President Rodrigo Duterte’s wealth remains a secret as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s (PCIJ) request for a copy of his 2020 Statement of Assets of Liabilities and Networth (SALN) again ran into a dead end.
The central office of the Office of the Ombudsman is the custodian of the SALNs of presidents, vice presidents, and constitutional officials. However, Ombudsman Samuel Martires issued in 2020 a controversial memorandum restricting access to the documents.
Copies of the SALNs may only be released if the requester is the official who filed the SALN, is acting on a court order in relation to a pending case, and is an employee of the Office of the Ombudsman's Field Investigation Office who is conducting a fact-finding investigation.
An advisory instructed requesters to secure the SALNs from the concerned offices. PCIJ reached out to the Office of the President’s Malacañang Records Office by phone, but was told that it didn’t have a copy of the document.
Government officials and employees are required by law to submit their SALNs on or before April 30 of every year, although it was extended to May 30 this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Robredo releases SALN after 6 days
Only Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo is known to have released her 2020 SALN so far. The Senate and the House of Representatives are still sitting on the requests two months after PCIJ filed them.
The Office of the Vice President released Robredo’s SALN to PCIJ on June 3 or only six days after the request was made on May 27, 2021.
It showed a total net worth of P11.9 million for 2020 or a significant increase from P3.5 million in 2019. She also declared P16.89 million of cash on hand. The increase was due to several properties left to her by her deceased mother.
PCIJ has been collecting SALNs since the media organization was founded in 1989, and has used the document to investigate corruption allegations against officials.
Duterte’s secret SALNs
Duterte’s SALN has been a secret for three years – from 2018 to 2020 – despite guarantees under Republic Act No. 6713 of the public’s right to know about officials’ assets, liabilities, net worth, and financial and business interests.
Duterte's 2017 SALN was the last that was made public. It was released in 2018.
“The spirit of accountability is wanting,” said Eirene Aguila, co-convenor of the Right to Know Right Now Coalition (R2KRN).
“How can the people trust the government if there is no transparency,” she said.
PCIJ is a member of the R2KRN, an advocate of transparency in government.
A petition was filed before the Supreme Court challenging the Ombudsman memorandum, but the high court upheld access restrictions in a February 2021 ruling.
“While the right of access and information to a public official’s SALN is provided under the Constitution and RA 6713, the same is not an absolute vested right… the same is undoubtedly subject to regulations,” the Supreme Court said.
Senate and House of Representatives
The Senate and the House of Representatives have yet to grant PCIJ’s requests for the SALNs of senators and representatives.
PCIJ filed a request with the Office of the Senate Secretary on May 24, 2021. The request was acknowledged three days later, on May 27. “The SALN Review Committee will convene shortly to evaluate your request and communicate with you as soon as the review is completed,” the Office of the Senate Secretary said.
PCIJ filed a request with the House’s Office of the Secretary General on May 18, which was acknowledged on the same day. After two days, PCIJ was asked to complete a new SALN form request. The House acknowledged PCIJ’s new request on May 21.
As of July 6, PCIJ was told the request was still pending with a committee in the Senate. It has not moved from the desk of the House Secretary General, either.
The legislative chambers have previously imposed restrictive rules on access to SALNs, too.
The Senate stopped releasing copies of senators’ SALNs in February 2019. It has only published summaries of their wealth declarations on the Senate website since. A copy of the summaries may also be requested.
The House has released copies of SALNs in recent years, but subject to the House members’ approval. Summaries of House members’ wealth declarations were also disclosed.
There has been no advice so far if the same restrictions applied this year. The Office of the Senate Secretary said it would still accept SALN requests.
Out of six custodians of SALNs, only two have released copies of SALN documents in recent years. The Office of the President and the Civil Service Commission continued to release the SALNs of Cabinet secretaries and other government officials, respectively.
PCIJ requested Malacañang’s Records Office for the 2020 SALNs of Cabinet secretaries. A mailer daemon responded to a June 3 request sent to an e-mail address provided by the office, however. The e-mail could not be delivered, it said.
Another request was sent to a different e-mail address on July 15. The request was acknowledged the next day.
Republic Act No. 6713 requires the heads of departments, offices and agencies to establish measures that will ensure transparency of and openness in public transactions. They are supposed to act on requests – written or verbal – within 15 days of receipt. END
*TOP PHOTO. Malacañang file photo