Ombudsman restricts public access to gov’t officials’ SALN

Published September 15, 2020, 6:54 PM

by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki

The manner by which the media and the public could gain  access to the statement of assets liabilities and net worth (SALN) of public officials has now been modified by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Previously, the media could write letters of request to the Ombudsman and get copies of the SALN of public officials such as the President, Vice President, senators, and congressmen. Now, the public official who submitted his or her SALN has to give his or her permission first before the media, or anybody else, could access it before the Ombudsman.

“No SALN will be furnished to the requester unless he/she presents a notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing the release of the requested SALN,” read the Ombudsman’s memorandum circular no. 1.

“If the person requesting is not the declarant or the declarant’s duly authorized representative, but has [a] notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing [the] release of the requested SALN, he/she shall be required to present two original valid ID’s, one of which is a government issued ID bearing the requester’s picture and signature,” it added.

To recall, the 2018 SALN of key government officials, including President Duterte, was not released. When asked for it, Ombudsman Samuel Martires told interested parties last year to “course these requests directly to the offices of the officials concerned.”

However, the Palace refused to release President Duterte’s 2018 SALN and merely passed the buck back to the Ombudsman.

Martires signed the memorandum circular entitled “Amended Guidelines on Public Access to SALN of Business Interests and Financial Connections Filed Within the Office of the Ombudsman” on September 1.

He made the amended guidelines “pursuant to the provisions of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.”

Different approach

Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales had a different approach regarding the release of the SALNs of public officials compared to her successor.

As far as Morales is concerned, the authority to release the SALNs belongs to the Ombudsman because these were “filed at the Office of the Ombudsman.”

This is what Morales told reporters when she was interviewed after her speech at the “Annual Memorial Lecture on Public Service in Business and Government” held at the Ateneo Professional Schools Building in Rockwell Center, Makati City back in October 2019.

When asked to comment on Martires’ decision to withhold the SALNs, Morales refused to create friction and simply answered: “You want me to cast the ire on the present Ombudsman? Comparisons are odious. So, that’s his policy, whether it’s correct or not, I keep it to myself.”

Personally speaking, however, Morales believes the SALN is an important tool in gauging whether a public official has been corrupt or not. “Of course, the SALN is a good indicator whether or not a public official or employee might likely have enriched himself while in government,” she said.