You’ve probably seen “SALN” trending for the past couple of days or you’ve encountered it being mentioned on the news for years now. If you’re guessing it has to do something with politicians and their finances, you’re right. But is that all the document is for? Read on to find out what SALN is and why it’s so important.
What is the SALN?
The Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth (SALN) declares a public official/government employee’s assets (land, vehicles, jewelry, etc.), liabilities (loans, debts, etc.), and their business and financial interests. This includes investments, cash on hand, stocks, and bonds. The statement includes identifying a person’s spouse, unmarried children under 18 years old, and relatives within the fourth degree of affinity or consanguinity. The SALN also requires officials or employees to declare their relatives in government service.
What is the purpose of the SALN?
A person’s SALN is a detailed document of a person’s assets, liabilities, and other finances.
It includes information on their extended family, some of whom might be government officials too. Aside from that, a public official’s SALN can be used by the court, officials, or other political opponents to see if they have any “unexplained wealth.” This could mean ill-gotten money from bribes and corruption or money that can’t be attributed to salary, inheritance, or other legal sources.
Senator Bong Revilla’s SALN was important during his plunder and pork-barrel criminal cases. Former president Joseph Estrada’s SALN also played a crucial role during his plunder trial which he was eventually found guilty of. But SALNs could just be used as a gauge of our politician’s wealth. A summary of 2020 SALNs showed that Senator Cynthia Villar (P3.87 billion) and Senator Manny Pacquiao (P3.18 billion) are still the richest and only remaining billionaires in the Senate.
Who is required to file a SALN?
All public officials and government employees are required to file their SALN, whether they’re regular or under temporary status. That means both national and local governments, state universities and colleges, and government-owned controlled corporations and their subsidiaries have to file their SALN.
What law governs the filing of the SALN?
Submission of the SALN is required by law under Republic Act No. 6713 otherwise known as the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.”
According to the law, the SALN must be filed:
- “within thirty (30) days after assumption of office;
- “on or before April 30, of every year; and
- “within thirty (30) days after separation from the service.”
Who is exempted from filing the SALN?
According to RA 6713 Sec. 8, “those who serve in an honorary capacity, laborers and casual or temporary workers” are exempt from filing their SALN. “Honorary capacity” are those working in the government without pay, “laborers” are workers whose work depends on the physical rather than business/mental capacity, and “temporary workers” are those hired to work outside the usual necessary operations.
Who should be able to access SALNs?
The public should be able to access SALNs which, by law, must be available for inspection at reasonable hours. SALNs should be available for copying 10 days after it has been filed and be made available to the public for 10 years after a person receives the statement. Any person who wants access to the document should request a copy at the appropriate office and cover the fees for reproduction and mailing.
However, gaining access is still “subject to regulation,” according to the Supreme Court in 2021. This was to protect public officials from “extortions and harassment” from people who will use their SALN against them.
Why is it important for government officials to keep their SALNs accessible?
When politicians make their SALN records accessible, this can be interpreted as a signal that they’ve got nothing to hide.
We all want our politicians to be honest with us from the get-go. A questionable SALN can point to a questionable official and we want to be made aware of these discrepancies. As Filipino voters, we have an obligation to scrutinize public officials and make sure they’re serving the country with integrity, not using their power for personal gain. And if they hesitate to make their SALN public out of fear of others using it against them, what is there to use if they aren’t engaged in shady business?
Bottom line: Transparency is vital to good governance
An official’s SALN is just one front that gives us a glimpse of how government officials can handle their responsibilities. It’s simple, really. If a government official has integrity, they won’t oppose being scrutinized via their SALN. And if an official is hesitating or even planning on making SALNs inaccessible, that should be seen as a red flag and we should question this decision. This document plays a key role in good governance — those faithful in little can be trusted to be faithful in much. The more people hide their SALNs, the more corruption they could potentially get away with. Everyone knows we don’t need more of that.