WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY
Nobody has so far come out against the proposal to check the lifestyles of policemen, including their officials. Top brasses have for years been linked to various anomalies that show a betrayal of their oaths of office.
The lifestyle check proposal is also being expanded to include all government employees. And in a melodramatic way, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas was quoted saying that he wants to be included. He knows and everybody knows that, since childhood, Roxas had basked in wealth so that a lifestyle check on him would not only be ridiculous, but would make the proposal a joke.
This proposal is not new. We hear them each year but so far nobody has been hailed to court as a result. Not even publication was made of anyone whose lifestyle is considered extravagant contrary to his legal income.
This only shows that while a lifestyle check is nice to hear, it is impractical and does not work to put an end to official corruption and abusive behavior. That top officials keep on proposing this knee-jerk reaction to criticism of corruption and nobody is opposing it only shows that nobody is afraid of it. The suggestion only indicates the paucity of ideas on how to stop miscreant behavior.
First of all, it is impractical. Who has the standard measurement to validly confirm that a public official is living beyond his means? We know that cars, houses and real estate that are illegally owned are titled to other persons. A policeman or police official may have two cars and all are registered to his mother or brother. His children could be studying in the United States or Europe but that is courtesy of an aunt or sibling.
Bank accounts are kept secret protected under the banking secrecy laws. Only the court can order the disclosure of these accounts but only when a case has been filed.
There is also no law that those who take on employment in government or are elected to public office sign a waiver on bank accounts to allow government investigators to go over these accounts. If the government is sincere in this lifestyle check, Congress should pass a law requiring this waiver. But will Congress do so? The solons would be cutting their political throats.
There are over 200,000 policemen in this country. Who will conduct the lifestyle check and for how long, granting that a standardized measurement can be formulated? Will privacy be waived?
There are proposals to tighten the recruitment and training of policemen. Fine, but how strict is the PNP in the screening examinations? There are people who take the tests for the applicant either for a fee or for a friend or relative. If the PNP wants to check, it can conduct in-service examination. The PNP will be surprised how many could really pass. In fact, intelligence and neuro-psycho tests should be conducted periodically. Personality and values change after time. Idealistic young men end up committing crimes.
If the PNP or the DILG really wants to find out the truth about their uniformed personnel and local government officials and employees, then they should make the Statement of Assets and Liabilities open for public scrutiny. Although these are official documents, they are not readily available even to media.
The SALN is under oath and it contains information about the government personnel – what he owns and owes. This can thus be a basis for legal action. The lifestyle check can tell us something but they can only lead, but not provide a basis for criminal charges. They can be challenged and its weakness can easily be identified as it is prepared by someone else.
The SALN, on the other hand, is prepared by the person and what he places there or omitted are of his own making. In a word, the SALN is primary evidence, a sort of confession in itself.
While a person can be given a chance to rectify if there are errors (a right not extended to former Chief Justice Renato Corona) the request for rectification opens doubt as to the credibility of a person.
Had Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act, this would not have been a problem as investigative reporters could have their hands on the SALN on request. But Congress and President Aquino, despite his pledge, threw the FOI into the waste basket. They know the potential of this law in ferreting out those who have enriched themselves in office.
This lifestyle check only diverts and plays around public anger.*
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