SIGN UP TO DAILY NEWSLETTERCLICK HERE TO SIGN-UP The Ombudsman’s decision to restrict public and media access to the statement of assets liabilities and net worth (SALN) of government officials, including the President, Vice President, and members of Senate and Congress, was met with criticisms as a group called it a “step backwards” in government transparency and accountability.Philippine Misereor Partnerships, Inc. (PMPI), a social development and advocacy network, expressed alarm over the memorandum circular issued by Ombudsman Samuel Martires on September 1 and even suggested that he is cushioning government officials from public scrutiny.“Instead of compelling top government officials to be more transparent and accountable in making their wealth open to public scrutiny as what the law says, it seems that the Ombudsman is even ‘protecting’ them from such probes by giving them the prerogative to either authorize or prevent anyone including media, researchers, other government agencies, and the general public from getting copies of their SALNs,” said PMPI’s National Coordinator Yoly Esguerra.“This will make the already rigorous process of scrutinizing officials’ wealth to probe potential corruption even more daunting,” she added. “It may even discourage, if not outright block, such efforts to seek transparency from our top national leaders, including the President.”Martires’ memorandum overturned the previous policy of his predecessors, which allowed the media and public to ask for copies of the SALNs of select government officials in order to check whether or not they have unjustly enriched themselves during incumbency.With Martires’ new policy, only those who have secured the permission of government officials have the right to ask for copies of their SALNs.“No SALN will be furnished to the requester unless he/she presents a notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing the release of the requested SALN,” read the Ombudsman’s memorandum circular no. 1.“If the person requesting is not the declarant or the declarant’s duly authorized representative, but has [a] notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing [the] release of the requested SALN, he/she shall be required to present two original valid ID’s, one of which is a government issued ID bearing the requester’s picture and signature,” it added.The PMPI has lamented that the Ombudsman’s new policy will only embolden President Duterte to keep on dismissing the SALN law. Since he assumed the presidency in 2016, President Duterte has refused to release his SALNs.Last year, the Palace refused to release President Duterte’s 2018 SALN and merely said that the one who has the authority to disclose it was the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman, on the other hand, told interested parties that they should “course these requests directly to the offices of the officials concerned.”The past five presidents before President Duterte all disclosed their SALNs.The PMPI also took a jab at President Dutere, saying that his repeated refusal to share his SALN only exposes the “hypocrisy” of his Executive Order No. 2, which operationalized Freedom of Information (FOI). Section 5 of FOI stresses the obligation of all public officials to file and make available for scrutiny their SALNs.Meanwhile, Section 6 on “Applications and Interpretation” of the said EO upholds the public’s access to information, public records, and official records. It added that “no request for information shall be denied” unless it falls under any of the listed exceptions.“The Duterte administration loves to throw this line to its critics, ‘kung walang tinatago, walang dapat ikatakot!, (if you are not hiding anything, you have nothing to fear),’” said Sandino Soliman, PMPI Convener and Advocacy Officer of CODE-NGO.“Now we throw this line back to the Ombudsman and to the Duterte government and challenge them to set a good example of transparency and accountability by finally disclosing the President’s SALN, and revoking this repressive memorandum that sets back all our past efforts in pushing for transparency and good governance,” he continued.
12 June 2021
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