Philippine officials have started filing their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for 2019, but the Office of the Ombudsman has yet to come out with clarified rules on the public release of this sensitive document.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires promised to come out with clarified rules. But as of Monday, September 7, or Rappler’s last follow-up with the Ombudsman, the rules were still “due for publication.” Martires did not say when would this happen.
The lack of the Ombudman’s clarified rules stretched the stalemate on the question of whether the public has the right to access President Rodrigo Duterte’s SALN.
The President’s 2018 SALN has remained a secret since 2019 when Martires changed years-long policy of publicly releasing this document, passing the responsibility to concerned government offices.
According to Civil Service Commission (CSC) rules, the extended deadline for submitting 2019 SALNs was last August 30.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea has not responded to Rappler’s question whether the President has submitted his 2019 SALN.
Rappler has also filed Freedom of Information (FOI) requests with Malacañang for both Duterte’s 2018 and 2019 SALNs.
“This would be the first time in the last 30 years that a President has not released his or her SALN,” the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism said in 2019. (PODCAST: Duterte’s secretive Malacañang)
Rappler has also filed a request with the Office of the Ombudsman, not just for Duterte’s SALN, but also for those of Vice President Leni Robredo and heads of constitutional bodies.
Rappler has not received any response from the Office of the Ombudsman since it first filed a request on June 1. The usual deadline for filing SALNs is April 30, but the CSC extended the deadline twice to adjust to the pandemic. (READ: Pandemic limits Philippines’ anti-corruption work)
Vice President Leni Robredo submitted on deadline and readily released her SALN to Rappler upon request, showing a P1.2-million increase in her net worth from 2018, owing to an increase in her cash on hand.
The Vice President’s wealth previously dipped because of fees she had to pay for the electoral case filed against her by former senator Bongbong Marcos.
Martires said before that he was reviewing his authority as Ombudsman to release other officials’ SALNs, and added he was just being prudent in protecting officials’ rights under Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. The Ombudsman did not cite a specific provision.
“May tungkulin din ako na dapat gampanan at ito ay pangalagaan ang mga karapatan at kapakanan ng mga kawani at opisyal ng pamahalaan alinsunod sa nakasaad sa Implementing Rules and Regulations ng Republic Act 6713,” said Martires in a statement last year.
(I have a responsibility to fulfill and this is to protect the rights and welfare of government personnel and officials in accordance with the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act 6713.)
RA 6713, or the Code of Conduct for Public Officials, allows journalists to obtain copies of SALNs and report on them. Section 7 (D) of the code prohibits the use of any statement made in the SALN for commercial purposes “other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.”
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.”
In a chance interview with reporters last year, former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said the Ombudsman has the authority to release SALNs.
“(Martires) as the Ombudsman has the authority to release the SALN. (But) that is his policy. Whether it’s correct or not, I keep it to myself,” Morales said.
Two previous chief justices have been ousted because of problems stemming from their SALNs – the late Renato Corona for non-disclosure of peso and dollar bank deposits, and Maria Lourdes Sereno for not filing SALNs when she was a law professor at the University of the Philippines. (READ: Why don’t we know enough about Supreme Court justices’ wealth?) – with reports from Mara Cepeda and Pia Ranada/Rappler.com