Freedom of information advocates gathered virtually on Monday, Sept. 13, to protest Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ continued refusal to release the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) of public officials and his proposal of jail time for anyone who makes commentaries on the wealth of public officials.
“SALN is the protection of the public. Ano mang pagbaliktad na gagawin tungkol dito ay tantamount din sa pagtataksil sa bayan (Any action that [curtails access to the document] is a betrayal of the country),” said Jenina Joy Chavez of the Right to Know Right Now coalition in a forum that the group of FOI advocates organized on Monday.
Despite Republic Act 6713 mandating the public’s right to know about the wealth of public officials, Martires issued a memorandum granting access to SALNs only 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 other requesters to secure the SALNs from the concerned offices.
Martires proposed to amend the law during a budget hearing at the House of Representatives last week.
“I want to reconcile [R.A.] 6713 with [R.A.] 3019 on the SALN, provide safety nets so that a SALN can be published, but no person should be allowed to comment on the SALN of a particular government official or employee,” Martires told lawmakers. He cited alleged media abuses
Chavez said the groups cannot agree with the position of the Ombudsman. "Hindi sagot ang pag-atras sa pagkabukas kung may mga prosesong naa-abuse. Instead, ang kasagutan dito ay mas malawak na pagpapaliwanag at mas malawak na pag-assert ng ating mga karapatan (It is not correct to violate the people's right to access the document because there are allegations of abuse. Instead, there should be wider information dissemination and stronger push to assert our rights)," she said.
Christian Monsod, a member of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, scored Martires for protecting government officials instead of serving the public.
“It seems that the present Ombudsman has forgotten that in a democracy, the people are the principals and the government officials are their agents and not the other way around. Such are the rules of public disclosure and the limitations to the SALN which puts the SALNs beyond the reach of the people,” Monsod said.
"Perhaps we should just tell those who want the power and benefits of public office that are not willing to take the risk that go with it, that they should not seek public office in the first place for the sake of the country,” Monsod said.
Bibeth Orteza of Concerned Artist of the Philippines said Martires' position is tantamount to martial law.
“Kapag pinalusot natin ito at hindi tayo nagreklamo, lumalabas na talagang pumapayag na tayo dito sa ipso facto na martial law. Kapag nagbigay sila ng refusal na sagutin ang mga tanong natin, anong gagawin natin? Hindi na tayo pwede lumaban? (If he gets his way and we don't protest, it will appear that we are agreeing to an ipso facto martial law. If they refuse to answer our questions, what do we do? We can't fight back?)” Orteza said. END
— PCIJ, September 2021