Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales believes that incumbent Ombudsman Samuel Martires might have “misread the law” when he implemented new policies that appear to be in favor of government officials suspected of corrupt activities.
“Anyone can misread or misinterpret the law. So probably he misread the law. I’m sorry about that, Ombudsman Martires. He misread the spirit that animated the issuance of the law,” she said.
During an interview in ANC’s “Headstart” on Thursday morning, Morales was questioned about the new policies implemented by Martires and was asked to weigh in whether or not he was coddling politicians more than he is protecting public interest.
“No, I don’t think so. I won’t put it in that light,” she said.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires has been heavily criticized after he implemented a new policy that would limit public and media access to government officials’ statement of assets liabilities and net worth (SALN).
“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.
Martires said that SALNs are sadly being “weaponized” by enemies of government officials, and he said this is not a good indicator of ill-gotten wealth. He added that SALNs are not even required in a corruption investigation. However, Morales said that is no reason to withhold public access to SALNs.
“Yes, indeed it is not required in the investigation of a corruption complaint. But whether or not it was weaponized by critics or enemies of politicians, that is something which is debatable,” the former Ombudsman said.
Morales said that Martires’ new memorandum does not even take into consideration the requirements stated in R.A. 6713.
“They do not include the conditions for which a request for copy or reproduction of the SALN as mandated by law,” she said. “In other words, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards does not require those requirements incorporated in the memorandum of the current Ombudsman.”
Even if the SALNs of government officials are used against them, Morales said there is a “remedy” since they can file a case against the requester. If found guilty, the requester can be fined no more than P25,000.
Morales was even asked if Martires’ decision is an impeachable offense. But she simply answered: “Well, you know, there is a very comprehensive ground for one to be impeached. I am not going to say whether this is an impeachable offense or not.”
Despite these policies, Morales does not believe that Martires is coddling public officials. Morales said that Martires “has his own motivations in eschewing that memorandum.”
Martires dropped a lot of bombshells during the House Committee on Appropriations’ deliberations on Tuesday, where he urged Congress to restore his office’s 2021 budget to the originally proposed P4.6 billion.
He said that the conduct of lifestyle checks on government officials suspected of stealing taxpayers’ money should be done away with since this is illogical and no longer attuned to reality.
Aside from the removal of lifestyle checks, Martires also suggested that the Office of the Ombudsman should be abolished because “wala namang mangyayari (nothing will happen)” in cases filed against corrupt officials, especially when witnesses refuse to testify.