âMartires may have misread SALN lawâ
In an interview with ANC yesterday morning, Former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said that while she does not think that Martires was protecting public officials suspected of corruption, the new policy goes against the constitutional principle that “public office is a public trust.”
Michael Varcas, file
‘Martires may have misread SALN law’
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - September 25, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales is giving her successor Samuel Martires the benefit of the doubt concerning his new policy restricting public access to the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of government officials, although she says he may have misread the law.

In an interview with ANC yesterday morning, Morales said that while she does not think that Martires was protecting public officials suspected of corruption, the new policy goes against the constitutional principle that “public office is a public trust.”

“There’s this law which mandates the filing of SALNs and also mandates that the public shall be entitled to even photocopy and reproduce this SALN of public officials and employees for as long as they don’t cross the prohibited acts, which means if the purpose is against morals or against public policy,” she said.

Morales was referring to Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees which mandates all government officials and employees to file their SALN within 30 days after assumption of office, on or before April 30 of every year thereafter, and within 30 days after separation from the service.

In his Memorandum Circular No. 1 Series of 2020 signed on Sept. 1, Martires said the SALNs filed at the ombudsman shall no longer be released to the public, including the members of media, unless the requester has a notarized letter of authority from the owner of the SALN.

The new memorandum also states that “all requests to inspect or to take picture of the SALN will be denied.”

In a hearing before the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Martires defended his new memorandum, saying that the SALN is being “weaponized” to destroy the reputation of government officials.

Martires added that there is a provision in RA 6713 which states that the SALN cannot be used if it’s “against moral or public policy.”

He, however, failed to mention that the same Section 8 of RA 6713 also states that it shall be unlawful for any person to obtain or use SALN “for commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.”

Furthermore, Section 8 also states that public officials and employees are mandated to timely file their SALNs as “the public has the right to know their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen years of age living in their households.”

“If he believes that this (SALN) is being weaponized by enemies, then that is the concern of the politician. No one can refuse the request of anyone to use a SALN or to copy a SALN for as long as it is not against morals or public policy,” Morales said.

Besides, Morales pointed out, a public official has the recourse of filing a case against anyone who used his or her SALN for ill-purposes.

“Now if it turns out that the SALN has been furnished the requester and the person who requested it uses it against morals and public policy, the person whose SALN was requested has a remedy. He can file a case against the requester. And the requester, if he is faulted, can be fined not more than P25,000,” Morales explained.

Morales said that while she does not think that Martires has the intention of protecting politicians suspected of corruption with his new SALN policy, her successor has misread RA 6713.

‘Memo compliant with existing rules’

Meanwhile, Martires has maintained that his new policy on SALN “is in accordance with prevailing rules and regulations.”

“The Office of the Ombudsman reiterates that the issuance of Memorandum Circular No.1 Series of 2020 is in accordance with prevailing rules and regulations on the disclosure of Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of public officials and employees,” the ombudsman said in a press statement issued yesterday.

Martires also clarified that the new memorandum only applies to the SALNs of government officials being filed at the ombudsman as official repository.

Under RA 6713, required to submit their SALNs to the central office of the Office of the Ombudsman include the President, Vice-President, chairpersons and commissioners of the constitutional bodies such as the Commission on Audit, Commission on Elections and Civil Service Commission, as well as the ombudsman and deputy ombudsmen.

Meanwhile provincial elective officials including governors, vice-governors and Sangguniang Panlalawigan members as well as municipal and city officials including mayors, vice-mayors, city council and municipial council members and barangay officials are required to submit their SALNs to Office of the Deputy Ombudsman in their respective regions (Luzon, Visayas Mindanao).

Also required to submit their SALNs before the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman are officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines below the rank of colonel or naval captain and officers of the Philippine National Police below the rank of senior superintendent.

Military and police officers with higher ranks are required to submit their SALNs before the Office of the President.

SALN SAMUEL MARTIRES
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