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Protecting the SALN

Ombudsman Samuel Martires sees nothing wrong in pushing for amendments to the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, including the controversial proposal that seeks jail time of five years for anyone who would issue “further commentaries” on the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) required from those in the employ of the government.

Martires’ draft bill also proposes that instead of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Executive Secretary shall be the repository agency of the SALNs of the president, vice president and all other national executive officials.

“Each repository shall have the exclusive authority in approving any request for copying, reproduction, inspection, or any other form of access to such statements and shall enact reasonable conditions, guidelines, rules and regulations,” the draft bill said.

Supposedly the protector of the people’s interests, this particular Ombudsman has been strangely focused limiting access to SALNs early on. In September 2020, Martires issued Memorandum Circular No. 1 which restricted the release of SALNs which is supposed to be a public document. He said SALNs could be released only if the request was made by the government official who filed it or an official representative; if it was legally ordered by the court in relation to a pending case; and if it is made through the Office of the Ombudsman’s field investigation office for the purpose of a fact-finding probe.

Under Section 8, paragraph D of RA 6713, the use of SALNs for commercial purposes is prohibited, except for “news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.”

Many media advocates naturally see the proposed amendments as part of the Ombudsman’s moves to further restrict access to the precious SALN and even the method by which these are reported to the public.

The Ombudsman’s draft bill is rightly seen by University of the Philippines journalism professor Danilo Arao as promoting the kind of journalism that “defeats the purpose of in-depth reportage where ‘further commentaries’ are absolutely necessary in providing context.”

Whose interests are the country’s Ombudsman protecting when it is hell bent on restricting access to SALNs and is even pushing for jail time for those with “further commentaries” or pose legitimate questions as far as that public document that is supposed to promote transparency among government officials and employees is involved?*

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November 2022
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