MANILA, Philippines – Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s vow of transparency, his own Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) for 2018 is yet to be disclosed to the public by the government more than 7 months after it was supposed to be submitted.
A new report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), written by executive director Malou Mangahas, detailed how the Office of the Ombudsman and various Malacañang offices have failed to provide media a copy of Duterte’s SALN, despite laws that require its disclosure for transparency and public interest.
“This would be the first time in the last 30 years that a President has not released his or her SALN. Since the SALN Law was enacted on Feb 20, 1989, all 5 presidents before Duterte had publicly disclosed their annual SALNs without fail, year on year, via either the Office of the Ombudsman or the Office of the President,” reads the PCIJ report.
The SALN is a critical document that details the increase and decrease of a public official’s wealth and is used as a check against corruption.
The delay in the public disclosure of Duterte’s SALN goes against his own Executive Order No. 2 which operationalized a Freedom of Information (FOI) system for the entire executive branch.
The EO’s Section 5 explicitly reminds officials to “file and make available for scrutiny their (SALN) in accordance with existing laws, rules and regulations, and the spirit and letter of this Order.”
Government officials are required to submit their SALNs to the Office of the Ombudsman by April 30.
The Office of the Ombudsman is the custodian of SALNs of the President, Vice President, senior officials, and star-rank military and police officers, according to the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (Republic Act No 6713).
The Office of the Ombudsman has traditionally provided reporters easy access to these documents starting May, or a month after the submission deadline. The process usually only required a journalist to present their media credentials, fill out a form, and submit a fee. But the current Ombudsman, Samuel Martires, who was appointed by Duterte, introduced a more stringent process.
Reporters were told that every request for SALN would need the approval of Martires. Rappler, for example, filed a request on May 17 and was told a month later, on June 19, that Martires had yet to respond.
In June and August, PCIJ had requested Duterte’s SALN from Martires’ office.
On June 18, 2019, Assistant Ombudsman Pilarita T Lapitan responded, saying the request was “held in abeyance pending the review and revision of the policies and rules of the Office of the Ombudsman regarding the release of SALNs.”
PCIJ was told to lodge their request before the Office of the President.
It did so, sending letters to the Malacañang Records Office (MRO) and the Office of the Executive Secretary between June and September.
On July 2, the MRO replied, through one of its directors, Concepcion Zeny Ferrolino-Enad, that the “requested information is not among the documents available on file nor in the possession of this Office.”
Ferrolino-Enad then referred PCIJ back to the Office of the Ombudsman. But the Office of the Ombudsman, in a September 16 letter, repeated its initial response to PCIJ’s first SALN request – that the guidelines for releasing of SALNs were yet to be finalized and that media should contact Malacañang.
In August, PCIJ sent a request to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, administrative head of the MRO. After all, the Implementing Rules and Regulation of the code of conduct for public officials states that a copy of SALNs of all filers “shall also be filed with their respective departments, offices or agencies.”
But on September 5, Medialdea’s office denied PCIJ’s request, saying the law does not require their office or the MRO to keep copies of the President’s SALN.
Medialdea’s office also advised PCIJ to just wait for the Office of the Ombudsman to act on their request.
But on Monday, December 9, the Office of the Ombudsman repeated its previous line: requests should be made with Malacañang.
What of the pending guidelines that Martires’ office always cites as reason for the delay in releasing Duterte’s SALN? Six months after media were first told of the effort to craft such guidelines, they are still nowhere to be found.
All the post-EDSA Revolution Ombudsmen before Martires – Simeon Marcelo, Merceditas Gutierrez, and Conchita Carpio-Morales – managed to issue circulars and guidelines laying down procedures for access to SALNs.
PCIJ said it was curious for Martires to appear to delay issuing his own guidelines given how he had come across as a stickler for compliance to SALN rules back when he was Supreme Court associate justice.
In a December 2006 ruling of the High Court’s 3rd division which included Martires, a Customs assistant district director was ordered dismissed for dishonesty and grave misconduct due to anomalies in her SALNs.
More recently and controversially, Martires penned a separate concurring opinion to the SC’s decision to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through quo warranto for her failure to submit all her SALNs to the Judicial and Bar Council.
Six months before his retirement from the SC, Martires was named Ombudsman by Duterte.
SALN secrecy in other branches
Added obstacles to SALNs are not unique to Duterte’s office. The year 2019 saw the same challenge to transparency in the judiciary and legislative branch.
The SC stopped releasing even the summary of the data in the 2018 SALNs of justices.
In the Senate, copies of actual SALNs filed by senators are no longer released due to new rules imposed by the office of Senate President Vicente Sotto, Senate Policy Order 2019-001, issued in February.
In the House of Representatives, any request to access a congressman’s SALN has to be approved by a majority of the chamber in a plenary session.
This was after then-House speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo passed House Resolution No. 2467 that prescribed “Rules of Procedure in the Filing, Review, and Disclosure of, and Access to, the Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) of Members, Officers and Employees of the House of Representatives.”
The resolution was passed in February, the same month as the Senate measure was issued.
In contrast, Vice President Leni Robredo’s office released her 2018 SALN in July. Various media outlets reported on it. – Rappler.com