Malacañang says Filipinos should ‘respect’ Ombudsman decision to bar media access to SALNs

Pia Ranada

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'I don’t think the President is keeping anything from the public,' says Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque despite the non-release of President Duterte's 2018 and 2019 SALN

President Rodrigo Duterte’s Malacañang told Filipinos to respect the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman not to directly release to media the Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of public officials.

“If the Ombudsman has a rule like that, as the specialized constitutional agency to promote accountability, it has to be respected,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday, September 17, during a virtual press briefing.

Duterte is the first Philippine President in 30 years to keep his SALN from the public.

Until now, his 2018 SALN remains a secret. As for his 2019 SALN, Roque said last September 15 that he was “sure” Duterte submitted it to the Office of the Ombudsman given the August 30 deadline for doing so.

But will Duterte proactively release these two SALNs to the media or the public? Roque isn’t even sure.

“I’m sure it’s been submitted. But whether or not it will be made public is outside of the jurisdiction of my office. But I’ll inquire from the Office of the Executive Secretary,” he had said.

If Duterte refuses to make his SALN public, the new Ombudsman rules make it almost certain that the SALN will never be released.

The office’s Memorandum Circular No. 1 Series of 2020 excluded media from those who can receive a copy of the SALN.

Only 3 types of persons can receive a copy:

  • The official who filed the SALN or a duly authorized representative;
  • A requester acting on a court order in relation to a pending case;
  • The Office of the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office for the purpose of conducting fact-finding investigation.

If Duterte wants to keep his SALN from the public, he can get away with it unless 3 things happen: someone acting on a court order requests for it or the Office of the Ombudsman’s own Field Investigation Office asks for it, and those who get a copy release it to the public or to journalists.

All post-Marcos presidents who preceded Duterte released their SALNs for public scrutiny in the name of transparency and accountability.

Despite his 2018 and 2019 SALNs remaining hidden from the public, Roque said Duterte was not hiding anything.

“I don’t think the President is keeping anything from the public,” he said.

SALNs are critical because they allow the public to see decreases or increases in the wealth of a public official which could then be red flags for corruption.

Discrepancies or problems with their SALNs led to the ouster of two Supreme Court chief justices, Maria Lourdes Sereno and Renato Corona.

In the past, Duterte’s SALNs, filed both during his presidency and before, were used by media to identify discrepancies and notable spikes in his wealth and that of his children.

Journalists should consult lawyers – Roque

Asked on Thursday if journalists would be given a copy of Duterte’s SALNs, Roque said they could make a request with the Ombudsman’s office.

“The remedy is to go to the Ombudsman for a copy of the SALN, if you’re not able to get it from the agency itself. But you have to comply with the requirements of the Ombudsman,” he said.

Told by Rappler through text messages that the Ombudsman’s new rules precisely bar the media from directly being given copies of SALNs, Roque merely said, “Okay.”

Asked how the Palace would then ensure journalists get a copy of Duterte’s SALN, Roque said, “Please consult your legal [counsel].”

The non-release of Duterte’s SALNs is just one of the many ways Malacañang is being secretive about the President’s activities and well-being.

The Palace redacts sensitive portions of Duterte’s speeches, no longer airs his public remarks live, has stopped posting appointment papers of government officials, and releasing Duterte’s official schedule to media. It has also refused to issue medical bulletins about the 75-year-old President’s health, despite Duterte himself admitting to a slew of serious medical conditions.

Yet Duterte has verbally promised to uphold transparency and vigilance against corruption.

“As you assume office, it becomes your highest duty to practice and uphold accountability and transparency in government,” he told local government officials back in February 2019. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.