Release of SALNs up to Ombudsman
Gregg M. Rubio (The Freeman) - October 26, 2020 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  A Cebuano lecturer on Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth has supported Malacañang’s position leaving it up to the Office of the Ombudsman to decide on the release of President Duterte’s SALN.

Retired Bureau of Internal Revenue Director, Atty. Estrella Villanueva-Martinez, issued a statement in reaction to a Philippine Star article entitled Palace: Duterte SALN up to Ombudsman.

Duterte has drawn flak for not releasing his SALNs for 2018 and 2019 and Malacañang instead advised the public to follow procedures in requesting for the document.

“The right to information (and access to public documents) is guaranteed by the Constitution. But, not on absolute terms since limited by ‘matters of public concerns’,” said Martinez.

Martinez has cited jurisprudence that defined limits to that right, like trade secrets and banking transactions, and criminal matters.

Other confidential information as classified information known to the public officers and employees by reason of their official duties, diplomatic correspondents and agreements, closed door Cabinet meetings, executive sessions of both chambers of Congress and personal data of Supreme Court Justices and Judiciary employees citing Request for Copy of 2008 SALN (672 SCRA 27).

Martinez said a Supreme Court resolution is not a mere suggestion but must be complied with promptly and completely.

Citing Mison vs. Gallegos (760 SCRA 363), Martinez said that “failure to comply betrays not only a recalcitrant streak in character but also disrespect for the Court’s lawful orders and directives.”

Martinez added that this is similar to the misunderstanding, mostly by non-accountants, who impulsively hound government people spewing suspensions, dismissals and imprisonment on what they perceive as “violations” of the SALN.

“If these pseudo reformers are right, no honest-to-goodness and qualified Filipino will never apply nor accept any government post,” she said.

Martinez added that government officials who are not in their best knowledge and belief of the SALN law when they erroneously declare their net worth based on fair market value of their real and personal properties are exposing themselves to massive tax evasion adding that any increase in net worth is a taxable income.

The Office of the Ombudsman has limited access to SALNs of officials, a move some sectors view as a setback to efforts to promote transparency in government.

A copy of an official’s SALN may only be released if the requester 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; and the request is made by the ombudsman’s field investigation office, unit or bureau conducting a fact-finding probe.

Copies of SALNs may also be released if the requester presents a notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing the release of the requested document. — GAN (FREEMAN)

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