Article by: Denn Reed B. Tuvera Jr.
The Supreme Court has found former Undersecretary Salvador Pleyto guilty of simple negligence for failure to declare his wife’s business interests in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) from 1999 to 2001.
A decision of the SC’s Second Division penned by Justice Roberto Abad overruled the earlier ruling of the Court of Appeals clearing Pleyto in the case. Furthermore, the Court partially granted the petitions of the Office of the President and the defunct Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) to affirm their findings that Pleyto Violated RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).
Section 8 of the RA 6713 states that all public officials and employees are obligated to “accomplish and submit declarations under oath of their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under 18 years old.”
In addition, the Court imposed the penalty of forfeiture equivalent to six months’ salary from his retirement benefits for simple negligence.
The Court ruled that Pleyto’s act was “not tantamount to dishonesty and grave misconduct,” but simple negligence. Pleyto was negligent for failing to comply with his duty to provide a detailed list of his assets in SALN.
But Pleyto’s negligence was only simple and not gross “in the absence of bad faith or the intent to mislead or deceive on his part,” the Court said.
“It is already stated that his wife is a business woman and that such a statement of his wife’s occupation was inconsistent with the intention to conceal his wife’s business interests,” the Court noted.
The Court further gave no weight to Pleyto’s assertion that the Review and Compliance Procedure provided in RA 6713 is pre-requisite for filing an administrative case for false declarations in one’s SALN.
“Nowhere in RA 6713 does it say that a public officer clearly violating RA 6713 must be notified of any concealed on false information in his SALN and allowed to correct the same before he is administratively changed,” the Court said.
Rather, the Court stated that RA 6713 merely authorizes the Review of Compliance Committee to issue interpretative opinions regarding the filing of SALNs, officers and employees affected by such opinions.
“The only concern of the Review and Compliance Committee Procedure is to determine whether SALNs are complete and in proper form and not on the substance of what is stated in the SALN such as the truth and accuracy of the answers stated in it.”
“Officials and employees are assumed to be accountable for the veracity of the entries considering that the SALNs are under oath,” the Court said.
According to the defunct PAGC’s investigation, Pleyto’s SALN from 1999 to 2001 did not declare the business interests and connections of his wife. It prompted the agency to charge him before the OP for violating RA 6713 and RA 2019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).
In 2002, the PAGC received an anonymous complaint from alleged employees of the DPWH accusing Pleyto of extortion, illicit affairs and manipulation of DPWH projects.
He was found guilty of discharges and was recommended for dismissal. The recommendation for dismissal was approved and adopted by the OP. He then appealed to the Court of Appeals which ruled in his favor.