New SALN form 'fills gaps' spotted in Corona trial

MANILA, Philippines - More than a year after the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, the Civil Service Commission on Friday, January 25, released a new Statement of Assets, Liablities and Net Worth (SALN) form that seeks to correct faults found during the trial. 

Accompanied by a new list of guidelines on how to fill it out, the "simpler, more user-friendly" version of the SALN requires public officials, among other changes, to declare the exclusive properties of their spouse even if the spouse is not a public official. 

To address the confusion over what the "assessed value" and "current fair market value" of real properties (such as house and lots) should be, the form now indicates that those values will be based on the tax declarations of the corresponding real property. 

The acquisition cost of properties was one of the contentious topics during the Corona impeachment trial. When he filled out his SALN forms, Corona only declared the assessed value and current fair market values of his properties, not their acquisition costs. 

The technical working group that designed the new form also addressed issues that were raised over the 2011 form, such as concerns over its legality and infringement of privacy, said Civil Service Commission Chairman Francisco Duque. 

The new form will be used by officials to file their SALNs on or before April 30. Failure to submit the SALN forms can lead to a suspension of one to 6 months for the first offense and dismissal from service for the 2nd offense. 

What else must be declared?

If husband and wife are both public officials, they can choose to file their SALNs jointly or separately. 

The previous version of SALN forms did not deliberately state that spouses, who are not public officials, are required to declare their assets. 

This was the reason why the Sandiganbayan acquitted former military comptroller Gen Carlos Garcia in 2008 from perjury charges over motor vehicles owned by his wife which he did not declare in his SALN. 

This time around, the guidelines of the new forms categorically state that the exclusive properties of spouses who are not public officials must also be declared. 

However, these properties will not be used to compute the net worth of the government official. 

For "co-mingled" funds, such as in the case of Corona, Duque said the filer must indicate the percentage he owns in the funds. 

SIMPLER. Page 1 of the new SALN form

SIMPLER.

Page 1 of the new SALN form

Public officials also have to declare their business interests and financial connections, as well as relatives up to the 4th degree of consanguinity, who are in the government service. 

Sections removed 

Although additional safeguards were introduced by the guidelines -- such as the increased responsibility of compliance committees to assess whether filers have completed all details required in the SALN, the new form removed certain sections from the 2011 form.

Sections on the declaration of amount and sources of gross income, the amount of personal expenses, and the amount of income taxes paid have been deleted. 

CSC Assistant Commissioner Ariel Ronquillo said they were removed because the TWG found there had no legal basis to include such sections -- based on Republic Act 6713

"It is not in the law. Anyway, whatever the properties are that are with you, whether you acquired it through business or salary, you will still have to declare that. You will notice that this SALN is truly compliant with what the law requires," Ronquino said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

No improvements in accessibility 

The physical SALN forms may have changed but those who are seeking to access the SALNs of public officials must know that the reforms do not cover procedures in obtaining such documents.

Duque said the accessibility of the documents are indicated in RA 6713 and they can only change if the law is amended. 

At the moment, Duque said, it would be difficult to impose a centralized system to make SALNs accessible because the different agencies that handle SALN submissions have varying guidelines as well. 

In the House of Representatives, for example, the consent of individual solons is required before the Office of the Secretary-General can release SALNs.  

Other offices, such as the Ombudsman, and the Supreme Court, also have their own guidelines. 

Public vigilance needed

Although the SALN is designed as a tool against corruption, Duque admitted that the Civil Service Commission does not have the capacity to scrutinize the declarations of all public officials. 

For the SALNs to be an effective anti-corruption tool, there is a need for citizens themselves to be pro-active in reporting and monitoring their public officials.

"The whole point of this is to use the SALN whenever there are complaints regarding the extravagant lifestyle of officials, which are not appropriate with his salary. It will have more significance if we will use this alongside lifestyle checks because we cannot scrutinize all 1.4 million employees of the government one by one," Duque said. 

In December, the CSC launched a central hotline for citizens who wish to file complaints. - Rappler.com