June 23, 2018, 10:36 am
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The SALN sicario

There is something uncannily common between the Quo Warranto charge of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) claiming the appointment of Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Aranal-Sereno was void ab initio due to missing Statement(s) of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) covering some of the years she taught at the University of the Philippines (UP) and the inclusion of the SALN issue in the probable cause hearings at the House Committee on Justice.

One is that both the OSG and the congressmen claim the discovery of missing filings are recent, unknown when the impeachment charges were spawned hence explaining the dual fora, a case of possible forum shopping, split action and multiple vexation. Akin to a virtual gang rape, one would think they’ve thrown everything in including the proverbial “kitchen sink.”

The other is that both apparently imagine SALN submissions and its substance and accuracy as strict and uncompromising prerequisites. And where instances of missed reporting are concerned, those are tantamount to a culpable violation of the constitution on the same level as a high crime, corruption and the betrayal of the public trust.

The third is positing the SALN as a potent determinant in impeachment proceedings given the manner it was wielded as a fatal assassin’s scythe against the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

All three are wrong. Each betrays a profound ignorance of the SALN.

On the first, statutes state a case of Quo Warranto must be filed within a year of assumption of office, not upon discovery as argued by the OSG. While the OSG’s logic has colloquial appeal, note that the status of missed filings was discoverable among the files of the UP, the Ombudsman and the JBC that vetted requisites and qualifications prior to the appointment of the Chief Justice. The JBC knew of the gaps and had allowed it. The requisite was after all theirs. To admit that it was only discovered recently by the OSG is to admit incompetence.

On the importance of SALN submissions and its potency as an impeachable violation, both are addressed by Republic Act (RA) 6713 whose maximum penalty is a fine. Missed submission is not on the same level as a “culpable violation of the Constitution” as the House Committee on Justice treats it. An RA is not a constitutional provision.

This business of dealing undisclosed assets as a Joker card has been played before. In the impeachment of former President Joseph Estrada it was a suspicious deposit known as the Velarde account. For the late former Chief Justice Corona, it involved assets and deposits alleged to be his.

There seems to be a need to address misconceptions and intellectual ignorance on what SALNs show and do not show so the public might discern what slithers behind the veneer of self-righteousness of those who wield the SALN as an assassin’s dagger.

As a financial statement, the SALN is similar to a balance sheet. Among its three distinct columns, assets are what are owned, liabilities are what are owed, and when the arithmetic is computed, the difference is net worth. It balances out when liabilities added to net worth equal assets.

Revenues that create assets are not identified in the SALN. Neither are costs to generate those. Those are Income Statement accounts not required of government officials. Thus, whether legitimate or illegitimate, income cannot be determined through the SALN alone. A SALN can raise suspicions but it is not definitive. Per ipsum, it cannot prove corruption.

The SALN is merely a static photograph of a financial position at a fixed point in time. It does not show activity. It does not cover periods and is accurate only on the exact date stated.

These are important. A SALN becomes obsolete and inaccurate the day after its filing. Consider this. If an individual spends a single centavo the following day, the Cash account would immediately be inaccurate. If investments in stocks change in value as they do by the minute, the SALN entry would be inaccurate. More where cash, when expended, transforms into other assets. If it didn’t, total assets and net worth together diminish.

Obviously, in the interregnum between two subsequent SALNs thousands of transactions render previous SALNs obsolete. For this very reason in an updated series the importance of outdated SALNs are lessened considerably.

SALNs also do not reflect reality. Real property in SALNs is  recorded at tax declaration value. When liquidated, market value is used. Thus a distorted narrative inadvertently forms.

In both precedent impeachment cases, the appreciation of the SALN focused on accusations of inaccurate asset declarations. That is not the case in the current OSG Quo Warranto charge.

The impeachment precedents had erroneously inflated the lethal nature of SALNs far beyond its limited scope. On the basis of ignorance partisan political operators have weaponized SALNs, first using it to shame and then forcing it to substantiate trumped up “culpable violations of the Constitution.”

It’s sickening. Such gross and deliberate ignorance, warped, weaponized and wielded can be fatal to a vulnerable democracy.
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