PNoy breaks promise, says SALN enough
MANILA, Philippines - At the height of the presidential campaign in February 2010, then candidate Benigno Aquino III promised that if elected, he will waive his rights under the bank secrecy law “to set an example for others in his administration.”
"I am willing if necessary (to waive my rights under the Bank Secrecy Law)...but I will not presume for others who will join government," then Senator Aquino said. His statement remains archived in the Senate website.
Two years later, President Aquino is taking back his campaign promise.
He said the waiver that he and members of his Cabinet signed in their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) is enough. (All public employees are required to fill up their SALN.)
“Pare-pareho naman kaming pumirma ng SALN eh. Nakalagay doon sa baba na ‘I authorize the Ombudsman to view all of my accounts,’ di ba? So ano pang pipirmahan ko. I have signed,” he told reporters in Iloilo on Friday, June 1.
“On the form, before you affix your signature, there is a provision that says pwedeng buksan ng Ombudsman anytime,” he added.
The President and other government officials have been under pressure to allow public scrutiny of their banks following the conviction of former Chief Justice Renato Corona for failing to accurately declare his assets in his SALN.
In a last-minute attempt to win an acquittal, Corona signed a waiver allowing government agencies to open his bank accounts, saying he chose not to declare these because of a law on confidentiality of dollar deposits. Corona dared other government officials to do the same.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano echoed Corona's challenge. “I ask the President to instruct his Cabinet to sign the waivers or resign and leave the government.... Lead by following, or get out of the way," Cayetano said when he explained his vote to convict Corona on May 29.
SALN waiver not enough
Lawmakers have dismissed Corona’s challenge as a mere gimmick. Like President Aquino, they said the waiver in the SALN is enough. It allows the Ombudsman to seek the help of various government agencies to verify the declarations made by government officials.
But is the waiver in the SALN enough?
It is not, as shown in the Corona impeachment trial.
The Ombudsman can get bank records of government officials from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), a government agency. But in the absence of a waiver signed by the depositor, the Ombudsman cannot go to the banks, which are commercial institutions.
Corona’s trial showed that the AMLC records are incomplete. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales found it difficult to determine the ending balances of Corona’s bank accounts, for example.
By law, bank and other financial institutions are required to submit to the AMLC records of bank transactions amounting to P500,000 and more. Transactions less than the amount are not reported to AMLC.
AMLC records on Corona’s bank transactions show an inflow of US$28,000 and outflow of $30,000.
President Aquino has concerns about signing the waiver. He fears that if his bank account numbers are divulged, his critics can sabotage him by depositing money in his accounts.
"Pareho naman tayong dumadaan ng bangko. Kapag nagwi-withdraw ka, mahigpit. Kapag nagde-deposit, hindi kasing higpit. Sa araw-araw na ginawa ng Diyos, kapag nilagay ko yung aking account number, may nagdeposito dyan, magpapaliwanag pa ako na hindi ko alam pumasok. Isasarado ko 'yung account na 'yun para maprotektahan sarili ko at magbubukas ako ng panibago. Tatanungin ninyo 'yung bagong numero. Babalik na naman tayo sa sitwasyon an ilalagay ko sa baul sa bahay kung ano man ang ari-arian ko," the President said.
Yet, on Thursday, May 31, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters that the President had no foreign-currency bank account.
In an interview Friday, June 1, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said President Aquino "has more than complied with his campaign promise" because the SALN waiver is even "more comprehensive."
"The Ombudsman can check not only a government official's cash but also his properties. It's easy to tell how much a government official earns and determine if this person's assets are proportionate to his assets," Lacierda said.
"The Ombudsman can check not only the records of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, but also records of the Bureau of Internal Revenue," Lacierda added.
Critics have dismissed Malacanang's explanations as "palusot," or a lame excuse.
“President Aquino missed the point entirely. Due to our bank secrecy laws, the waivers become the litmus test for public officials to show that they are transparent and have nothing to hide. The question now is, may tinatago ba siya?” said Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño.
Amid criticisms, Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad assured the public that the Aquino government is "deeply committed to meaningful transparency and accountability in government."
Abad said the Freedom of Information Bill is one approach.
"The Administration has presented its version of the FOI, and it was largely adopted in the Senate Public Information and Mass Media Committee’s version as well as the version being finalized by the counterpart Committee in the House of Representatives. We are expecting that the FOI will soon undergo plenary deliberations in both Houses of Congress," Abad said.
The administration version of the bill mandates that SALNs should be published on government websites. – Rappler.com