July 7, 2010 · Posted in: The Judiciary

Justices keep SALNs secret

Our latest two-part report looks at why the Supreme Court and the judiciary remain a black hole in the avowed campaign for transparency and good governance of the new administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

For one, in several issuances since 2001, the Supreme Court has stubbornly refused to publicly disclose the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of its members, as well as that of 2,194 justices and judges, and 23,224 other court personnel. The Court’s argument: to protect members of the bench from harassment by hostile parties and litigants.

For another, the judiciary has so jealously guarded its purse and highly centralized disbursement of funds such that to this day, the Commission on Audit has not published on its website the audit report on the Supreme Court for 2008. A full three months after the April deadline, the report for 2009 has yet to be completed as well.

When it comes to disclosure of information on two matters – the personal wealth of the justices and judges, and the monies it spends to run the courts – the judiciary is much less forthcoming than most agencies of the Executive branch or even the Senate.

The judiciary seems to be singing a different song. It has yet to step up to the plate and be in tune with President Aquino’s solemn promise of good governance, which could only be enabled by transparency and respect for access to information. Then again, it is clearly the rule of law, or the prosecution of cases built on evidence before the courts that could assure that the promise will endure.

In the absence of the justices’s SALNs, the PCIJ launched a research into what could be their business interests and financial connections by mining public records of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Lex Libris database of judicial records, and wrote separate letters of inquiry to the justices. Only three justices did not respond to our letters.

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