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House prosecutors say SALNs open to public


(Updated 5 p.m.) Spokesmen for the House prosecution team on Wednesday denied that the House of Representatives has a policy of non-disclosure of congressmen's statements of assets, net worth, and liability (SALNs).
 
The denial came after the publication of a Philippine Center of Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) report saying the House secretary-general denied the PCIJ's request for copies of the SALNs of members of the 15th Congress. 
 
Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo and Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara, who both speak for the House prosecution team, said they would check whether the House secretary-general indeed denied the PCIJ's request.
 
"As far as policy is concerned, bukas lahat and in fact in the last eight months, marami nang disclosures na ginawa (As far as policy is concerned, everything is open and in fact in the last eight months, there have been many disclosures)," Quimbo said. 
 
"There's just a particular process na kailangan pirmahan, pero bawal yung ipagkait (There's just a particular process where signatures are needed, but that [SALNs] can't be withheld)," he added.
 
Angara, who is on his third term as congressman, said his own SALN has been published since his first term. 
 
"We want to check on that (non-disclosure) and verify that because if that's true, departure yun from the previous practice," said Angara.
Practical reasons
 
For her part, House secretary-general Marilyn Baura-Yap explained that her office failed to provide PCIJ full copies of congressmen’s SALN due to “practical considerations.”
 
Mahirap naman kasi ‘yung whole-sale na paghingi. Voluminous masyado iyon. There are three sets of SALNs for each of the 285 congressman. Tapos ang nirequest pa ay from the past 4 to 5 Congresses yata. Just imagine kung gaano kadami iyon,” Yap said in a phone interview.
 
She added that a request for full copies of SALNs from all past and present congressmen will go against her office’s role of becoming the repository of such documents.
 
Kung ang isang agency, kukunin lahat ito, masisira ang role namin as repository ng SALN. Para kang pumunta sa NSO [National Statistics Office] at humingi ng kopya ng lahat ng birth certificates doon,” she said.
 
Yap also echoed the lawmakers’ statements that the SALNs of House members are open to the public.
 
You can go to us and get these documents. Kung mayroong request, ginagawa naman namin ang kaya namin,” she said.
 
No bearing on Corona trial
 
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, a member of the House prosecution team for the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, said the report on the prosecutors’ supposed non-disclosure of their SALNs will not have any effect on the trial.
 
“That [the report] will have no effect. Hindi naman kami impeachable officials katulad ng chief justice. Kung sa tingin ng tao ay may mali kaming nagawa, puwede nila kaming kasuhan sa korte,” he said in a separate phone interview.
 
He added that the accessibility of SALNs at the House “has no similarities at all” with Corona’s supposed non-disclosure of similar documents.
 
In one of the articles of impeachment, the House wants Corona to be held liable for supposedly failing to publicly disclose his SALN. The chief magistrate, in his reply to the impeachment case, however said that he is not required to release his SALN to the public.
 
Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, for his part, said that the House leadership has not issued any orders to prevent the release of congressmen’s SALNs to the public.
 
“As far as I’m concerned, the House leadership never ordered to withhold the SALNs, unlike the Supreme Court where there are internal rules on the non-disclosure,” he said.
 
Both Colmenares and Tañada said they are willing to give the PCIJ full copies of their SALNs if group requests the documents from their respective offices.
Inspection
 
The House prosecution team conducted an ocular inspection of the Padilla Room in the Senate, which will serve as the panel’s room when the impeachment court resumes session on January 16. 
 
Quimbo, Angara, and Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya, who serves as the prosecution team's manager, inspected the area on Wednesday morning for other members of the panel.
 
The Padilla Room has been divided into three areas: the outermost will be for the media, the middle will be the working area for the prosecution's secretariat, while an inner chamber will serve as the meeting room for prosecutors.
 
"What we could tell the people is that minimal ang naging gastos dito ng taong bayan," said Abaya. "We tried to make do with available desks, lockers, cabinets of the Senate. The only thing the House brought in was the plywood to ensure separation between spaces." — RSJ, GMA News
 
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