New FOI bill mandates disclosure of High Court SALNs
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Malacañang’s proposed substitute bill for the Freedom of Information Act of 2012 mandates the disclosure of the annual statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of national officials, including justices of the Supreme Court.
Section 7 of the proposed measure provides:
“In fulfillment of Article 11, Section 17 of the Constitution, the following national officials shall provide to the public their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) on an annual basis on their official website:
(1) the President,
(2) the Vice President,
(3) the Members of the Cabinet,
(4) the Congress,
(5) the Supreme Court,
(6) the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices,
(7) and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank.”
How to reconcile this with the 1992 Supreme Court en banc resolution that allows the denial of certain requests for justice’s or judge’s SALN on certain grounds? The resolution aims to shield judges and justices from “deceptive requests” for information that could lead to intimidation, harassments and “fishing expedition.”
Undersecretary Manolo Quezon of Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) said consultations can be made to craft the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to spell out which portions of the SALN can be redacted or not released to the public, like an official’s home address and names of an official’s children.
“The idea is the Constitution mandates the disclosure. Therefore the first imperative that this law imposes is that you have to put it up there,” Quezon said.
“A good argument could be made that certain information that is not germane to the information that is supposed to be there can be redacted. For example, your address or even the names of your children or where they go to school. What is important to put out—and again this came out clearly from our discussion. The media, civil society, the public wants to know: Ano ang mga ari-arian mo? Magkano ang halaga nito? Kailan mo binili, minana, or whatever? Sa nakaraang taon at ngayong taon, paano ba nag-iba ang net worth mo? I think we can all agree that this is the important information,” he added.
“Other things—this law also protects your privacy and security—could be discussed and placed under the IRRs as redactable or pwedeng iblack-out. Ang mahalaga merong pagpapatunay na nandun ‘yung SALN, nandun ‘yung mga mahahalagang bagay na dapat nasa loob ng SALN, may batayan ang publiko upang timbangin kung ano ba ang [halaga] ng ari-arian ng isang miyembro ng gabinete o miymebro ng kataas-taasang hukuman at paano ito nag-iiba sa paglipas ng mga taon."
Malacañang submitted the draft Thursday to Congress which would then be put under deliberations.
In his letter to House committee on public information chair Ben Evardone, Budget Secretary Butch Abad said that submitting the substitute bill “would allow the most expeditious deliberations and enacted by the House.” Quezon said the hope is to have this passed before the 15th Congress ends.
Under the bill, certain information would remain classified and could therefore not be made public, including information that would “unduly compromise or interfere with any legitimate military or law enforcement operation” and information that would “endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.”
Administrative cases can be filed against any public official or employee who fails to act on requests within the periods required by the Act. Criminal charges may be filed against officials or employees who would lie about the availability of the information requested or for destroying information being requested.