Limiting public access to SALN seen to undermine transparency

THE latest Ombudsman policy to limit access to a government official’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) is seen to undermine the law promoting transparency and accountability to prevent graft and corruption.

Grace Bualat, a Political Science professor from the University of San Carlos, said Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, that this policy jeopardizes public interest and violates the Constitution.

“I am not a lawyer, but based on my appreciation of our existing laws, this new policy does not only violate the Constitution, it directly jeopardizes the interest of the public. Now, as we jokingly say, ‘Who will ombuds the Ombudsman?’” Bualat told SunStar Cebu.

She said she agrees with former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales that this goes against the constitutional principle that public office is a public trust.

Regal Oliva, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City Chapter, said there is nothing illegal in limiting access to the SALN of public officers.

But she said it is vital that transparency and accountability in government are maintained.

It might be best for the Office of the Ombudsman to establish a control mechanism so as not to cause abuse in the use of the SALN, she added.

“While public transparency should be upheld, we must use the appropriate investigative agencies to conduct official investigations against erring officials,” Oliva said.

She said the SALN should not be used to fullfill the ill motives of any individual.

Neither should it be used to advance any poltical plans, besmirch the reputation of others, or become a “potion for witchhunting operators.”

Ryan Dave Rayla, Political Science professor at the University of San Jose Recoletos, said this is counterproductive.

“Limiting the ability of the Public to scrutinize those who hold government positions or are part of the bureaucracy is counterproductive. Not only does it go against the principles of transparency and accountability, but also prevents any meaningful mechanism to promote Freedom of Information,” he said.

Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees requires government officials and employees to file their SALN.

“The law is two-pronged. It does not only require the filing of SALNs, but it also guarantees access on the part of the public for as long as they don’t cross the prohibited acts,” Bualat said.

Making it difficult to access these documents will defeat the intent of the law to promote transparency and accountability, she added.

Under a new memorandum issued by Ombudsman Samuel Martires, copies of a SALN may be released only to the declarant or his/her authorized representative, if there is a court order, or if the request was made for the purpose of a fact-finding investigation.

All requests to inspect or take a picture of the document will be denied, the memorandum stated.

Martires said he restricted access to the SALN because it is being weaponized and used by political rivals to defame each other.(WBS)


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