Was she required to file? How Sereno explains her missing SALNs

Lian Buan

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Was she required to file? How Sereno explains her missing SALNs
Sereno raises the argument that for most of the period from 1998 to 2006, she was on leave without pay and therefore not required to file her SALNs

MANILA, Philippines – In its draft articles of impeachment, the House justice committee accused Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of not filing a total of 17 Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) from the time when she was a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP).

Non-filing of SALN is a violation of Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. It is both a criminal and administrative charge.

This much is clear: Sereno worked in UP as a professor from 1986 to 2006, or a total of 20 years. On record, she has 3 SALNs filed in 1998, 2002, and 2006.

Where are the 17 other SALNs? Did she or did she not file them?

Let’s break down Sereno’s answers.

1. They are missing

“The Chief Justice continues to recover and retrieve her missing SALNs and will present them before the Senate sitting as the impeachment tribunal,” Sereno said in her 77-page comment.

2. JBC knows there were missing SALNs

Based on minutes of a Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) meeting when the body was vetting the chief justice nominees in 2012, Sereno informed the JBC that she did not submit 10 years’ worth of SALNs. There is a 10-year shelf life for SALNs of public officials.

“As early as July 20, 2012, the JBC en banc knew that the Chief Justice had not submitted to the JBC her SALNs when she was still a UP professor,” Sereno said.

3. There was clearance from UP

When Sereno left UP in 2006, she was given clearance by the UP Human Resources and Development Office (HRDO) which said she is “cleared of all academic and administrative liabilities.”

Sereno also cited a clearance signed by university officials, including former law school dean and now Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

Sereno said that RA 6713 requires the head of office to direct the individual to “take the necessary corrective action.”

“This duty of the head of office is mandatory. However, during her stint with the UP College of Law, the Chief Justice never received any directive to take any corrective action with respect to her SALNs,” she said in her comment.

4. Was she required?

Although she argued that there should be presumption of regularity and that she is working on retrieving the missing SALNs, she raised a question of requirements in filing a SALN.

Under RA 6713, those serving in “honorary capacity” shall not be required to file SALNs. The Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the law define “honorary capacity” as working without service credit or pay.

She also pointed out that in the anti-graft law or RA 3019, a public official required to file a SALN is defined as someone who is receiving compensation, even nominal, from the government.

“It follows that public officers who are without pay or those who do not receive compensation, are not required to file a SALN,” Sereno said.

She went on to point out that from 1998 to 2006, she was mostly on leave without pay. 

  • July 1, 1998 – October 16, 1998
  • June 1, 2000 – May 31, 2001
  • June 1, 2001 – May 31, 2002
  • November 1, 2003 – May 31, 2004
  • June 1, 2004 – October 31, 2004
  • February 11, 2005 – October 31, 2005
  • November 15, 2005 – May 31, 2006

“Since the record shows that the Chief Justice was on leave without pay during these periods, she was actually not required to file any SALN for these years,” Sereno said.

5. Precedent

Sereno cited a Supreme Court decision about a sheriff who was administratively charged for failing to file his SALN for 18 years.

The sheriff explained that he did not have copies of the SALNs or he might have lost them, which the SC accepted. It then ruled that there was insufficient basis to establish that the sheriff really did not file the SALNs.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, in his quo warranto petition, said that failure to file SALNs means Sereno “flunked the test of integrity,” which, he said, is a consitutional requirement to be chief justice.

Calida has been irected to reply to Sereno’s answer, before the en banc decides what next step to take. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.