‘Draft House Bill’ on SALN mere compilation of initial studies to amend law – Martires

Published October 22, 2021, 7:48 AM

by Jel Santos

Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires

The Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) has not submitted to Congress a proposed legislation that would “amend certain vague and contentious provisions” in the law on Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) required of public officials and employees.

Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires on Thursday night, Oct. 21, said what was referred to in published news reports as “draft House bill” is nothing more than a compilation of what his office has studied so far in preparation for the actual amendment to the SALN law.

Martires pointed out that there are many other contentious issues in the SALN. These include the publication provision, its accessibility to the public, the proper repository agency, the period of retention, among others, and all of which still need to be considered for amendments, he added.

The filing of SALNs by public officials and employees is mandated under Section 17, Article XI of the Constitution and Republic Act No. 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

Published reports stated that Martires submitted to the House of Representatives the OMB’s proposed bill to amend the SALN law. One of the reported amendments was the alleged proposal to impose at least five years imprisonment for “further commentaries’ on SALNs.

In statement, Martires said:

“This still pertains to the issue on the submission we made to the Office of Representative Zarate (Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate). To set the record straight, what was forwarded were mere inputs on the contentious issues that we propose to be addressed when the SALN law is eventually amended. It was not a final proposed amendment, much less a complete proposed bill although entitled ‘draft House bill.’

“We sent our inputs (the working draft) to the good Congressman when he asked during the budget deliberations what the office has done insofar as preparing the draft of the proposed SALN amendments is concerned.

“So far, what we have studied only pertain to the prohibited acts and penalties provided in the law – but these are not yet final. Rep. Zarate then asked if he can have a copy of what we have studied so far, so we sent him that draft of inputs.

“Some enterprising persons obtained a copy of our submission and considered it as the final proposed bill of the office to amend the SALN law. The draft house bill, had it been put in the proper context, should have been taken as it is–a mere draft.

“The amendments that we will be proposing for the consideration of Congress are still being finalized. It is actually a study of the SALN law from the point of view of the Office of the Ombudsman which is tasked to prosecute SALN-related offenses allegedly committed by public officials and employees.

“It is very difficult to resolve and litigate these cases when there is so much in the law that are vague and open to various interpretations. The SALN law should be made clear for the guidance of everyone.

“Our efforts at trying to give our two cents’ worth on how the law could be easily understandable should not be taken as the final say on the matter. After all, it is Congress that enacts the law.

“Those who challenge or do not agree with our inputs can very well lobby their Congressional representatives to consider their own take on the matter of how the SALN law should read. It is very easy to criticize but very hard to investigate and prosecute if you have studied the law carefully.”