Arjay Ivan R. Gorospe
After two party-list representatives topped the list of multimillionaires in the 17th Congress, the House of Representatives (HoR) made it difficult for the public to access and assess the true agenda of solons running for another term in this year’s midterm elections.
Around two weeks before the campaign period officially started on February 12, the HoR on January 30 adopted House Resolution (HR) 2467 to set stricter rules for the public to access the full Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth (SALNs) of congressmen and regular employees of the chamber.
SALN is a declaration of a government employees’ personal properties, cash on hand or in banks, stocks, and business interests. This document has played a big role in the ouster of then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who failed to file her SALN 17 times, and also of Renato Corona in 2012, who failed to declare his properties.
After being found guilty of not declaring $2.4 million in bank deposits and P80 million in three peso accounts, Corona was kicked off as the highest magistrate in the country. It was May 2012 when the Senate court voted 20-3 to impeach him for failing to declare properties in his SALN.
HR 2467 or the resolution to adopt the proposed rules of procedure in the filing review and disclosure of, and access to, the SALNs of members, officials, and employees of the HoR was introduced by incumbent Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This is almost the same thing Ousted Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez introduced as HR 1410 in 2017.
The Alvarez proposal states that members of the review committee must be selected by the speaker upon the recommendation of the Committee on Rules. Meanwhile, in the HR authored by Arroyo, the speaker alone can pick the committee members.
However, the proposal of Alvarez was not acted upon in his term. The ones who co-authored this resolution along with him include former Majority Leader Rolando Farinas of Ilocos Norte 1st District, former Senior Deputy Majority Leader Juan Pablo Bondoc of Pampanga 4th District, and SALN Review and Compliance and Committee Chairperson Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro 2nd District.
After his ouster, Arroyo authored HR 2467 and had it filed and approved on the same day she replaced Alvarez in 2018.
Based on HR No. 2467, anyone who likes to access a lawmaker’s full Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth (SALNs) would have to earn the approval of the House plenary. This means that the verdict on whether to give it or not is up to the decision of the congressmen.
After the impeachment of Corona in 2012, Congressmen have ceased to automatically release their SALNs. Former Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. then established a committee tasked with creating rules and procedures regarding public access to SALNs.
Article II of the constitution, meanwhile, guarantees the right of the people to information on matters of public concern. In addition, Republic Act 6713 or the act establishing a code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials states that SALNs of government officials should be publicly available.
However, under HR 2467, anyone who would like to gain access to the SALNs of congressmen would have to file a request at the Office of the Secretary General. Moreover, journalists who would like to have a copy of the SALNs would have to provide “proof under oath” of their media company as well as a certification from a House-accredited media organization in order to prove that they are legitimate media practitioners.
HR 2467 is considered an opposite move against the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, a priority of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The Executive Order No. 2, which Duterte signed in 2016, strengthens FOI in the executive branch. However, after a year, Malacanang erased family and address information from the SALN, because they believe that public officials still have private lives.