PCIJ had filed several written requests, and made multiple phone calls, to the Office of the Ombudsman, including the office of Ombudsman Martires, to follow up on our request for the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth of President Rodrigo R. Duterte for 2018.
The PCIJ request letters were filed and mailed on the following dates:
· A first PCIJ letter was sent on June 10, 2019, and Assistant Ombudsman Pilarita T. Lapitan replied on June 18, 2019;
· A second PCIJ letter was sent on August 8, 2019, and Ronald Brian D. Evangelista, Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer III, Ombudsman Proper, replied on Sept. 18, 2019;
· PCIJ (Malou) sent an email in August 2019 to Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires, via his secretary, Ms. Cora Cunanan. This followed several phone calls that Malou made to Tel. No. 479-7300 to Ms. Cunanan.
In these phone conversations, Malou repeatedly asked for a sit-down interview with Ombudsman Martires but Ms. Cunanan repeatedly replied, too, that the Ombudsman was out of the office, and that PCIJ should just try calling again: “Wala siya sa office. Subukan niyo na lang tumawag ulit.”
PCIJ asked repeatedly when exactly a visit could be made for the interview but no fixed schedule could reportedly be set as yet until it was already November 2019.
PCIJ had checked with other officials of the Ombudsman if there was any chance PCIJ could wait out at the Office of Ombudsman Martires for an interview but all separately said there was a slim chance this could be confirmed as the Ombudsman was often “out on field visit.”
On Dec. 9, 2019, PCIJ learned that the Office of the Ombudsman had scheduled a public forum to mark International Anti-Corruption Day at the Diamond Hotel in Manila.
The press was invited to the event by the Office of the Ombudsman’s Public Information and Media Relations Bureau headed by Atty Mary Rawnsie V. Lopez. Stories from the public forum were published that day by several newspapers and news websites. If the press was invited to the public forum by a public agency, there was no real problem if journalists from PCIJ would also attend it.
Malou went to the forum, registered as a journalist from PCIJ on the forum’s attendance sheet, listened and documented all the presentations by Ombudsman Martires, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Commission on Audit Chairman Mike Aquinaldo, and Civil Service Commission Chairperson Alicia dela Rosa-Bala, among other officials.
Early on as the public forum progressed, Malou informed and requested Atty. Rawnsie Lopez if she could interview Ombudsman Martires about PCIJ’s long-standing request for a copy of President Duterte’s SALN for 2018, and on any updates on the timetable for the new Ombudsman guidelines on the release of the SALNs of the President and other senior officials.
Atty. Rawnsie Lopez told Malou that there would be an open forum later and that it would be all right to raise these queries on the floor. Malou told Atty. Rawnsie that it would be better to just raise the questions during a break in the forum, outside the conference hall to avoid any uncomfortable public conversation on the floor with Ombudsman Martires.
Atty. Rawnsie Lopez and the other Ombudsman personnel were well aware that Malou was waiting for about 20 minutes outside the conference venue to be allowed a chance to raise PCIJ’s questions re President Duterte’s SALN and the long-awaited new guidelines from the Ombudsman on the release of SALNs, with Ombudsman Martires.
The interview transpired with Malou, after she dutifully introduced herself as a journalist from GMA and PCIJ. The second part of the introduction (PCIJ) was not audible perhaps to Ombudsman Martires because he promptly butted in and said, “O, Malou, kilala kita.”
Malou was holding her phone to record the interview, in full view of both Ombudsman Martires and Atty. Rawnsie Lopez. The interview actually even ended with Ombudsman Martires erupting in laughter on his way back to the conference hall, when he remarked, “No, no, no, there is such a thing as a dissenting opinion,” in reply to PCIJ’s last query if the old guidelines on SALN release should apply to PCIJ’s request, pending his issuance of new guidelines.
Ombudsman Martires was well aware that what transpired was a proper interview, a public conversation between a journalist and a public official, on a matter of public concern. The queries raised in the interview were public policy issues (SALN, the Ombudsman’s long-awaited new guidelines) that Ombudsman Martires responded to, without being coaxed or compelled to do so. In fact, he was in an apparent jovial mood when the interview ended.
