Preparing SALNs

Tomorrow, April 30, is the last day for all public officials and employees to file their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) required by the Constitution, Anti-Graft Law (Republic Act 3019) and Ethical Standards Law (RA 6713).

Acquisition cost. Yet, due to many questions raised during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, many government workers are still at a loss on how to fill out the two-page, back-to-back SALN form prescribed by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) since 1994.

Especially problematic is the requirement to declare three kinds of values for real estate properties: “assessed value, current fair market value and acquisition cost.” In Republic vs. Sandiganbayan (Jan. 30, 2002), the Supreme Court, speaking through Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr., held that the acquisition cost, not the market or assessed value, should be used in computing whether public functionaries had amassed ill-gotten wealth or property that is manifestly out of proportion to their lawful income. Under RA 1379, unexplained wealth shall, after due process and hearing, be forfeited in favor of the state.

The acquisition cost is easy to declare. All that is needed is to enter in the SALN form the amount stated in the deed of sale for each property. However, the column on “improvements” is harder to fill out because renovation or improvement costs are difficult to pinpoint. An honest, educated estimate made in good faith should suffice.

Assessed and market values are often hard to ascertain. However, the assessment level made by city or provincial assessors should be acceptable. Market value is at best a matter of opinion. I do not think employees should be accused of falsifying their SALNs simply because they made honest errors in approximating market values. After all, as held in the above-cited case, anti-graft laws are focused on acquisition cost, not on market value.

The SALN form is easier to fill out in regard to “personal and other properties.” It has only three columns: “kind, year acquired, and acquisition cost.” All these information can be sourced from the invoices or sales receipts used in acquiring them. For example, when one purchases appliances like TV sets and radios, the stores issue invoices and receipts showing the information needed to fill out the spaces in the SALN form.

Motor vehicles should also be declared in this section on “personal and other properties.” In Flores vs. Montemayor (June 8, 2011), an employee was dismissed from the service for his unjustified failure to include “two expensive cars” in his 2001 and 2002 SALNs.

Complete, accurate and truthful. On the backside of the SALN form, “business interests and financial connections” must be declared. In Rabe vs. Flores (May 14, 1997), the respondent was dismissed from the service, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and accrued leaves and a prohibition from being reemployed in the government, for dishonesty and failure to disclose her “business interest” which was merely a “stall in the market.”

In Ombudsman vs. Valeroso (Apr. 2, 2007), the high court said that the law mandates the “true, detailed and sworn declaration” in the SALN as “the means to achieve the policy of accountability of all public officers and employees in the government. By the SALN, the public [is] able to monitor movement in the fortune of a public official; it is a valid check and balance mechanism to verify undisclosed properties and wealth.”

Hence, complete, accurate and truthful declarations are required. Accordingly, the CSC advises the filling out of all spaces in the SALN form. Do not leave any space unfilled. If the item is not applicable, put “N.A.” on the blank space.

Failure to file complete, accurate and truthful SALNs may subject the erring personnel to administrative, criminal and civil penalties. Administrative sanctions take the form of reprimand, fine, suspension or dismissal from the service, plus forfeiture of benefits, and a permanent ban to reemployment in the government, including government-owned or -controlled corporations.

So too, can criminal cases for falsification or perjury or violations of the Anti-Graft Law and Ethical Standards Law be filed separately from the administrative complaints. The penalty is imprisonment or fine or both. Civil sanctions can include forfeiture of the properties that are adjudged to be manifestly or grossly disproportionate to the legitimate income of  the respondent public officers.

How SALN is enforced. All these cases are usually initiated by the superiors of the erring employee, or even by private citizens. But the main responsibility for disciplining public officers is lodged by the Constitution and the law on the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB).

The Constitution mandates the OMB to “investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient.”

On the other hand, RA 6770 (Ombudsman Act of 1989) empowers the OMB to investigate and initiate the recovery of ill-gotten and/or unexplained wealth and the prosecution of the parties involved. High government officials removable by impeachment, like the President, Vice President, Supreme Court justices and members of constitutional commissions like the Commission on Elections, may, per RA 6770, be investigated by the OMB “for the purpose of filing a verified impeachment complaint, if warranted.”

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