Limiting access to SALNs 'not a good thing' for public's confidence in gov't — Diokno

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Limiting access to SALNs 'not a good thing' for public's confidence in gov't â Diokno
File photo shows Lawyer Chel Diokno, the founding dean of De La Salle University’s College of Law.
The STAR / Joey Viduya

MANILA, Philippines — Lawyer Chel Diokno, the founding dean of De La Salle University’s College of Law, on Wednesday said that recent steps taken by the country's anti-graft office were harmful to the public's confidence in the government. 

Diokno was referring to new guidelines released by Ombudsman Samuel Maritres last week which limit access to the wealth declarations of public officials and the chief graft buster's recent revelation to Congress that he had not been conducting lifestyle checks on government officials. 

"Without those lifestyle checks, without the access to [Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth], you're actually putting blinders not only on the press but on the public and that’s not a good thing for confidence in our government," Diokno told ANC's "Matters of Fact." 

“It’s a very simple and yet effective way of finding out if our government officials are really doing their job and not just making money from their position,” he added.

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

The chief graft buster on Tuesday also told the House of Representatives that he has not been conducting lifestyle checks on public officials because he could not see the "logic" behind doing so.

"Now that I assumed [the post] as Ombudsman, I ordered a stop on lifestyle checks because I have long had questions, doubts on that provision of the law about lifestyle check,” Martires told the lawmakers in Filipino.

However, Diokno stressed that both the accessibility of SALNs and lifestyle checks play key roles in holding public officials accountable. 

"The two should go hand-in-hand, and they have been in quite a number of decisions that reached all the way up to the Supreme Court which affirmed the dismissal of officials who had wealth that was manifestly disproportional to what they're legitimately earning," he said, stressing the importance of SALNs, in particular, in such cases. 

Diokno: Martires 'going beyond his authority' by restricting access to SALNS

"On the issue of accessibility to SALN, this is really beyond the authority of the Ombudsman, in the sense that, the law itself provide that SALNs should be made available to the public," Diokno said. 

The lawyer further recalled that the only restrictions imposed by the law on SALNs is that they must be requested during office hours, requesters must pay a reasonable fee, and that wealth declarations which are older than 10 years may not be accessed. 

Maritres has defended his decision to limit access to wealth declarations by claiming that SALNs are "weaponized" against political rivals. 

He also said there is a provision on RA 6713 that holds that it is prohibited to use wealth declaration documents “contrary to morals or public policy.”

The next provision, however, states that there is prohibition on obtaining SALNs except by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.

Martires also noted that there is “innuendo” in reports when there is an increase on an official’s net worth. 

"That’s not a ground to deny in the first stage the accessibility to the documents," Diokno countered on Tuesday. 

He added that the burden of misusing a public official's wealth declaration falls on the person who acquires it, further citing that, in such instances, the requester could face criminal charges. 

Diokno also stressed that heightened scrutiny and criticism is inevitable for public servants. 

"I think we have to go back to the fact that when you enter public service, you divest yourself a lot of your privacy and at the same time you cannot be thin-skinned when it comes to criticism or reports by the press. That comes with the job," Diokno said in English and Filipino. 

"What is more important is transparency and accountability and that’s really the SALN, even lifestyle checks, provide because it helps people understand and to accept their officials are doing their jobs and not making money on the side," he added. — with a report from Kristine Joy Patag






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