Ombudsman’s limitations on SALN access ‘for protection of gov’t officials’, says Panelo

Published September 27, 2020, 12:37 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The Office of the Ombudsman has limited the public’s access to the Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) for the government officials’ protection “so not every Tom, Dick and Harry can get (these) at will,” according to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo

Panelo said the Ombudsman does not prohibit the access to SALN but merely introduced guidelines to protect the officials from enemies who might weaponize the document against them.

“May rason, may katuwiran sapagkat ginagamit nga ng mga kalaban itong SALN. Kaya hindi naman pinagbawal, hinigpitan po lamang (There is a reason, a justification because the enemies are using the SALN against them. The release is not prohibited but is merely tightened),” he said during his “Counterpoint” program Friday.

Panelo noted that the safety of the government official and his or her family may be put at risk if their rivals get hold of personal information such as home address.

“Binibigyan lang ng requirements para hindi every Tom, Dick and Harry can get it all will kasi nga, tandaan ninyo. yung SALN nandoon ang pangalan ng nag-file at ng kanyang kabiyak at kanyang mga anak, Nandoon ang address. Eh papaano kung ‘yun makuha ng mga kaaway nila, o di nanganib ang mga buhay nila (Certain requirements are merely imposed so not every Tom, Dick and Harry can get it all will because remember, the SALN contains the name of the official who filed, names of spouse and children as well as their home address. What if their enemy gets a hand on their SALN, their lives might be in danger),” he said.

“Kaya ang sinasabi ni Ombudsman Sammy (Martires), kailangan opisyal at may dahilan kung bakit ibibigay sa ‘yo (That’s why Ombudsman Sammy said there must be na official reason why the SALN should be given to you),” he added.

The Office of the Ombudsman recently imposed tighter rules on the access to SALN of public officials, particularly limiting the release of such document to the declarant and government investigators.

Under the Ombudsman’s Memorandum Circular No. 1 dated September 1, a copy of the SALN will be released to the requester if he/she is the declarant or duly authorized representative of the declarant; if it is upon the order of the court in relation to a pending case; and if the request is made by the Office of the Ombudsman’s field investigation office for the purpose of a fact-finding investigation. Any request to inspect or take picture of the SALN will also be denied, according to the Ombudsman.

“In all other instances, 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,” the Ombudsman’s order read.

Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has criticized the latest restriction on SALN access, saying such document is important in the investigation against suspected erring public servants. She noted that testimonial evidence is not the only evidence to build up a case.

Reacting to the Ombudsman’s latest order, Malacañang said it respects the constitutional prerogative of the constitutional body to limit public access to SALN. The Palace earlier said the President was not hiding anything even though his SALN has not been released to the public since 2018. 

The limited public access to SALNs of public servants comes despite the President’s Executive Order No. 2 that mandates full public disclosure of information in offices under the executive branch to promote transparency. The EO reminds all public officials of their obligation to file and make available for scrutiny their SALN in accordance with existing laws, rules and regulations. 

SALNs have previously been used as an anti-corruption tool to determine if a government official has unexplained wealth.