Ombudsman limits access to government officials' SALNs

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Ombudsman limits access to government officials' SALNs
File photo shows Ombudsman Samuel Martires.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The wealth declaration documents of government officials will only be made available to the government under new guidelines set by the Office of the Ombudsman, the body meant to check graft and corruption in government. 

Citizens requesting copies of an official's Statement of Assets, Liabiities and Net Worth will need authorization from the official before making a request.

In a memo dated September 10, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said a requester would only be allowed to access a public official's SALN if one of the following requirements apply: 

  • he/she is the declarant or the duly authorized representative of the declarant
  • the request is upon lawful order of the court in relation to a pending case
  • the request is made by the Ombudsman's Field Investigation Office/Bureau/Unit for the purpose of conducting a fact-finding investigation

"In all other instances, no SALN will be furnished to the requester unless [they present] a notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing the release of the requested SALN," the memo further reads. 

These amended guidelines prevent all other individual and groups, including media outlets, from accessing the SALN of public officials — which is seen as a safeguard against potential corruption — outside of a court order or authority from the officials' themselves. 

Delayed release of President Rodrigo Duterte's SALNs

This comes just hours after presidential spokesman Harry Roque fielded questions from reporters over the delayed release of President Rodrigo Duterte's SALN to the public. 

Both Duterte's 2018 and 2019 SALNs have yet to be released to the public, with the Palace taking the position that government officials only need to file their SALNs and not necessarily release them to the public.

In 2019, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism said the non-release of Duterte's wealth declaration form for 2018 marked the first time in 30 years that the president of the Philippines has not made their SALN public. 

“I do not know if that has been made available but what I’m sure about is that it has been filed,” Roque said Tuesday when asked about Duterte's SALN. 

“I don’t think the president is keeping anything from the public,” he added, further directing journalists to "resort to" the Freedom of Information (FOI) mechanism to access the document. 

Under Duterte's executive order on Freedom of Information, which he signed in 2016, public officials are required to “file and make available for scrutiny” their SALN in accordance with existing laws, rules and regulations.

Despite this, the PCIJ has said that both the Office of the Executive Secretary and the Office of the Ombudsman have repeatedly denied its requests for the chief executive's SALNs. 

“Invariably, all such requests filed in a series from June to November 2019 were denied because of an identical reason: The Ombudsman has yet to finalize its new guidelines on the release of the SALNs of the President and other senior officials,” PCIJ’s report said.

Now these guidelines are finalized but it only seems more unlikely that Duterte's, and other public officials', SALNs will be publicized. 

"By all indications, Rodrigo Duterte sticks out as the lie of his own Freedom of Information (FOI) edict," PCIJ said on its Twitter account, following the release of the Ombudsman's memo.

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