GETTING the responsible officials to talk about issues of compliance in form and in substance with the Statements on Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) law is sure to test anyone’s patience and stamina.
It took two weeks for Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to respond to a simple request from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) for an interview on the declared net worth of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The reply, sent by Ana Blesilda A. Manglallan, Associate Graft Investigator I, even turned out to be just a curt notice: “The said (PCIJ) letter was assigned to one of the lawyers of the Office of Legal Affairs for appropriate action.”
Gutierrez, a law school classmate of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, is supposedly swamped with work and meetings she could not sit down for an interview with, or even answer phone calls from, the PCIJ, according to her staff
Meantime, Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chairman Ricardo Saludo has yet to formally respond to a similar PCIJ request, also filed two weeks ago.
Saludo, a former journalist, had served as deputy spokesperson, Presidential Management Staff director, and secretary to the Cabinet of Arroyo before he was appointed CSC chair in 2008.
His chief executive assistant, lawyer Grace Ramos, did call late last Friday, but just to say that the PCIJ request was still being discussed by the commissioners. Saludo, according to another staff, was also busy last week for a taping of his television program, “Republic Service” that airs every Friday nights on the state-subsidized television channel NBN-4.
Yesterday, Saludo’s deputy, Ramos, called again, this time to say that Saludo could not grant the PCIJ an interview because questions about compliance with the SALN law might require “judicial determination” by a court of law, and that whatever he tells the PCIJ might be interpreted as a CSC ruling.
The PCIJ explained that the request was for a simple interview about the CSC’s lead role in enforcing the implementing rules and regulations of the law requiring officials to file SALNs before the April 30 deadline every year.
In addition, the PCIJ told Ramos that no “judicial determination” by the CSC was required because no legal suit has been filed against Arroyo, who enjoys immunity from suit while she remains president.
Republic Act No. 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, assigns the Ombudsman and the CSC lead roles in enforcing the SALN requirement. Indeed, their monitoring is key in policing what former Senator Rene A.V. Saguisag – main author of RA 6713 – describes as “a nation of scofflaws,” or habitual violators of the law.
The Constitution and Republic Act No. 6770 or The Ombudsman Act of 1987 also assigns the Ombudsman this mission: “promote integrity, efficiency, and the highest ethical standards in public service.”
Asked to comment on Arroyo’s SALNs, Saguisag says, “The president appears to be showing immense talent and creativity in, not just making their (Arroyos) assets grow, but in skirting the real spirit of the law on disclosing the source of her family’s growing income.”
In part, that may be because the institutions responsible for enforcing the law have been negligent in doing their duty.
Saguisag echoes other observers in saying that while “the Arroyos’ compliance has arguably been kenkoy,” other public officials have been as loose with their compliance with the law – and have gotten away with it.
The Ombudsman and the CSC are not the only institutions assigned to enforce the SALN law, however.
Republic Act 6713 assigns “the designated Committees of both Houses of the Congress” to establish “procedures for the review of statements to determine whether said statements which have been submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form.”
The law says, “(In) the event a determination is made that a statement is not so filed, the appropriate Committee shall so inform the reporting individual and direct him to take the necessary corrective action.” – PCIJ, August 2009