June 13th, 2012
By Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A public official was charged in court, not for failing to declare all his bank accounts in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), but for naming a wrong spouse.
Former Mayor Arnelito Garing of Cabucgayan, Biliran, claims he declared his common-law wife, Maurilina Oledan, in his SALN because he could no longer locate his long-estranged legal wife, Generosa Dosal.
Garing was charged with perjury in the Sandiganbayan, but he has asked the Office of the Ombudsman to reinvestigate the accusation.
In a motion prepared by his lawyer, Garing also asked that his arraignment be deferred and the court proceedings in the case be suspended.
He said he could not fathom how he could be held criminally liable, pointing out that he accomplished his SALN in good faith.
Garing said he had been unable to locate Dosal in spite of assistance from the National Bureau of Investigation.
“It is his exclusive cohabitation with his common-law spouse, Maurilina Oledan Garing, which prompted him to consistently put the latter’s name in his SALN,” his motion said.
The plea also contended that the law required that before anyone could remarry, a court must declare a person’s spouse as legally dead. It said this did not mean that there was a “deliberate assertion of falsehood” when he declared Maurilina as his spouse.
“Insofar as the accused is concerned, Generosa Arcenio Dosal is now but a distant and fading memory. Albeit the absence of solemnities required by law, it is to Maurilina Oledan Garing whom he vows to have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do us part,” the plea said.
The motion cited jurisprudence in which the Supreme Court had stated that there should be no “hair-splitting distinction” drawn between a couple bound by a sacrament or legal rites, and those who are husband and wife in actuality.
It said there was no probable cause to indict Garing for perjury because in such a case, the false statement allegedly made must refer to a material fact.
Nothing to do with graft
Even if he did misstate the name of his legal spouse in his SALN, this did not pertain to a material matter because the subject of the SALN are the assets and properties of a public official, the motion said.
The motion noted that the SALN was a tool to stop graft or corruption.
“It is not a memorandum of the public official’s personal circumstances,” it said. “Thus, the accused should not be made to answer for a mere mistake on an immaterial matter in his SALN.”
The motion pointed out that there was no evidence to show that Garing was impelled by any improper motive when he executed his SALN, which is why he should be presumed to have acted in good faith.
Garing said that it would be the “height of unfairness” if he would be prosecuted for a mistake that did not harm or injure anyone.
He noted jurisprudence stating that making mistakes was “well within the spectrum of human experience.”
Chief Justice Renato Corona was removed from office after he was found guilty by the Senate impeachment court of failing to declare some of his properties and bank accounts in his SALN.
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