THE Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) of a government official or employee is a tool for transparency, not a means for political vendetta, the Supreme Court recently said as it ruled to release the retirement benefits of the late chief justice Renato Corona who was impeached in 2012 for non-declaration of his true assets.
The SC en banc made its statement in its January 12 decision where magistrates concurred with the contention of Corona’s widow that she was entitled to her survivorship pension and her late husband’s retirement package.
The Senate, acting as an impeachment court, had found Corona guilty of betraying public trust and violating the Constitution for failing to declare his true assets.
“For the future’s worth, it is herein stressed that the SALN is a tool for public transparency, never a weapon for political vendetta,” the SC decision penned by Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando said.
“The Filipino people live, toil and thrive in a democracy but the rule of law should not stand parallel to the rule of the mob. Toe this line, and the nation may eventually behold the laws that the courts have forever sworn to uphold battered and bent,” the high court added.
The SC decision cited a statement of the late Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago who said that “impeachment is a stunning penalty for it ruins a life.”
Santiago, during the impeachment proceedings against Corona, posited the question if “omission in the SALN belong to the same class as treason and bribery.”
Corona’s successor, Maria Lourdes Sereno, was also removed in 2018 through quo warranto proceedings initiated by Solicitor General Jose Calida for non-filing of her SALN.
The high court made known its thoughts on the power of the SALN as it decided on the plea of Mrs. Maria Cristina Roco Corona, who asked the SC in a letter dated July 13, 2020 to allow the release of her monthly survivorship pension and the retirement benefits of her husband who died in 2016.
Mrs. Corona had argued that the impeachment process, which divested her late husband his position as chief justice, was a political which should not bear merit on his more than two decades of public service.
The SC, in ruling in favor of Mrs. Corona, centered on the question whether a failure to judicially convict for any post-impeachment liability should affect the employment status, retirement benefits, survivorship pension and other benefits.
Corona was still facing charges of tax evasion, perjury, as well as a civil case for forfeiture and administrative complaints for violation of the Code of Conduct of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees in 2014 when he died 2016. All the charges were deemed dropped after his demise.
The SC said: “A separate determination of liability under the courts of law is necessary to withhold such rights (retirement benefits).”
“Sans judicial conviction, the impeached official shall only be removed from office with the Senate being empowered with the discretion to impose the additional penalty of permanent disqualification from holding any and all further public office,” it added.
With this, the SC explained Corona “may be considered involuntarily retired from public office” since there is no proper determination or even a basis for liability under the law.
“Wherefore, Chief Justice Renato Corona is hereby declared entitled to retirement benefits and other allowances under Republic 9446 equivalent to a five-year lump sum of the salary and other allowances he was receiving at the time of his removal by impeachment on May 29, 2012. The claim of survivorship benefits of Maria Cristina Roco Corona is hereby granted reckoned from the lapse of the five-year period on the lump sum. All the benefits granted herein are ordered immediately released to his widow and beneficiary, Maria Cristina Roco Corona,” the SC said.