Ms Valte: Well, on the contrary, patuloy po ang ating pag-aaral sa Freedom of Information, patuloy po yung ating pakikipag-ugnayan dun pos a mga advocates. Hindi na lang po kasi pwedeng ilabas na lang na ganito. Kailangan jo talagang makita natin at ma-address ’yung mga yun ho talagang mga concerns, ng lahat ng stakeholders.
Question (Weng dela Fuente): Why is it taking too long po kasi even before po sinabi, pinag-aaralan na?
Ms Valte: Hindi po kasi, kasi ang nangyayari po diyan, kapag meron po kasing isang concern na na-address, meron hong bagong lumalabas, and the concerns are from different sectors. Allow me to give you an example. ’Yun po sa SALN na pina-file ng mga opisyal, yung mga kasama po natin sa pamahalaan, nandun po kasi yung address, eh nandun po kasi ’yung pangalan ng mga anak, especially the minor children. And there are concerns for some na kapag nakuha po ito, meron pong, ah, concerns for security na nalalaman po kasi kung saan ang address niyo, nalalaman po ang ano, pangalan ng mga anak niyo. That for me personally is a concern because ako po ’yung nandito at hindi po ’yung pamilya ko. Ganito po yung mga concerns na sinusubukan po natin na, ah, ng solusyon, when it comes to the Freedom of Information bill. Another Weng, another concern, is that will the bureaucracy be able to handle the influx of requests that will come dahil nakita po natin in other jurisdictions, most especially in the Australian and the US and the UK models ang nagiging feedback po nila is you have to prepare the bureaucracy for a Freedom of Information law dahil ano po yon, ano po ba yong kakayanan po ba natin na magtayo ng isang ahensiya, isang unit na maghahandle ng lahat ng requests.Of course, diyan po lalabas yung pondo, logistical concerns. Marami hong mga ganito na unti-unti po nating inaaddress at iniisa-isa natin.
Question (Weng dela Fuente): Is it fair to gauge the seriousness of the administration’s campaign against corruption, sabi nga ni Bishop, by not pushing for the FOI?
Ms Valte: I think it will, it is just a facet in the entire subject of transparency dahil ngayon naman po, makikita naman po natin even with the Department of Budget and Management inilalagay nga po nila, they make available to the public ’yung the NEP nasinasubmit, yung mga releases po ng budget ng mga for bidding very strict po tayo diyan. And the DILG din po, tumutulong by telling the local government units that we have to, that we have to, that there are certain things that we have to make available to the public.”