Friday, April 20, 2012

SALN Laws: Mala Prohibita

I had a haircut on the first weekend after Easter. My barber took out a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to me while he proceeded cutting my hair. It was a list of Corona impeachment issues that he wanted to review and get clarification


After several days of case presentation by the Prosecution and the Defense panels, the Senate as an Impeachment Court (IC) resolved the following issues:
1.              The complaint or Articles of Impeachment as filed by the House of Representatives is valid and not defective as claimed by the Defense;
2.              The Impeachment Court (IC) acquired jurisdiction and proceeded to try the case;
3.              The Impeachment Court (IC) is not an ordinary criminal court, hence – Criminal Procedure is not followed and proof beyond reasonable doubt is not required.

I will not discuss in this article how successful the Prosecution and Defense panels were.  I would rather tackle some issues that my barber and I feel need clarification.


The still unresolved issue is the access of CJ Corona’s foreign currency bank deposits by the Impeachment Court (IC), the Prosecution and Defense panels. The IC subpoenaed the relevant deposits earlier, discovered its existence through the bank’s officials. But the Supreme Court issued a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) against the Impeachment Court accessing the accounts.

The Senate as IC decided to respect the TRO, I assume, also temporarily. The Supreme Court could decide to make it permanent or rescind it.

As I have written earlier, the Senate as an Impeachment Court has the power and, in fact, a duty to ignore the TRO. In impeachment trials, the IC is supreme. In the exercise of its duty and jurisdiction, it has the power to subpoena any document that could help find the truth. It cannot be interpreted as having exercised grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of or in excess of its jurisdiction.

The impeachment power is precisely granted to the Legislature as a check and balance to the enormous powers of the Supreme Court and the Presidency.  That should also be respected.


It is now settled, given the evidence presented and by admission of the Defense, that there were discrepancies resulting from non-declaration, false declaration and/or under declaration in Chief Justice Renato Corona’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

The issue according to the Defense is, whether Chief Justice Corona caused the non-declaration, false declaration, and/or under declaration willfully, maliciously, or in bad faith.

This is also the understanding of Senator Judge Miriam Defensor Santiago who stated it in one of her “lectures” during the trial.

Before the other Senator Judges and the sovereign public get persuaded into believing that it is so, I would like to express my own view for their consideration.


There is a Constitutional, statutory and administrative mandate to submit under oath a truthful and accurate declaration of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) on the part of public officials such as Chief Justice Renato Corona.  Special laws such as Republic Acts 6713 and 3019 cover the required declaration, disclosure and the corresponding manner and specific contents.

It is settled law that offenses such as the violation of Republic Act 6713, which is a special law, are considered Mala Prohibita. In these types of offenses, proving intent, malice or bad faith is not necessary. The fact that you violated the law, regardless of whether or not you had intent, did it in good faith, or by mistake, makes you guilty.

The law itself has defined the intent. In order to promote transparency, accountability and to prevent graft and corruption, public officials are required by law to submit under oath a truthful and accurate declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and disclose the same fully in a manner provided by law.

Either you do it or you do not. If you do not, you are guilty. If there are discrepancies due to non-declaration, false declaration, and/or under declaration as in the case of Chief Justice Corona, there is a VIOLATION. The law does not care whatever your motive or intent is or was.

Can SALNs be corrected?

The Defense lawyers led by Former Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas believe so. My barber and I do not think so. The Supreme Court in several cases ruled a similar opinion as ours.

According to the Supreme Court rulings, if the information in the SALN is false and inaccurate, the person who filed it is not allowed to be first informed about the error and to correct it.

In a March 23, 2011 ruling on G.R. No. 176058 the Supreme Court Second Division made such assertion.

It also said, "Assuring the truth and accuracy of the answers in the SALN is the function of the filer's oath that to the best of his knowledge and information, the data he provides in it constitutes the true statements of his assets, liabilities, net worth, business interests, and financial connections. Any falsity in the SALN makes him liable for falsification of public documents under Article 172 of the Revised Penal Code."

"The law will not require the impossible, namely, that the committee [that reviewed his SALN] must ascertain the truth of all the information that the public officer or employee stated or failed to state in his SALNs and remind him of it," it added.
G.R. Nos. 190580-81 promulgated February 21, 2011 also rejected the notion that Section 10 RA 6713 allows SALNs to be corrected.

It was claimed by the erring official that he was entitled to be informed of any error in his SALN and should have been given the opportunity to correct it
But the Supreme Court said, "The notice and correction referred to in Section 10 are intended merely to ensure that SALNs are 'submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form.  Obviously, these refer to formal defects in the SALNs.

"These are substantive, not formal defects, It would be absurd to require such heads to run a check on the truth of what the SALNs state and require their subordinates to correct whatever lies these contain.  The responsibility for truth in those

Ironically, Chief Justice Renato Corona certified this decision.

Does failure to submit a true and accurate SALN as mandated by law rise up to the level of impeachable offense? 

The House of Representatives, which is empowered by the Constitution to impeach impeachable officials, had ac

Violation by an impeachable official of the Constitutional, statutory, and administrative mandate to declare his true and accurate SALN would be tantamount to violating his oath of office. Violating his oath of office would be considered betrayal of public trust.

What the Senate and the sovereign public must ask then is, did the impeachable official (in this case CJ Corona), submit a true and accurate Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN)?

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