THE new rules on the release of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of House of Representatives members could render useless several laws meant to prevent government abuse.
The SALN contains information such as net worth, properties, business interests, financial connections, including those of their spouses and minor children. It also requires disclosure of relatives in government positions.
Limiting access to this information could render as ineffective laws on the public’s right to information, and against political dynasties and corruption.
The House of Representatives issued last week Resolution No. 2467 stating that requests for SALN copies of House members are to be filed with the secretary-general’s office in a prescribed form and releases would have to be approved by the House in plenary session.
The deadline for the filing of SALN is on April 30. Requests for copies of SALN can be made immediately but release of these would have to be approved in plenary session or by majority of the members.
The one requesting for SALN copies would have to disclose personal information and purpose of request. Media people have to present an affidavit of affiliation and certification that he or she is a legitimate practitioner, reports said.
Not all information will be made available. For “privacy and security reasons,” the director of the House records management service may “redact or blacken” certain sensitive information such as address, location of properties, business and financial interests and names of relatives in government service, reports said.
If the request is approved, the one requesting will have to pay P300 for every copy. Getting copies of all 300 House members will cost the requesting person P90,000.
With all these limitations, it is doubtful if the public could still check corruption or if government is sincere in its promise of transparency and accountability. The long process in getting this information and the costs involved in securing copies are roadblocks put in place even before the member’s interests and ties could be examined.
There’s the freedom of information that mandates the release of government information so the public may know. Although President Rodrigo Duterte’s executive order on freedom of information covers only those in the executive branch, the limitation imposed by the House becomes more ominous.
There’s also the constitutional provision against political dynasties. How can this anti-political dynasty provision be invoked if details about a House member’s relatives in government cannot be disclosed?
Then, there are anti-corruption efforts that could no longer be pursued if properties owned by lawmakers, their spouses and minor children cannot be known. Imagine if the new rules were in effect at the time Joseph Estrada was President. His fortunes would not have been revealed.
These new rules by the House on SALN releases give the impression there is no transparency in government./ Sunstar Cebu