Martires limits media access to Ombudsman cases
MANILA, Philippines – Ombudsman Samuel Martires will impose new secrecy measures on cases filed and pending with the Office of the Ombudsman, in ways that would severely limit media reporting and lessen transparency in the office.
“There is always a limit to that right to information...hindi porke nasa media tayo lahat na lang binubusisi natin o inuusisa natin. Kung minsan huwag natin pagkanegosyohan o pagkaperahan ang karapatan ng ibang tao – 'yan ang term ko, masakit,” Martires said.
(Not because we're part of the media we're always scrutinizing everything. Sometimes let's not make a business or make money out of the rights of other people – that's my term, it hurts.) (READ: Ombudsman Martires: I'm not out to please)
New secrecy measures
The Office of the Ombudsman will not let the media know about complaints being filed. Currently, complainants tell media ahead of their filing, and reporters are allowed at the lobby of the Office of the Ombudsman to interview complainants.
Martires said there are no sanctions for complainants who talk to media “for now,” but this mechanism will be difficult moving forward.
“I will make it a point that the office of the receiving section will be shielded, will be away from the media so we can always deny that a particular complaint was filed,” Martires said.
Martires said the Ombudsman's office will no longer make any announcements on the progress of the cases. (READ: Martires: No choice but dismiss Overall Deputy Ombudsman Carandang)
Before, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales issued press releases whether a case would be elevated to the anti-graft court, or whether the case had been dismissed.
“We will not make any announcements with respect to even high-profile cases because there is no distinction between a high-profile case and a low-profile case, it’s all the same,” Martires said.
Reporters will now have to discover for themselves if the case has been filed with the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, which, at the moment, remains open to media.
As for dismissed cases, reporters will have no way to know if a case has been dismissed except if the respondents themselves reveal it to the media.
Right to information
Martires claims this does not violate the public’s right to information.
However, Section 7, Article III, of the Constitution says: “Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.”
Section 15 of the Ombudsman charter or Republic Act 6770 says the Ombudsman has the power to "publicize matters covered by its investigation of the matters...when circumstances so warrant and with due prudence."
“Which is more important, the freedom of information or the rights of the person? Sana huwag nating pagkaperahan 'yung mga tao (Let's not make money out of the people),” Martires said.
High profile cases still pending with the Office of the Ombudsman include:
- Ill-gotten wealth cases against President Rodrigo Duterte’s son Paolo Duterte
- Plunder case against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo related to a P57-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office fund (a different set of funds from the P366-million case which was dismissed by the Supreme Court)
- Graft case against former president Benigno Aquino III over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)
- Cases against top officials, like Solicitor General Jose Calida, Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson and former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II