3 takeaways from the impeachment trial

Marites Dañguilan Vitug
Government is supposed to be a sunny place where shady characters have no space

Marites D. VitugAs we reach the end of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, it’s time to take stock. There are 3 things I will take away from this breath-taking and historic episode in our country.

First. The SALN or Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, a document that has been, for decades, taken for granted by public officials, is now at the center of the government’s anti-corruption battle. What has once been routinely filled up and even treated in a cavalier manner by some has emerged as an effective tool in enforcing accountability.

The trial served as a nationwide awareness campaign on the assets and liabilities statement and what its uses are. Word and numbers that are committed to the SALN must be truthful. Nothing must be hidden. Each year’s SALN is a measure of an individual’s net worth and could be tracked down through the years he or she is in government.

When you are called to account, the SALN is the best evidence of one’s honesty and trustworthiness. 

Being in public service is demanding. After all, government is supposed to be a sunny place where shady characters have no space.

Second. Our bank secrecy laws, those that cover foreign currency deposits, are out of sync with the international community’s campaign against corruption and money laundering. After 9/11, the global financial regime pushed for transparency to detect money flows for terrorism and other crimes such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and bribery.

Yet here, as we’ve seen during the impeachment trial, only peso deposits are allowed to be probed, while dollar deposits are top secret. Even the Supreme Court weighed in, in favor of financial opacity when it stopped PSBank from disclosing the Chief Justice’s 5 dollar accounts.

In 2011, the Philippines was assessed by the Financial Secrecy Index as belonging to the “top end of the secrecy scale.” Here are some of the steps, the FSI report says, our country must take to be financially transparent: adequately curtail banking secrecy; fully comply with international anti-money laundering standards; and ratify other relevant international treaties relating to financial transparency.

Third. We have found a groundbreaking route to fight corruption, through the Office of the Ombudsman, who can use the waiver in the SALN — wherein the public official authorizes the Ombudsman to gather information from government agencies related to one’s assets and networth — to start a fact-finding investigation. This must be triggered by a worthy complaint from any citizen.

By doing this, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has raised the level of intolerance against graft and corruption, something we badly need. As others have already said, only those who have something to hide fear this new trail blazed by the Ombudsman.

Some lawyers question this, saying it clashes with bank secrecy laws. But, from a layperson’s point of view, the higher good — promoting transparency and enforcing accountability of public officials — should prevail.

I look forward to the testimony of the Chief Justice next week and to the end of this long-drawn trial. How our senators will vote will make history and either move our country to a better place or push it back.

As for the Supreme Court, now that it has been shaken to the core, the institution should open up and no longer be a chamber of secrets. – Rappler.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.