Omissions in SALN

Article II of the impeachment complaint charges Chief Justice Renato Corona with failure to include “some of [his] properties” in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth. If proven, what is the penalty for such omissions? So readers ask.

Dismissal from service. In Rabe vs Flores (May 14, 1997), the Supreme Court en banc unanimously dismissed from the service—with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and accrued leaves and with prejudice to reemployment—a Regional Trial Court (RTC) interpreter for dishonesty and for failure to disclose in her SALNs her business interest, which was “a stall in the market.”

The Supreme Court held: “Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6713 provides that it is the ‘obligation’ of an employee to submit a sworn statement as the ‘public has a right to know’ the employee’s assets, liabilities and net worth and financial and business interests. Section 11 of the same law prescribes the criminal and administrative penalty for violation of any provision thereof. Paragraph (b) of Section 11 provides that ‘(b) Any violation hereof proven in a proper administrative proceeding shall be sufficient cause for removal or dismissal of a public official or employee, even if no criminal prosecution is instituted against him.’”

In Concerned Taxpayer vs Doblada (June 8, 2005), an RTC sheriff was dismissed for “his failure to declare a true and detailed SALN” for several years. “There were discrepancies, inconsistencies and omissions in his SALNs, consisting of properties and business interests acquired but which were declared in his SALNs only two or more years later.”

Accuracy of entries required. Flores vs Montemayor (June 8, 2011) reiterated the penalty of dismissal for the respondent’s unjustified failure to declare “two expensive cars” in his 2001 and 2002 SALNs. Ruled the Supreme Court:

“Pursuant to Section 11, paragraph (b) of RA No. 6713, any violation of the law ‘proven in a proper administrative proceeding shall be sufficient cause for removal or dismissal of a public official or employee, even if no criminal prosecution is instituted against him.’ Respondent’s deliberate attempt to evade the mandatory disclosure of all assets acquired … was evident when he first claimed that the vehicles were lumped under the entry ‘Machineries/Equipment’ or still mortgaged, and later averred that these were already sold by the end of the year covered and the proceeds already spent.

“Under this scheme, respondent would have acquired as many assets never to be declared at any time. Such act erodes the function of requiring accuracy of entries in the [SALN], which must be a true and detailed statement. It undermines the [SALN] as ‘the means to achieve the policy of accountability of all public officers and employees in the government’ through which ‘the public [is] able to monitor movement in the fortune of a public official, [as] a valid check and balance mechanism to verify undisclosed properties and wealth.’”

In Pleyto vs PNP-CIDG (Nov. 23, 2007), “petitioner was negligent for failing … to provide a detailed list of his assets and business interests … and for relying on the family bookkeeper/accountant to fill out his SALN and in signing the same without checking or verifying the entries therein.” Here, the Supreme Court ruled that petitioner’s negligence was “only simple and not gross, in the absence of bad faith or intent to mislead or deceive on his part … his SALNs actually disclose[d] the full extent of his assets … and his wife had other business interests.” Hence, the penalty imposed was only suspension for six months, without pay, not dismissal. Since petitioner had already retired, an amount equivalent to six months’ pay was “forfeited from his retirement benefits.”

In OCA vs Usman (Oct. 19, 2011), the Supreme Court imposed only a fine of P5,000 even if the “respondent clearly violated (Sec. 7, RA 3019 and Sec. 8, RA 6713) when he failed to file his SALN for the years 2004-2008.” It seems that failure to disclose assets, when proven to show dishonesty, is more severely penalized than the failure to file the SALN.

Integrity, uprightness. Indeed, Ombudsman vs. Peliño (April 14, 2008) held: “Under the laws governing civil service, dishonesty is classified as a grave offense the penalty of which is dismissal from the service at the first infraction. A person aspiring to public office must observe honesty, candor and faithful compliance with the law. Nothing less is expected. This ideal standard ensures that only those of known probity, competence and integrity are called to the challenge of public service. It is understood to imply a disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray. Dishonesty is a malevolent act that puts serious doubt upon one’s ability to perform his duties with the integrity and uprightness demanded of a public officer or employee.”

In sum, the penalty for the failure to disclose assets is dismissal if such omissions amount to dishonesty and are not due to clerical errors done in good faith. Otherwise, it is suspension. To stress, the Supreme Court decided the above administrative cases on the basis of strict legality. For impeachment cases, the Senate, after hearing the parties, has a wider policy discretion to decide whether the respondent is still fit and qualified to remain as the highest magistrate of the land.

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