DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Before one can access to the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) of a member of the House of Representatives there must be the concurrence of the majority of the lawmakers.
The new rule was sealed when members of the House, led by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo adopted House Resolution No. 2467 that provides new rules on public access to the SALNs of lawmakers and regular employees of the Congress.
The adopted rule was slammed by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in a statement it issued on Saturday, February 2.
“We find it ironic that a document meant to help advance transparency in government is now being subjected to so many rules and restrictions by the very people entrusted to craft the laws of the land. Even before heading to plenary for the majority approval or disapproval, a request for SALN – which, by the way, will now cost P300, or up to P90,000 for all members of the House – needs to be vetted by a committee on review and compliance,” the group said.
NUJP added: “And then there are still forms to be filled up like a sworn undertaking and declaration listing the specific manner in which information from a SALN may or may not be used.”
NUJP explained that members of the media requesting for access must submit documents including proof under oath of media affiliation and certification of accreditation of the media organization, a process which the group described as discriminating against freelance journalists.
“Even when a request for SALN is granted, it is likely to be heavily redacted. Aside from understandable omissions such as the address of the lawmaker and the names of unmarried and minor aged children and household members, other items that may be blacked out include businesses, financial interests, and relatives in government, information that could prove crucial in weeding out conflicts of interest and other anomalies,” the group pointed out.
SALNs are public documents, NUJP stressed, emphasizing that these should be accessible to everyone.
Along with Congress’s failure to pass the Freedom of Information Bill, NUJP suspected that the legislature “intends to reverse whatever advances in honest and transparent governance have been made through the years.”
“Government officials are fond of saying that those who have nothing to hide should not fear disclosure nor scrutiny. Why then should members of the House fear these now?” NUJP asked. (davaotoday.com)