Business Groups Statement on Criminalizing Commentaries on SALNs
15 September 2021 – We oppose the proposal to criminalize commenting on Statements of Assets and Liabilities (SALNs) of government officials, because it would violate our freedom of speech, a pillar of our democracy. We have libel and slander laws to deal with abuse of free speech. We do not need another law.
We also oppose the proposal because the SALN is part of a system of laws and institutions designed to promote integrity. The Ombudsman is part of that system and should be the first to insist on transparency.
Integrity is critical to our society and leaders in government, business, and other sectors, should set the tone. We need leaders with integrity who will work for the people, not themselves, who will ensure public resources go to the common good, not their private interest.
As well, exactly a year ago, access to SALNs was restricted. To now criminalize comments on them would in effect chip away at our constitutional right to public information and official records. These would be less useful if we can’t discuss them.
From a business perspective, a culture and environment of integrity and good governance is more and more needed to attract investment to create jobs. To attract investment, business people need to know they have a fair chance to succeed. A fair chance that comes from not having competitors who have an unfair edge because those competitors are bribing officials. A fair chance that comes from not having to bribe officials themselves just to stay in business. The SALN — and the ability to access and comment on it — is important because bribes often end up in assets.
When used properly and well, the SALN can help identify and remove corrupt officials, entrust government to true public servants, and encourage small and big businessmen to invest and create jobs. This has never been more important than now, as we try to beat and recover from COVID.
Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX)
Judicial Reform Initiative
Makati Business Club