Categorized | Personal, Politics

The Spirit of the SALN: Why Corona Should be Convicted

The prosecution has rested its case, but were they right? When Corona admitted to having undisclosed dollar accounts, the prosecution decided that no further cross-examination was needed.

But Corona thinks he has the perfect defense. Although the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth (SALN) requires disclosure of all assets, the Foreign Currency Deposits Act (FCDA) states that dollar accounts need not be disclosed. The FCDA states it explicitly, and by adhering only to what is literally stated, Corona has chosen to obey the letter of the law.

The SALN, however implicitly states that all accounts need to be disclosed, and although it’s not explicitly stated, the spirit of the SALN implies that even dollar accounts must be declared.

But what is the spirit of the SALN? The basic idea is that if public officials declare their assets every year, it would be possible to learn how much they’re making from being in public office. If it exceeds the income expected of a person in their position, the excess can be interpreted as potential corruption, warranting further investigation.

For the SALN to fulfill its purpose, it is obvious that both peso and dollar assets must be declared: a corrupt politician who wants to hide ill-gotten wealth *could* and would use dollar accounts if these were indeed exempted from declaration.

I emphasized “could” because having undisclosed dollar accounts does not necessarily mean that a politician has ill-gotten wealth. It is possible for a politician to have undisclosed accounts — both peso and dollar — but still be clean (all their wealth is made honestly).

But the law is blind — it does not assume good intentions. That is, laws that are made to prevent crime do not make exceptions for the innocent — it applies equally to all.

Consider the following. It is illegal to board airplanes with explosives. This is because an explosive can be used to perform other illegal acts which is infinitely more harmful: taking the passengers hostage and potentially killing them all. Note that the bringing of explosives aboard the plane by itself is not harmful at all.

Hypothetically, a genius inventor could create a bomb that would avoid detection, take it on the plane, and fly to his lab in another country to continue development on his invention. Not a single passenger got hurt. But does that mean the inventor did not do anything illegal? No. He broke the law and deserves to be punished.

But he didn’t hurt anyone, right? Would it be better then if we modify the law so that passengers who promise to behave are allowed to board with bombs? Definitely not. Because the mere potential that a person *could* use the bomb for the more harmful act (detonation) is worth making the act of boarding with bombs illegal itself.

It becomes clear then why dollar accounts are not exempted by the SALN. In our analogy, dollar accounts are the undetectable bomb. And although having an undeclared account is by itself harmless, those who wrote the SALN law thought that non-declaration should be in itself an offense because it could be used to hide corruption.

As far as the prosecution is concerned, the legality of how Corona accumulated his wealth is no longer the issue. What’s at stake is whether he violated the spirit of the SALN. And I agree with the prosecution that of this he is guilty.

The most common argument used by Corona’s supporters is that he’s not the only one at fault. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has found that President Noynoy and several cabinet members are potentially guilty of violating the SALN. But even if it is a common violation, it is still a violation, and every one of them who can be proven guilty should also receive the proper punishment.

This, however, does not mean they should all be punished at the same time. It’s Corona’s case that’s being heard, and it’s him that we should focus on. Punishing him for violating the SALN does not mean we can no longer go after other violators. On the contrary, punishing Corona will set a precedent that will be applied to all the other violators. If the senator-judges ignore the spirit of the SALN and acquit Corona, it will mean that Corona’s hypocritical critics are innocent as well.

I don’t think anyone is against fighting corruption. The intent of those who are defending Corona because of the hypocrisy of his accusers — and those who were asking other Congressmen to sign the conditional waiver — is a noble one. But it is misguided and fallacious (for starters see the tu quoque and perfect solution fallacies).

Let’s convict Corona first, send the message that we won’t accept circumvention of the law, and then go after all other public servants who may (or may not) be hiding ill-gotten wealth in illegally undisclosed accounts.

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These are my opinions. Filipino Freethinkers does not have an official position on this issue.

 
DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.

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