CA lets Customs collector off the hook over lack of specific details in SALN
The Court of Appeals (CA) has exonerated a Bureau of Customs (BOC) collector earlier suspended by the Ombudsman for failing to specify his properties in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
In a recent 15-page decision, the CA 7th Division granted the appeal of Romalino Gabriel Valdez on the Ombudsman’s July 6, 2015 ruling suspending him for six months for simple neglect of duty.
The Ombudsman faulted Valdez for “lumping” together his real and personal assets and reporting their aggregate value, instead of listing them down one by one.
It held that he failed to observe the detailed inventory of assets and liabilities required by Section 7 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
The CA, however, said Valdez should not be suspended since he was able to fully explain and specify the entries in his SALN.
Valdez made the explanations and attached supporting documents in his counter-affidavit in response to the complaint filed by the Department of Finance-Revenue Integrity Protection Service (DOF-RIPS) before the Ombudsman.
Although the explanation was belated, the CA said: “There is nothing wrong with generalized SALNs if their entries can be satisfactorily explained and verified.”
The court added that if Valdez really failed to give proper attention to his SALN, he could have been informed of his mistake so he could be given the chance to explain or correct it. This chance was provided by Section 10 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
The CA also cited the need to “strike a balance” between the accountability of public officers and their right to privacy, especially as the error in Valdez’s SALN was not deemed to be an attempt to conceal ill-gotten wealth.
“While the requirement of filing a SALN is essential to promote transparency in the civil service and operates as a deterrent against government officials bent on enriching themselves through unlawful means, the Court must be mindful that this principle be not upheld at the expense of a public servant’s right,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Sesinando Villon.