Group slams Ombudsman for limiting access to public officials’ SALN

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Misamis Oriental, Philippines — Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI), a network of nongovernment organizations, slammed the Office of the Ombudsman for limiting the access to statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of government officials.

Last Sept. 1, Ombudsman Samuel Martires issued memorandum circular limiting the instances when the SALN of a public official could be accessed by an interested individual or a group.

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These are in instances when an official filing the SALN may authorize its release through a notarized letter of authority, following a court order in relation to a pending case, and for a fact-finding investigation being conducted by a unit of the Ombudsman.

According to PMPI, the order runs counter to the Freedom of Information (FOI) being promoted by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

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The group called the order “a setback to transparency efforts and exposes the hypocrisy of Duterte’s FOI” because it effectively blocked public access to the wealth declarations of public officials.

PMPI national coordinator Yolly Esguerra said the new guidelines would make “the already rigorous process of scrutinizing officials’ wealth to probe potential corruption even more daunting.”

Esguerra lamented that, instead of “protecting” top government officials, Martires should have come up with guidelines that would compel them be more transparent and accountable as provided for by law.

The SALN, she said, is a good instrument for the public to probe whether government officials have ill-gotten wealth.

With the recent order by Martires, Esguerra said Duterte would be emboldened to disregard the SALN law and continue to keep his wealth declaration away from the public eye.

“Such is in stark contrast to the past five presidents who have disclosed their SALNs without fail since the SALN law was enacted in 1989,” Esguerra said.

[atm]

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