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Morales: Limiting access to SALN goes against transparency

By: - Reporter / @NikkaINQ
/ 05:32 AM September 25, 2020

The decision of Ombudsman Samuel Martires to limit public access to government officials’ financial statements conflicts with the constitutional principle of accountability and transparency for public officials, his predecessor said on Thursday.

“It goes against the constitutional principle that public office is a public trust,” former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said in an interview on television. “There is this law [that] mandates the filing of SALNs (statements of assets, liabilities and net worth) and also mandates that the public shall be entitled to even a photocopy of the SALN of public officials or employees for as long as they don’t cross the prohibited acts.”

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Morales was asked to comment on the guidelines issued by Martires on Sept. 1 limiting the release of copies of financial statements to representatives of the officials who had made the declarations, compliance with court orders for pending cases, or Ombudsman investigators for fact-finding probes.

Spirit of the law

“It does not carry out the spirit of the law, which [says] that public office is a public trust and therefore you are supposed to be transparent,” Morales said.

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She was referring to Republic Act No. 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, which requires people in the government to declare their finances and disclose their business interests and financial connections.

The law requires that all documents filed in compliance with it “be made available for inspection at reasonable hours.”

It is unlawful, however, to use the documents for any purpose that goes against morals or public policy and for commercial reasons.

During a congressional hearing on the proposed budget of his office for 2021 on Tuesday, Martires defended his decision, saying financial disclosures were being “weaponized” against politicians.

Morales, however, said the weaponization of the financial disclosure should be the “concern of the politician.”

“If he (Martires) believes that a request for SALNs is being weaponized by enemies of the politician whose SALN is being requested, then that is the concern of the politician. But no one can refuse the request of anyone to use or to copy a SALN for as long as it is not against morals or public policy,” Morales said.

Public officials’ remedy

“Now, if it turns out that the person who requested [the SALN] uses it against morals or public policy, the [official] whose SALN was requested has a remedy,” she added.

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The official, she said, can bring charges against the requester.

“The request[e]r, if he is faulted … can be fined … not more than P25,000. So it’s the concern of the politician to fault the requester if the requested SALN is [used] against morals or public policy,” Morales said.

Asked if the new policy of Martires is aimed at protecting the interest of politicians rather than the interest of the public, Morales replied: “No, I don’t think so. I won’t take it [in] that light … He has his own motivations in issuing that memorandum but anyone can misread or misinterpret a law. So probably he misread the law. I’m sorry to say that, Ombudsman Martires.”

The memorandum issued by Martires on Sept. 1 covers the President, Vice President, and the heads of constitutional offices and the Ombudsman and its deputies.

Regional officials of national agencies, courts and constitutional offices, state colleges, elected local government officials and local government employees, and law enforcement officials below a certain rank are also covered. —WITH A REPORT FROM CHRISTIA MARIE RAMOS

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TAGS: Code of Conduct, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Ombusdman, SALN, Samuel Martires
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