Tacit protection
THAT DOES IT - Korina Sanchez (The Freeman) - September 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Ombudsman Samuel Martires may have just given tacit protection to all public officials with his suspension of lifestyle checks. He wanted to propose to Congress that RA 6713 or the code of conduct and ethical standards for government employees and officials be amended as he feels some provisions are vague and illogical. Martires believes that as long as a public official is not stealing, he can live whatever way he wants to. If he wants to buy signature luggage and wear branded clothing, it should be nobody's business. He adds that what constitutes simple living to someone may not be the same for another.

But isn't the lifestyle check a way to determine if someone is living beyond his means? If an official struts around in signature clothing with a handbag that costs hundreds of thousands of pesos, wears expensive jewelry, drives an expensive car, and lives in a gated, exclusive subdivision, wouldn't you wonder how he or she can afford these on a government salary? Isn't the lifestyle check a way to determine if one is stealing? If you take that away, what will determine the investigation on someone suspected of graft and corruption? Some people just cannot help but flaunt what they have, especially if the money used to buy them was easily and illegally obtained. 

Another thing Martires wants to limit is public access to an official's Statement of Assets and Liabilities or SALN. But former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales has begged to disagree citing it unconstitutional to do so. Public access to an official's SALN is stipulated in the Constitution as it shows transparency. It is all about the public office being a public trust. If that is withheld, how else will the public know if an official is supposedly engaged in graft? Where is the transparency?

The 2018 and 2019 SALN of President Duterte were withheld from the public despite him signing the Freedom of Information Act. According to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), it is the first time in 30 years that a sitting president has withheld his SALN from the public. Well, there are a lot of firsts in this administration if I may say so myself.

I believe the current Ombudsman wants to protect public officials from public scrutiny. But like I said, it gives that tacit veil of protection where the public can no longer question an official's lifestyle no matter how ostentatious it is. The public will be stripped of whatever little power it has. Does one wonder why all these moves to hold off the public? Even the Supreme Court protected the president's medical records when there was a petition for them to be made public. Every public official may have a virtual force field if Martires would have his way on everything. I wouldn't be surprised if public officials start flaunting their expensive goods, knowing the Ombudsman has their back.

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