The same queries were exactly what PCIJ had raised in several request letters sent by email, fax, and snail mail to the Office of the Ombudsman, as well as in requests for a sit-down interview made via phone calls to Ombudsman Martires’s secertary that were all denied, or yielded no positive action.
Malou learned later that in the afternoon of Dec. 9, 2019, Ombudsman Martires had asked a senior reporter from a major media agency to try to contact her and set up a meeting between her and Ombudsman Martires because he supposedly did not explain well his answers to her queries earlier that day.
Malou learned, too, that Ombudsman Martires had even offered to meet with that day, anywhere she wanted to, and to have the Ombudsman's mobile number sent to her so she could call him. Malou, however, didn’t get a chance to speak with either the reporter or Ombudsman Martires that time as she was out working on some other tasks.
For the record, Ombudsman Martires never invited Malou to meet with him at his office.
The Anti-Wiretapping Law (Republic Act No, 4200 issued on June 19, 1965, states in Section 1 that: “It shall be unlawful for any person, not being authorized by all the parties to any private communication or spoken word, to tap any wire or cable, or by using any other device or arrangement, to secretly overhear, intercept, or record such communication or spoken word by using a device commonly known as a dictaphone or dictagraph or detectaphone or walkie-talkie or tape recorder, or however otherwise described.”
Ombudsman Martires knew that as a public official with expertise and mandate on the issues raised, he was speaking face to face with a journalist with a legitimate journalistic purpose, on a matter of public interest. The conversation occurred in a public space and even with the full knowledge and in full view of his own personnel from the Office of the Ombudsman.
PCIJ respects the views of Ombudsman Martires on this matter but respectfully insists, too, that all he has to do now is release President Duterte’s SALN for 2018, pending the long-awaited issuance of his new guidelines, and consistent with the mandate of the Office of the Ombudsman as “The Protector of the People.”
Below is the full transcript of the interview:
Interview with Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires, with Malou Mangahas, Dec. 9, 2019, Diamond Hotel, Manila
Malou: Good afternoon po, Ako po si Malou Mangahas ng GMA at PCIJ
(Martires butts in at once)
Ombudsman: O, Malou. kilala kita.
Malou – May matagal na kaming may sulat sa inyo tungkol doon sa new guidelines on SALN release. May pag-asa ba tayo sa timetable ng guidelines?
Ombudsman - Alam mo Malou masyadong masalimuot yung SALN, siguro minsan pag-usapan natin iyan
Malou: Tatlong rounds na po kami, back-and-forth, OP, sinagot na kami ng Office of Executive Secretary kaya we have filed a request sa inyo,three rounds, OES referred us to you, we wrote you, sent the SALN summaries of Ombudsman officials…
Ombudsman – Hindi pa ba kayo sinasagot?
Malou: Ang Pangulo lang ang walang SALN na nailalabas for 2018. We were happy you sent us the SALNs, kahit summary, of the Ombudsman officials, including yourself, congratulations po, but it doesn’t seem okay that the President has not released his SALN.
Ombudsman – Well, you can go to the Office of the Executive Secretary.
Malou: Your guidelines would be the only excuse they have not released the President’s SALN.
Ombudsman: Kasi ang hinahanap ko rin, ano ang…authority namin mag-release ng SALN.
Malou: But the law says filer, filer’s office, custodians, ang sources. We tried going to OVP and we got a copy, may EO on FOI… For the first time since SALN law passed, this is the first time a President’s SALN has not been disclosed to the public.
Ombudsman: Hindi kayo binibigyan ng Office of the President? Titingnan ko.
Malou: Last question po: Pending the issuance of new guidelines, di ba po the old guidelines should apply?
Ombudsman – Which old guidelines?
Malou: Guidelines issued by your predecessors, Ombudsman Carpio-Morales…
Malou: Ombudsman Gutierrez…
Ombudsman: No, No,, I do not, I do not, there is such a thing as a dissenting opinion, hahahahaha (end of transcript)— PCIJ, December 2019