Palace: Respect Ombudsman's decision limiting access to officials' wealth declarations
Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - September 17, 2020 - 5:54pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Thursday defended the Office of the Ombudsman, the body mandated by the 1987 Constitution to check graft and corruption, in its decision to limit access to government officials' wealth declaration documents.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency.

"You know, we have the Office of the Ombudsman, which is the constitutional body in the [1987] Constitution, to promote accountability for public officers," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said, speaking partially in Filipino during a virtual briefing. 

Following a memorandum released by Ombudsman Samuel Marites, individuals or groups requesting copies of an official's Statement of Assets, Liabiities and Net Worth will need authorization from the official before making a request.

"If there is such a rule given by the Ombusman, as the specialized agency to promote accountability, it must be respected," Roque added in a mix of Filipino and English. 

The presidential spokesman said this after he was pressed on whether the new guidelines released by the Ombudsman violate the Charter and go against the policies of accountability and transparency. 

In a memo dated September 10, the Ombudsman 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 document further reads.

Former senator: Unconstitutional to restrict access to SALNs

Former Sen. Joey Lina, who authored RA 6713 or A Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, on Thursday called the Ombudsman's memo “a clear violation” of the law.

"The exact words of Section 8 of [RA] 6713 is that, this declaration or SALNs, the public have the right to know about it," he told ANC's "Matters of Fact," adding that the law's implementing rules and regulations use the same language.

"The [IRR] are clear, there can be no restrictions. The law is higher than an IRR, but in this case, [they] speak of the same thing. So I don't understand where the Office of the Ombudsman based its memorandum restricting access to [SALNs] of public officials and employees," he added.

When asked whether he thinks the Ombudsman's recent memo is unconstitutional, Lina said he believed so.

"Why restrict access when the law is very clear? Any memo or even executive order of the Office of the President cannot take precedence over the laws which is passed by Congress."

Lina added that members of the media and tax-paying citizens who suspect "that the wealth of a public official is not commensurate to his salary, or even from his private businesses," should have access to their SALN. 

"The higher interest must prevail and that’s the interest of the public. That is primordial. The constitutionally guaranteed right of people to have access to public information," he further emphasized.

Delayed release of President Rodrigo Duterte's SALNs

The Ombudsman's memo was released just hours after Roque fielded questions from reporters over the delayed release of President Rodrigo Duterte's SALN to the public during a virtual briefing. 

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. 

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.

OMBUDSMAN PRESIDENT RODRIGO DUTERTE SALN
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